Wisconsin young adult Joshua Guerra speaking at the Lake Union Youth Evangelism Congress, February 2020

November 2, 2021

Prioritizing our youth

At a recent conference constituency session, participants took a few moments to test the electronic voting system by responding to several multiple-choice questions. One question stood out to me: “Please select the age group to which you belong.”

Delegates could respond to one of several age categories, the last of which was “60 and over.” The “60 and over” category was by far the largest group among the delegates.

Now, I have nothing against those who are over the age of 60. I happen to be one of them. But I’m concerned about the smallest group: the young adults. As the age dropped, so did their numbers.

This scenario is not unique to Indiana; rather, it is repeated over and over everywhere. We deliberate over where the youth and young adults have gone, but this is not a new question. Two decades ago, I remember sitting in a Lake Union committee where we listened to a group of college students plead with us to help them keep their friends connected to the church. Although we were moved by their appeal, we didn’t move the needle of change. 

Yet, there is hope. Studies indicate that Christian young people are more interested in establishing authentic and transparent relationships with the Savior and with fellow believers than they are in the traditions or institutions of the church. We see that they want to connect with others in meaningful ways. Several ongoing initiatives in North America have been developed in response, including Growing Young Again (GYA), a project based on intergenerational conversation. This project emphasizes mentoring young people and helping them move into significant church community roles NOW. This program promises a significant long-term impact. 

Another very special program, featured in this issue, will take place right here in the Lake Union Conference in February 2022. The Lake Union Youth Evangelism Congress, organized by the Lake Union youth directors and the Center for Youth Evangelism at Andrews University, encourages the initiatives and ideas of young people. Those who attend will be able to share their dreams with a panel and receive funding for their outreach plans. (More details are available on page 27 of the Nov/Dec 2021 issue)

These are just a few of many attempts being made to be better listeners to young people’s needs in the North American church. These acts of listening and empowering the next generation are crucial as we continue to prepare for Jesus’ second coming. My challenge to all of us is to be passionate about engaging our young people in this shared mission of lifting up Christ in our communities and preparing all people for eternity. 

Ken Denslow is president of the Lake Union Conference.