Reaching the Millennial Generation

On April 12–14, the Global Mission Center for Secular and Postmodern Studies (CSPS), in partnership with the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University, hosted the Reaching Millennial Generations conference. More than 200 individuals from every division in the world, including the Trans-European, Inter-European, South Pacific, and South American Divisions journeyed to Berrien Springs, Michigan for the much-anticipated event.

“It’s time for us to talk about Millennials and the younger generations,” said Kleber Gonçalves, CSPS director and Doctor of Ministry program director at the Seminary. “This is the future of our church, and there are so many opportunities in this new context that we live in. We need to start building bridges of communication with these generations.”

The conference featured James Emery White, author of The Rise of the Nones and Meet Generation Z. In addition, 20 plenary and breakout session presenters from around the world gathered to share their expertise, including church planters, a “digital missionary,” administrators, researchers and educators, many of whom are Millennials.

“The decision to bring younger practitioners was a major change from other conferences,” said Gonçalves. “These young people are making a difference in the world because they are passionate in what they do. People were able to see that if we have passion in our hearts to reach these generations, God will open up opportunities.”

A. Allan Martin, teaching pastor of Younger Generation Church and lead research facilitator for the Adventist Millennial Study done by the Barna Group, delivered the first plenary presentation. He explained the sobering statistics of young adult disengagement with Adventism and why he was convicted to do research and equip churches to understand and reach young people.

“I wasn’t going to flip a coin to see whether or not my daughter would belong to the church I’ve given my life to,” he said.

At the end of his presentation, attendees partnered to pray by name for the young adults they each know who have left the church.

“Reaching these generations is a big challenge for all countries,” said Edilene Araújo, a youth and young adult worker who traveled from São Paulo, Brazil, to attend the conference. “We can’t just stop and watch the youth leaving the church. I’m returning to Brazil with new energy because of what I’ve learned and experienced here.”

Next, keynote speaker James Emery White presented “The Rise of the Nones,” exploring the 25 percent of Americans, and 50 percent of young adults, who claim no religious affiliation.

“The vast majority of the ‘nones’ are happy without a religion,” said White. “One person said, ‘I’m not an atheist. I don’t even care anymore. I’m an apathy-ist.’”

In his second plenary presentation, White focused on Generation Z, those born between 1995–2012, who comprise the largest generation in modern U.S. history.

“Gen Z is the first in history to find whatever they need to know without the help of intermediaries,” he explained. “They have instant access to any information but little access to wisdom.”

White delineated the challenges of reaching Generation Z, the first “post-Christian” generation which he calls a “lost generation.”

“There is profound spiritual emptiness,” he said. “But if we change where we need to change, there is hope for the church.”

One area that White encouraged church leaders to master is social media.

“Gen Z are digital natives who can’t remember a world without constant, immediate, convenient access to the web,” White said. “If you are not putting the focus of your outreach efforts through social media, wake up!”

In his breakout session, Justin Khoe, creator of the YouTube channel “That Christian Vlogger,” which has more than 50,000 mostly non-Adventist subscribers, echoed the importance of social media to reach next generations.

“Millennials spend an average of 18 hours behind a screen every day,” Khoe said. “Digital is the most important mission field if you want to reach Millennials in the western world. Every single day thousands of people are questioning their core convictions, and they are looking for advice online. Where are you in that conversation? Where am I?”

In his final plenary presentation, “Rethinking Evangelism and Apologetics in Light of What We Know About Generation Z,” White explained that evangelism techniques must develop and change in response to the decreasing biblical literacy of younger generations.

“People need you to very quickly move to the ‘so what?’ of Bible teaching,” he said. “They have seen so few, if any, lives that have had their deepest needs met by Christ. They need to get a whiff of another world.”

Jazzmine Bankston, a volunteer with Advent Project, a Millennial church plant in San Antonio, Texas, appreciated the closer look at Generation Z.

“I’m an English teacher, so I work with Gen Z, and being able to identify what is impacting their spiritual growth is phenomenal,” she said.

Following White, Manuela Casti Yeagley, a research assistant professor at the University of Notre Dame, explored the state of religion in Europe in her presentation “The Church, Humbled.” Attendees then split into breakout sessions on topics ranging from reaching Millennials in an urban setting to planting Millennial churches, before taking a Sabbath preparation break.

On Friday evening, Judit Manchay, Seminary student, presented “Stand by Me,” a devotional challenging ministry practitioners to support the Millennial generation.

“Can you be honest about your faith like Jesus was?” she asked. “Can you stick it out with me and be complex?”

The final plenary presentation on Friday was delivered by Sam Neves, General Conference communication associate director, on the problem with the Adventist “brand” worldwide. Neves explained that there are more Adventist churches around the world (150,000+), in more countries, than all the McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and Subway restaurants combined (33,000+). However, these brands are much more recognizable than the Adventist church.

“We are extremely fragmented,” said Neves. “A non-integrated message is a weak message. The highest Adventist result when people Google ‘Bible study’ is on page three, where organizations go to die.”

