As church attendance continues to fall in the UK, the lowest it has been for 50 years, less than half of the population, claim any belief in God. Many say that in the next two decades less than 20% of Britons will accept a label as being called a Christian. Experts say four key aspects are the source of decline. The increasing average age, (lack of young people), the fall in the number of men, the proportion of Christians who believe without belonging, and a tendency of those attending to be middle class.
Put them all together and the picture you get of the Church in the UK is one that fails to attract four distinct people groups:
§ Committed Christians
§ Young people
§ The poor
Amidst the gloomy prediction of the religious landscape, Seventh day Adventist Youth in a recent 2012 summer survey presents a different picture. Far from the decline of men, the poor and young people, a vibrant community of youths armed with the gospel are silently equipping themselves, and they are ready for investment and to be mobilized.
In one of the most in-depth random youth and teens surveys carried out in the last ten years, 1,298 youth and teens paint a vivid acrid picture of their experience of current church life. The evidence is they are genuinely interested in the future, wellbeing and growth of the church. For example 77% of those surveyed believe that it is a good/ great idea to redesign Sabbath service to make it more innovative and interesting to help win new converts join the faith. Without this, in their view, Seventh day Adventists, will not achieve its true potential growth, which lies in its unique differentiated message and strong health ethos.
Redesign Sabbath worship services to make them more interesting innovative, upbeat, and interesting
It also appears that the youth and teens are positioning themselves to take on key responsibilities and front line leadership positions in the church in the south. A convincing 74 % would like real involvement to lead out in worship services and believe that more emphasis on youth design services could lead to a genuine uplift in new young converts. They are convicted that a lost generation is out there in the UK, and Adventism holds the key to the dismal outlook on life many young Britons face daily.
Adventist Youths not only see Face book, Twitter, Bebo, Linked In and other social medias as tools for staying in touch and reaching out to those in Cyberspace. 66% surveyed affirm that recreational events will help build stronger relationships and will be good overall for the Church. They believe that the Church is failing to capitalize on key social media tools to bring the message home to the new IPhone and blackberry generation.
Offer more social and recreational events to make church life more enjoyable for young people
However despite the zeal and enthusiasm coming from the youth a worrying red flag was raised in relation to the question “My spiritual needs are being met by the congregation I attend.” 39% of young adults felt they were unsure, disagreed or strongly disagreed that the Church delivered what is required to sustain them spiritually long term. More worrying is whether this figure is a growing, long term trend, as no data exist to measure this against. However we now have a stake in the ground and this will feature as a key statistic in future surveys.
My spiritual needs is being met in the congregation I attend
Evidence is also emerging of significant disparity of views on whether the value worship service contribution is making a difference to everyday living. The survey asked “To what extent does worship services or activities, helps you with everyday living” This question focuses particular importance on how, worship service and messages from the pulpit translates into the day to day life application tools that can be used by our youth, teens and church attendees.
To what extent does the worship services or activities of the congregation you attend help you with everyday living?
This signals a number of questions. Are weekly sermons having an impact? Are Sabbath School lessons and training carried out by the church, equipping the youths to tackle the key challenges facing young Britons in the outside world? Is the church able to cope with, High profile social issues such as crime and gang culture, binge drinking and drug misuse, teenage pregnancy and sexual health, exam pressure, lack of jobs, and negative stereotyping, hanging out with nothing to do, nowhere to go?
68% of youths surveyed felt that worship services to a small extent, or not at all, helped with the, day- to- day issues faced by youths in their daily lives. It is incontrovertible that some of the issues mentioned are being lived out by youth attending church.
So where do the Pastors feature in the lives of the youths in the church today? Are they in touch? Are they up to speed crime and gang culture, binge drinking and drug misuse, teenage pregnancy and sexual health, exam pressure, lack of jobs, and negative stereotyping issues facing the youths? Is there synergy? And where would an astute Pastor looking to make an impact begin.
A recent ministerial workers survey, which sought to measure Pastoral perception of youth spirituality revealed the following to the question “My Youth spiritual needs are being met by the congregation I Pastor”.
