Generation Change: Designing the Future

Last week we took a look at the challenges that lead many youth to leave the church. This week we want to explore strategies to reach and hold the emerging generation. While biblical principles will always guide our approaches, we must find new ways to apply those principles in ways that will help our youth discover and cement their Christian convictions, and to stay connected to the church. As we rethink how we do ministry, we need to redefine our approaches in evangelism, discipleship, leadership, and worship.

Redefining Evangelism

God created us with a need for community. Even God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — is a community. The human race, created in the image of God, is also a community. Effective evangelism, therefore, must be pursued through relational means. In His life and ministry, Jesus provides the perfect model for relational evangelism. He created friendships. He interacted with sinners by sitting and eating at their tables. He demonstrated an interest in their lives. He provided for their needs. And then, He invited them to follow Him.

The early Christian church followed the same model. They shared their lives together. They provided for each other’s needs. As Paul puts it in 1 Thessalonians 2:8, “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.”1

A new generation of believers is rising; a generation that wants to make a difference in the lives of those around them. Relational evangelism is the key to reaching people for Christ. Youthful disciples today not only want to bring people to Christ, they want to walk with them in their own discipleship journey, praying with and helping them along the way. This is essential to our commission to not only baptize, but to teach and disciple new followers for Christ.

Redefining Discipleship

Jesus has given us only one plan for church growth: Multiplication through disciples. Jesus did not say, “Go and make more church members.” He said, “Go and make more disciples.” Simply sitting in church for two hours on Sabbath morning is not going to make disciples. We must find new and effective ways to disciple our youth from the inside out. In their book, The Passionate Church, Mike Breen and Walt Kallestad recommend the three following strategies:2

1. Study the Culture: Find ways to become relevant to the culture of your surrounding community and church members.

2. Read the Bible: Let it become a roadmap for developing an essential relationship with God.

3. Build the Church: In order to grow the church, we must change over time. While our biblical principles are constant, fresh, Spirit-led applications of those principles will enable us to experience a daily upgrade in our faith experience.

Redefining Leadership

Today’s youth do not respond well to authoritarian leadership approaches. They respond better to relational approaches. They recognize and respect authenticity and transparency. They want to follow real leaders who authentically “walk the talk.” They aspire to this kind of leadership in their own spheres of influence.

Redefining Worship

The prophet Isaiah invites us to a vibrant kind of worship:

Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the instruction of our God, you people of Gomorrah! “The multitude of your sacrifices — what are they to me?” says the Lord. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New moons, Sabbaths and convocations — I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” —Isaiah 1:10-18

Today’s generation is looking for a worship that goes beyond tradition and routine. They seek to worship God in every aspect of their lives. In this life of worship they aspire to do that which is right, to seek justice and defend the oppressed. Thus our lives will become a reflection of He whom we worship.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is your true and proper worship. —Romans 12:1

Notes & References:

1. All Bible passages in this article have been taken from the New International Version

2. Breen, M. & Kallestad, W. (2005). The Passionate Church: The Art of Life-Changing Discipleship. Chicago, IL. Cook Communications Ministries.

Sammy Reyes is an artist, storyteller, and a creative force that connects imagination and inspiration to create art and beauty. He’s best known for his integration of creativity and spirituality. Currently he is the co-founder and creative director of Innovative Minds, a Miami-based community of creatives, designers, poets, and film makers.

This article originally appeared on the NAD Ministerial website and is reprinted here with permission.

Photo by Timothy Choy on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Some excellent thoughts and powerful Scripture verses.
Culture; yes isn’t that what is at the heart of of the WO
Someone said, the last thing that fish discover is water.
For us it is culture. That’s true of older or younger
generations. Just take a closer look at the jeans and
shoes that are worn in the above picture.

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Is it only today’s generation?

Does the quote imply that there is a problem with those who lead local churches, including pastors?

I would suggest that the article implies that a reformation is needed in teaching/worship service methods.

The article is loaded with academic generalities and religious obscure lingo.

The older we get, the more we dislike change. The church is increasingly made up of older people - the older the church gets the less change it tolerates, and the fewer young people are interested. The thing is, the older people will be gone sooner than the young; and the young are the future of the church. What does that say about the future of the church… We should be able to accommodate both.