In response, the General Conference Communication Department has developed a new logo and font for the Adventist brand and has proposed the “Creation Grid,” a branding strategy in which Adventist institutions can use six-sevenths of a visual design however they desire and reserve the seventh column for the Adventist Church logo.

“You, alone in your ministry, cannot compete with marketers,” Neves said. “But together we can. We spend a fortune on marketing globally, but it’s fragmented and competing with each other. In the name of God, those days are over.”

On Sabbath morning, attendees gathered at the Howard Performing Arts Center for a continental breakfast, worship, and a plenary presentation by Roger Hernandez, the ministerial and evangelism director for the Southern Union Conference. Hernandez shared evangelistic trends in today’s post-Christian culture.

“I believe the best way to engage Millennials is to plant churches with them,” Hernandez said. “It’s easier to give birth than to resurrect the dead.”

Tyler Kraft, pastor of the Tracy Adventist Church in Northern California, agreed with this statement.

“I’m walking away with the conviction to plant a church,” he said. “I came to the conference because my church elders and I have been trying to put together a young adult ministry for the past year but kept hitting roadblocks. These presentations convinced me that we need to have an intentional, missional church-planting focus.”

Next, Seth Pierce, lead pastor of the Puyallup Adventist Church, presented “The Shape of Water,” a devotional on John 4:5–10.

“My prayer is not only that we have the opportunity to become the shape of living water for others but that we will recognize the shape of living water when it comes to us,” he said.

Gonçalves delivered the final presentation for the conference: “Sharing Our Faith with Millennial Generations: The Power of Storytelling.” A Stanford study revealed that stories are remembered 22 times more than facts alone.

“Stories are so powerful because they connect us to our humanity by linking our lives to the past and giving us glimpses of the future,” he said. “They create empathy with other people, which affords tremendous opportunities for reaching Millennial generations.”

Afterwards, attendees split into groups for the final breakout sessions before gathering again for a panel discussion among conference presenters, moderated by conference organizer and Seminary student David Hamstra. The conversation was broadcasted on Facebook Live, allowing users to comment and tweet in questions for the panel using the conference’s #rmgen hashtag.

For Gonçalves, who has invested nearly two years in organizing the conference, there is one takeaway point he hopes all conference attendees have grasped.

“It’s possible to reach these generations,” he said. “There are so many opportunities if we have the passion and the vision from God. So I hope they think to themselves, ‘I can do this. It’s possible. I can connect with them.’”

The conference was recorded by the Adventist Learning Community and videos will be posted on the CSPS website,, when they are available. For more information, visit and follow @theCSPS on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

This article was written by Samantha Angeles, Seminary student writer, and originally appeared on the Andrews University website. It is reprinted here with permission.

Image: James Emery White, author and pastor of the Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, was the keynote speaker for the Reaching Millennial Generations conference. Photo by Shiekainah Decano, courtesy of Andrews University.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

The “Elephant(s) in the Room” know some of the reasons younger people are leaving churches. Why does this report say people met and talked without reporting on some of the inconvenient reasons people are turned away? I have some suggestions:

  1. LGT. Are younger people are turned away by the push to perfection to CAUSE the second coming?

  2. WO. Are younger people turned away by the arguing over and resistance to women’s ordination?

  3. LGBT. Are young people turned away by the strong condemnation and shunning of LGBT people?

  4. Literalism / fundamentalism. Are young people turned away because they do not see the Bible as literally as “good” Adventists"? Are they turned away by the strong bent toward fundamentalism some Adventists promote?

  5. Shaking. Are young people turned away by the GC President’s acknowledgement that it might be his duty to lead “the shaking”? Is that a welcoming approach?


You need to add a 6th point:

  1. Are young people turned away because their understanding of science does not support a recent creation.

But people don’t leave because of doctrinal disagreement, or really anything that involves thought. They almost always leave because of hurt feelings or failed interpersonal connections! A new program, new logo, new worship space, new worship style-that’s the ticket.

You lift the rug, I’ll get the broom, and we’ll address those pesky, inconvenient “reasons.”


I’m not sure whether that is a tongue in cheek comment mean’t to highlight an alternate position, or not.

My view is that people leaving over relational issues have never been fully sold on the message. If there are doubts over the “distinctive” beliefs, then when a relational problem comes along it is easy to say, “whats the point of belonging” to an organisation to whose beliefs I am not wedded to.

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I was feeling particularly sarcastic when I wrote that comment. I am no longer classified as a younger person. I do, however, have significant questions of my own regarding the whole list noted by you and Peter. They are also relevant to me as mother of a young person who has 1.5 feet out of the church.

Speaking for myself, I don’t so much have a problem with the message per se, but more with the attitude and approach taken by leaders today. Younger people see through marketing, branding, and styles used to try to reach them. When they see shenanigans, political posturing, hypocrisy, perfectionism, well, they don’t see Christ. Not so sure I do, either.


Okay. I hear you. And your frustration.

