At the 2014 North American Division Ministries Convention in Monterey, California, David Kinnaman, Barna Group president, reported that 59 percent of Adventist young adults who remain active in the church do so because an adult—other than a pastor or parent—took an interest in their life.
I was shocked to learn in an additional report that up to 70 percent of young people end up leaving the Christian church by the time they are young adults, although some later return. We could focus on all the negative reasons why young people leave the church. But perhaps our time is better spent in considering why they stay.
In the mind of a young person, pastors are paid to be interested in them, and their parents are naturally concerned. So, according to Barna Group research, when other adults really care too, it matters.
It has been my experience that we lose many young adults when they are about 13-16 years of age. This is the age when many young people are ending their involvement with Pathfinders and entering junior high and high school. It is an awkward age when young people are vulnerable and need acceptance from peers. It is a time for discovering their identity. This is the time when we need adult church members to be involved and care. A church that makes sure it has an Earliteen and/or Youth Sabbath school team (youth group) is going a long way in helping its young people develop their spiritual lives.
Fortunately, I am one of those 59 percent who can point to a church, a church school, and a youth leader who took an interest in my choices. One of those adults was Lloyd Summers, a busy attorney. Not only was he our Sabbath school leader, he was also our basketball and football coach. He was someone I looked up to.
One day Lloyd came to our school, Boulder Junior Academy, and asked to speak to me privately about a serious matter. We walked out into the parking lot and sat in his Volvo. There he “care-fronted” me about some destructive choices I was making. He prayed with me and appealed to me to change the direction of my life before I destroyed it. The result? That one prayer and intervention was an important positive turning point.
Making the difference
I had not spoken with Lloyd for nearly 35 years until Steve Case, president of Involve Youth Ministries, and I decided to begin writing the first training manual in the Seventh-day Adventist Church (a set of five books) for local Sabbath school leaders. I called Lloyd, now living in Portland, Oregon, because I wanted him to know that I was dedicating the second book, Building A Great Team, to him.
I asked him if he remembered taking me out of school when I was in the 10th grade and talking and praying with me. He said he didn’t. Then I asked him if he drove a Volvo back then. He said that he did. How did I know? I told Lloyd that I still remember studying the chrome emblem on the dashboard while he prayed for me.
You may never know in this life the difference you are making in the life of a young person. In the Mid-America Union we have hundreds of God’s children who need someone just like you to take time to care.
The Bible gives the people with the Elijah Message a promise and a consequence regarding its young people: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse” (Mal. 4:6).
There are so many wonderful things happening in the Mid-America Union for our young people. I want to thank all the children, youth and young adult leaders of our churches—and most especially regular church members who go out of their way to care for the young people of the church. As a pastor and a parent it means so much to join with you in the salvation of our kids.