My Youth and young adults’ spiritual need is met in the congregation I Pastor
A marked 88% of Pastors strikingly agreed with this statement. Many Pastors genuinely believe they are hitting the mark in meeting the spiritual need of youths in their congregation and they are delivering program and tools to build their youth and teens. Herein lies the dichotomy. Nearly 70% of youths conclude worship services add marginal value to their Christian experience. Many youths study for themselves and take full responsibility for weekly spiritual input in their lives, yet in all sincerity Pastors do believe they are meeting their needs.
My Spiritual need is being met in the congregation I attend
The challenges revealed in the survey should be seen as opportunities for change, to take the church forward. This is borne out by the fact that although the youth appears to be struggling to find their place, in making a contribution to the church in its current shape, the facts reveal, that they have an unquenchable earnest desire, burring in their hearts, to bring others to the message. Providing the Church is willing to change direction, this should be a win, win situation.
In one pivotal survey question relating to evangelism, the youths were asked, “Would you be prepared to invite friends or relatives who do not now attend, to a worship service “. 60% of youths said they would and have done so in the last 12 months, however 25% were not prepared to do so until the church made real change, in the style and content of worship service messages, and was more accommodative in dealing with real life issues facing the youth in society today.
Would you be prepared to invite to a worship service of your congregation, any of your friends and relatives who do not now attend Church?
The youth are also showing a desire to become engaged in front line evangelism and community ministry. 75% surveyed would like to become involved in UK or overseas mission activities delivering aid, working with the poor and homeless, drug rehabilitation programs, working with battered women, or sexual abuse victims. In fact, 96% said they would like to be personally involved or agree it was a very good idea.
Organize Mission trips overseas or here in the UK
Despite the survey revealing an intrinsic desire to be involved the results showed an underlying tension. Many youths would like to be allowed to establish their ministries in Church and this is a root cause of frustration. The current working Church model does not readily accommodate “out of the box “concepts easily, and many youth complain about being met with bureaucracy, overregulation and lack of funding to get Direct Ministries off the ground.
This tension has culminated into many youths being detached from ministerial program being run internally. 86% of young people would like the freedom to establish their own direct ministries. However only a very small percentage are able to do so at present. Lack of funding and underinvestment was cited as a root cause. In one example provided by youths, they confirmed the annual budget for their local church was £75.00.
Allow youth and young adults to establish and direct their own ministries in Church
The survey ended with participants being asked, “How well do the following statements describe your congregation?” Thirteen generic statements were put to the youths. The responses of seven are worth mentioning.
§ Our congregation is a moral beacon in the community.
– 24% of youths scored slightly
§ Our congregation is working for social justice.
– 25.4% of youth scored slightly
§ Our congregation is trying to increase racial / ethnic diversity.
– 19% of scored slightly
§ Our congregation helps members deepen their relationship with God.
- 22% of youth scored slightly
§ Our congregation has a clear mission and purpose.
-22% of youths scored slightly
§ Our congregation deals opening with disagreements and conflicts.
- 23% of youth scored slightly
§ Our congregation welcomes innovation and change.
- 25% of youth scored slightly.
In March 2011 Adventist Edge a leading Church publication cited the average age of Church members in the US as age 52, with many youth leaving the Church before they are age 20. It confirmed over one thousand Seventh Day Adventist churches do not have enough children to conduct Sabbath schools or AYS programs. The net effect of this in 30 years’ time is a dying Church, in its present form, a stagnant one.
The research confirmed that many members show, No alarm, No concern about the age gap, in fact it states there is a” disturbing state of complacency and self-centeredness”, emerging from these churches.
In Britain today, we have the opportunity make real change before it is too late. To invest in our youth spiritually, financially and give them the emotional security and freedom to take our Church in the UK forward, however, we must act now and we must empower them today.
Dr Steve Thomas, SEC Youth Director States: “The history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church reminds us of young people, driven by the Holy Spirit, being able to preach, teach and lead in the establishment of the end time church. I am proud to lead young people who share the same aspirations and zeal as our founders. The survey results highlight a need for change that should include more youth and young adults being given leadership responsibilities and input into the services of the church, without this we are in imminent danger as a Church. Gods hand has led the church in the past; therefore let us not fear we must define a clear role for the young people in the church and let them take their place and lead”.
Article written by Paul Thompson, SEC Youth Advisory