Some fish live in salt water and some in fresh water and for our youth our traditional church services are like expecting a fresh water fish to survive in salt water. The essence of worship is our expression of adoration and praise to God after having an encounter with His amazing love and power, but our worship services largely prohibit such expression and instead impose on us a period of instruction. Why do we expect that to be effective when we also have the Sabbath School as our designed period of instruction? Calling that hour a “worship” service is an oxymoron of galactic proportions with eternal consequences. Just as Martin Luther and the other reformers revamped the Catholic service to use new hymns and other factors, the time has arrived for us to do the same. I have had that experience at my church and the part that amazes me the most is how making major changes to the “worship” service to make it more relevant to the youth has also made it more relevant to all ages, including senior citizens.


I agree with Sirje.
The “Old People” I know in the SDA church [and that is anyone over 35 or 40] dislike change.
Look at the ages of much of our pastors. SAME.
A number of years ago we had a pastor in our church that practiced with a group of men on
guitars after church couple of times a month. They decided to have a Sabbath Vespers
program [6PM – a “come if you want to” event].
They put on their program. And later he received so much “flack” that he resigned – LEFT!!
and transferred to another church up in Tennessee. And most of his guitar members have
transferred to other churches in the area.

Regarding Women. Our leaders are adamant about NOT having Women Elders.
In our congregation there isn’t very much “fun” in worship on Sabbaths.
If our teens go to Academy, go off to Southern or elsewhere, then come back to their
home church, they are going to miss creative worship they had then.
It is like the World War I song – “How you going to keep them down on the farm after
they’ve seen Paree [France]”


Most Adventist churches consist of only two generations - Boomers and Y’s or X’s and Z’s. Very rarely is a 3rd generation present in any great number. The churches that will prosper in the future are those that contain X’s and Z’s. The younger generations will grow up in the church. They will be the active churches with strong Adventurer and Pathfinder/Youth ministries. The only Boomer & Y churches that will prosper are those that adapt to bring in the third generation groups.
Creative worship is one way of attracting the younger groups but it is not the only way. Any outreach needs to be followed by genuine engagement and friendship. People stay with a church (denomination) because of conviction. They stay with a church (congregation) because of relationships.

Well,…speak for yourself… :open_mouth: :laughing:


Actually I’m not speaking for myself. I told a pastor friend who wanted to know why I haden’t shown up in church lately, that I tried going once, but “nothing had changed”. He was surprised and wanted to know what I though should change - where to begin.


We haven’t been to church in about 15 years…and not one person has ever asked, where have you been, are you okay, or, we miss you. :thinking:

I do remember getting some uncomfortable glances, and a steely stare from one older lady, when I would run into some of them at the grocery store, or where ever. :face_with_raised_eyebrow: :upside_down_face: :slightly_smiling_face:


No, we haven’t had anyone come to find out why we’re not at church either. This pastor was an old friend that happened to be visiting our home.

Actually, what prompted not going back came as a result of having been out of the area for an extended time, and when we came back no one called or got in touch. My husband quipped, “let’s see how long it’s going to take”. This was more than ten years ago. My grandson goes tho the constituent school so I see everybody on a regular basis. I do see some discomfort but I ignore it. I’m sure nobody wants to breach the subject, for whatever reason.

You are lucky that nobody brought you a SS quarterly every 3 months… :laughing:


I’ve been thinking on this as I’ve been reading your responses. Someone mentioned the SS quarterly. I’ve not read one in decades. They weren’t relevant to me. I know some would find that shocking including my parents, God rest their souls. They read the quarterly faithfully together right up till the time of their deaths. I honestly don’t know if they were blessed and fulfilled by it or if they did it because they felt they needed to. I prefer to believe it was the former.

But back to the point of relevance, which I believe is the point of this article and discussion. There was so much about my life as a teen and 20 something that needed relevance that didn’t seem to be available in church or in the quarterly or in most of the other things we consider to be “church.” How do you make the lesson quarterly relevant to a teenager whose primary concern in making it through yet another oppressive and messed up day? You don’t. Period.

Far too many of us, including, or maybe especially our young people need relationship with us in the church. They need to know that we’ve got their backs. They need to know that we are safe to come to with their often serious problems. That there will be no judgment.

Quite a few years back I was sitting at a potluck table with a collection of other church members one of whom was a teen that I knew to have been sexually abuse a few years previously. During the discussion at the table the topic of the RCC clergy abuse scandal came up and one of the church elders stated that in his opinion it was just a bunch of lazy men trying to get money out of the deep pockets of the Catholic Church.