Most of us relate back to experience, so let me share mine. I belong to a church that is full of young people - indeed, is run by young people. It does meet on Saturday, and just about every other day of the week. It is not Adventist, and has none of the drawbacks of the 6 issues identified by Peter and me. The place is well filled out by others that would be considered to be on the margins of society, and our people embrace and nurture them. Ministry is a living active thing every day of the week.

Young people like to see things done well. They enjoy being creative. They don’t want to attend somewhere where they cringe. They want to be proud of what they associated with. And they want to be relevant.

Because my church doesn’t have the 6 factors listed above, I draw a correlation between that and the success in keeping the young people in the church. I could be wrong in my assessment.


Oh my, does that ever sound attractive. You’re so fortunate. I’m with the younger people in spirit, and want them to know Jesus, wherever they can find Him. They should be able to be proud of the group that leads them to Him, and they should be free of false distractions like your six issues (and others.)


WOW! Peter!!! You did it again! Great post.
I don’t know if there is something else to add to what you just told us about the reason for the youth lacking interest in the Church.

Maybe I would add one more, if you agree:

  1. Politics. The Church political maneuvers are evident, and they really suck! The youth have no patience for this kind of manipulation . Not even the GC President is elected by the Church, but rather by a very small group.

Until there is a doctrinal purge in our Church, and errors are recognized, I doubt the next generation(s) will keep buying SDAism as we did in the past.
I believe the youth still can accept a Bible-based religion. But unless Adventism becomes a Bible-only religion, I don’t see how it can attract people, especially the youth.


I couldn’t agree with you more wholeheartedly. But recognising the errors will cause it’s own divisions. Can the church handle short term pain for long term gain. Or should it split, so that the whole edifice does not collapse.

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That’s certainly a big part of it. Also, the internet has made it impossible to control information on the church wide level, so it’s hard to keep older unsupported ideas afloat. Of course, the internet can oftentimes serve as an echo chamber, so it’s not the ONLY reason, just a critical one.

I’m actually working on a book on the topic of common complaints about American churches in genera, and one of the most common issues I’d say I run into as a millennial(and others around me) is that the church just doesn’t seem to listen to millennials or their concerns.


Well, if rapture does not happen soon, rupture will probably take place soon…
Rapture Vs Rupture.


I teach English at a public High School in California. Some of my observations:

  1. Teens are very tolerant of diversity in just about anything socially. Gays in my classrooms are part of the mainstream. One of my female students just requested to have a name change to reflect her new gender. Students don’t care. The school records reflect it.
  2. Due to the influence of music, their culture had embraced many words that were forbidden, no so long ago. It is not so much profanity–its vulgarity. Even in staff meetings the F word is frequently used. I think I hear it at least 50 times a day.
  3. Religious ethics are not foremost. One girl told her classmates she often pushes cartloads out of Walmart, without paying. Nobody cared. Others shared events.
  4. Even youth that do attend church, upon questing them, cannot tell me ONE Ten Commandment. One Christian teen responded, “Do not hurt anyone.”
  5. Marriage is not a necessity. Sex is just that. There is more freedom to vocally express sexual body parts in conversation. Even boys have publicly accused girls of being on their periods and girls have openly talked about it to male seatmates.
  6. There is more hatred mixed with distrust for civil authorities and police. They have no problem not standing for flag salute. They often express hatred, in vile language, for the President of U.S. They have no issue in calling him all kinds of names (MF).
  7. Their cell phones are an extension of their very lives. Many would rather be expelled from school than yield their cell phones. The Rap artist teens listen too are laced with vulgarity, sex, hatred to authority and prostitution of women.
  8. I don’t have one teen, in my 7 English classes, that exercises outdoors.
  9. Many freely talk about getting high and drunk over the weekend. Some come to school high. Smoking weed is a right of passage, a normal teen experience. It would be embarrassing for a teen to let it be known they don’t use it.
  10. Eating for health is not part of their mainstream culture.
  11. They love cell phone games, they are capable of texting almost non-stop, they love selfies and cannot imagine a world without electronics. Soft to hard porn and fight videos is not uncommon among male students.
  12. Most of my students are confused on how to address a letter, where it place the stamp, and how to write a business letter. These activities are not very useful to them. I corrected one teen when he placed the return address next to the sending address, he insisted it was correct. Because his Father mailed letters to him from jail that way.
  13. The majority of my students–don’t attend any church. Many have never been inside a church. I have often played soft Christian instrumental hymns during class. NO ONE student has ever identified any song, even as common as “What a Friend we have in Jesus.” While playing “Abide with me,” one student told me it made her feel good inside. I asker if she had ever heard the song before. She replayed, No. I told her what it was and that God was speaking to her heart. Someday just say Yes to God’s voice.

I think most the featured speakers at this conference live or work in an Adventist bubble.


An astonishing and troubling insight into modern teen culture.

I find the widespread use of marijuana troubling as it saps initiative, hard work and upward mobility.

I agree that equal rights and egalitarianism are paramount attributes of modern teen and millennial culture.

So Adventism’s overt misogyny and homophobia are a drastic deterrent to attracting new converts from this generation. But the upper echelons of our GC seem oblivious to this fact.

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Sometimes re-election is the primary concern…