by Steve Moran | 6 February 2020 |
I am a Seventh-day Adventist Boomer who has a Pentecostal/Millennial heart. In my day job as a blogger/thought leader in the senior living industry, I am presently spending a lot of time thinking about and writing about how companies that provide housing and services to older people can do a better job of attracting and keeping employees.
Our Silent Generation parents and our Greatest Generation parents taught us that working hard and getting a paycheck was enough. If we worked for a great company or made an exceptional amount of money, that was like a gift from God. It was enough—more than enough.
I would dare say, we Adventists have largely approached church this way. Church didn’t have to be good—it could even be a pretty terrible experience, but we went because it was what we were supposed to do. After all, it was all about you and God, and we never stopped to think that maybe a bad experience was not what God really had in mind for church.
It is different with Millennials. They have the strange notion that work should be more than just a paycheck. That it should have meaning, purpose and at least some autonomy, even a place at the decision-making table. They believe that what they are doing and what their company is doing should actually be making the world a better place.
Is it any wonder church attendance is suffering in and out of Adventism? And it is not just a younger generation problem: the biggest current flight from church are Boomers themselves.
Adventism and the Modern Generation
This is the most opportune time in the entire history of the Adventist Church to be telling our story. We should be the religion that is at the top of every growth chart in the world. Ours should be the most compelling of all the conservative evangelical denominations. Look at what we stand for:
- Healthy living (diet and exercise).
- A more balanced life via the Sabbath.
- Our picture of God is one who does not torture in hell those who say no to him, instead allowing them to go gently to sleep for eternity. (This is the same view of death that atheists have—bet you never thought about that before!)
- We also largely support freedom of choice in areas like reproductive rights.
- While many would argue we are closed minded about homosexuality, our “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach (in some congregations) is much more gentle than most of the evangelical world.
While going to church on Saturday was once considered the weirdest thing we do, thousands of evangelical and Catholic congregations hold Saturday services, some in Adventist ghettos, even catering to ex-Adventists. And society has such a “whatever floats your boat” attitude about most things that going to church on Saturday and being serious about living your life differently one day a week is, if anything, cool and intriguing.
And yet here we are dying a slow painful death.
It Is Pretty Clear Why…
The church experience mostly sucks. Going to church may be better than going to the dentist (sorry, dentist friends) but not much. People go as much because they feel obligated to go, as they feel excited to go. It is why you don’t see the bulk of people showing up at church until around 11 am.
This is where a whole bunch of you are going to say, “What church is like, shouldn’t matter. It’s about worshiping God, not about the people or the experience.”
Bluntly, this is just plain wrong thinking, and I can prove it.
Jesus, Zappos & Ritz-Carlton
What the Ritz-Carlton and Zappos do is quite unique. They have a laser focus on giving their customers an amazing experience. They do it in such a powerful way that every team member shows up to work excited to be a part of creating this WOW experience.
This should be true in every big and small Adventist church each week.
You may be thinking I am talking blasphemy to compare church to Zappos and Ritz-Carlton, but before you condemn me to hell, let’s go to the New Testament and Jesus. I am convinced he would agree.
- At 12 years old Jesus blew the priests away with his questions and his wisdom. A WOW experience for the priests.
- For his introduction to his Jewish world he was baptized by John the Baptist (the most famous, most prominent evangelist of the day who was making waves in his own way) and then… and then… God spoke from heaven and a dove-like light thing came down over his head. Would you have been blown away? I know I would have.
- He turned water into the best wine anyone had ever tasted.
- He wiped out leprosy, made the blind see, made the crippled walk, raised people from the dead.
- He had scandalous life-transforming conversations with prostitutes and robber barons.
He was about as inappropriately flashy as anyone could possibly be and people could not get enough.
And it ultimately got him killed so we could live.
My Not-So-Modest Proposition
What if every Adventist church created a WOW committee? A group of people who were committed to the idea that going to church each and every week should be an amazing can’t-miss experience for members and new people, for everyone?
It wouldn’t be the same for each church or for each person. It would be personalized and individualized.
You are thinking can’t be done… maybe not, but Jesus seems to have done it. The Ritz-Carlton and Zappos are doing it; why can’t we?
My Sabbath School
I don’t like to toot my own horn, but you could rightly say “you go first” or “put your money where your mouth is.” In my church my little domain is junior Sabbath School, where each week my goal is to create an amazing experience for a group of a couple dozen 5th and 6th graders—and it is holy magic. I dare say I have the best attended Sabbath School on our campus, with kids driving their parents crazy to be at Sabbath School and on time.
I am a very ordinary guy, but I am 100% committed to creating an amazing experience for each and every kid who walks through my door every Sabbath. I spent a few hours in prep every week with two goals:
- I want my kids to love coming to church each week
- By the time Sabbath School is over, I want my kids to know Jesus a little better than when they walked in.
This is not something that can be just “phoned in.” It takes passion and commitment. Frequently, by the time I am done with the hour of teaching, I am tired emotionally and physically even to the point of nodding off during the sermon—and we have great preaching, so it is not the pastor’s fault.
But every few weeks I have an extraordinary experience with one or another of my kids that says “God is using you to change lives.”
The Part of My Week
When it comes to Sabbath School I am like a Ritz-Carlton or Zappos team member. I am so excited all week long to know that come Sabbath morning I am going to create another way experience for my kids.
This is in spite of the fact that I have an amazing job where I impact tens of thousands of lives each month, which is really good and really satisfying. But teaching Sabbath School creating a Jesus-shaped WOW experience for my kids each week is my favorite thing to do.
I long to see this in our congregations. Yours could be the first!
Steve Moran is the publisher of Senior Living Foresight, a web-based publication for senior living leaders. He lives in the Sacramento, California, area, where he attends the Carmichael Seventh-day Adventist church and teaches the best Junior Sabbath School students in the whole wide world.