I could see the devastation in that poor kid’s eyes. In that instant, church became the most unsafe place he could ever imagine, which the following weeks, months, and years bore out. We no longer had his back. He and I have remained friends over the years but it only took one moment, and an insensitive and utterly ignorant comment from someone who’d have been better off keeping his idiotic mouth shut to change the course of that kid’s life.

This is a pattern repeated over and over again in congregations. No, maybe it’s not quite so stark but it’s always something. An inattentive word, a criticism, a “joke”, a gossiping moment. It can be a sudden thing, as it was with my young friend, or it can be a buildup, but we simply MUST do a better job of being a loving and safe place. Honestly, I think our church services can be about as boring as watching paint dry, but if they young people, or anyone for that matter, knows that we’ve got their back they’ll be around as long as we still do. If not? Well, that’s what this article and discussion is about, right?


True…people really don’t want to get into a discussion. I think they are uncomfortable with their own belief system, and aren’t sure that they can really defend it. Don’t dig too deeply…!

What I have found with non-SDA Christians, is that they really enjoy talking about the Bible. There is no 3rd-wheel in the mix, no outside authority…what joy and freedom!!!


That is a perfect description. There is a freedom that comes from disconnecting from an ideology - freedom to explore; to listen; to find new horizons - discovery. We know a minutia about anything; and so much to learn. Discovery is impossible if you think you already have been given the final word on everything, and anything new is suspect. That shuts down the “hunger and thirst for righteousness”. That is not to say we have to shed everything we’ve been taught; but it’s my experience there are new ways of understanding, and new areas of emphasis that change how we relate to God.


That to me is one of the biggest problems facing the church - the lack of genuine concern for and engagement with fellow believers. If you want to stop pepole leaving, make them feel welcome and give them a place where they can feel they belong.

I left for doctrinal reasons, so showing concern wouldn’t have changed my reasons for leaving, but I wonder if some of the doctrines are at the root of the problem for the lack of concern shown by members towards the former members.


Lack of concern is an outward reflection of a person’s attitude, which is formed by their beliefs. If a person is expecting (working towards) perfection before Christ’s return, it is inevitable they will develop some self loathing each time they fail. This will show through as “I am not worthy and do not deserve friendship”. They will be “standoffish” towards others as they focus more and more internally and trying to bring self under control. They may also go the other way “I am almost perfect, just a little more effort will get me there”.

What is common to both is the focus on self. In my experience, the most friendly church people are those who have a living relationship with Christ and want others to share that relationship. The mainstream churches operate on the principle of Behave -> Believe -> Belong. You only “belong” in church once you behave and believe. Christ operated on the principle of Belong -> Believe -> Behave. You belong to Him and as a result He wants you to believe in Him (what He has done for you) and then behave as He wants you to behave (sharing the Gospel).

Most doctrine is periphery to salvation, but it is what identifies the church and makes it different from other churches or organisations. While it defines the identity of the church, it should not define the behaviour of church members or used as a tool of judgement.


Or they will go way overboard with, “I’m working very hard at this, why aren’t the rest of you!” and start pointing out other people’s shortcomings. Classic example of that approach has been demonstrated by folk like Jimmy Swaggart and Ted Haggard.

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I don’t remember who it was, but some time ago a Spectrumite referred a book that I finally started reading. And I found a few great thought in it.

"Unbelievable: Why Neither Ancient Creeds Nor the Reformation Can Produce a Living Faith Today", by John S. Spong - Kindle Edition

It was my daughter Jaquelin Ketner Spong, the recipient of a Ph.D. degree in physics from Stanford University, who once said to me: “Dad, the questions the church keeps trying to answer, we don’t even ask anymore.” (p. 3)

There is a game being played in contemporary church life where truth is suppressed in the name of unity. (p. 7)
(This one reminds me of the current assault by the GC on the Unions’ authority)

Controversy in the Christian church is seldom just about biblical exegesis and theological formulations. By and large people do not want to engage these issues publicly, perhaps because they know deep down that their religious convictions cannot stand much public scrutiny. (p. 9)

The biggest sign of the demise of organized religion in our generation, however, has been the statistical downward spiral of mainline churches, most of which know too much to play the security games of their past, but which have not yet figured out what to do as they move into the future. (p. 12)

Well, for more… just get the damn book!!! :laughing: