I don’t know who makes these things up, but you and I have been labeled:
Born 1946-1964: You’re a Boomer.
Born 1965-1980: You’re Generation X
Born 1981-2000: You’re a Millennial
Born 2001-2014: You’re Post-Millennial (to hijack a theological term)
The Pew Research Center went to work studying the differences between these age groups. The results of their studies found that the Millennials are feeling much less fond of churches and religious organizations than they did just a few years ago. On the flip side of things, their views of large corporations, banks, labor unions, and universities are becoming much more positive.
How do we reach this Millennial generation? How do we help them see their need for a radical change? What can be done to awaken them from the slumber of the world?
As I listen to our grey (or no-haired) church leaders eloquently plead for our young people and their mass exodus from our churches, I’m left to ponder if we are going about this all wrong. “Our children are the future of this church” they say. “We must invest in them.” So, millions of dollars are spent on programs and efforts to retain our youth as they come to maturity. We subsidize their Adventist education. We ask them what they want. They say, “Sports, drama, less rules, less judging etc...” And we oblige. And yet they still leave. And I’ve been reading about this in the Review for over 15 years, since I first became an Adventist myself. The Ministry Magazine archives testify that this goes back much further:
https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/1992/04/adventist-youth-cry-out; https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/1994/02/another-look-at-valuegenesis; https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/2002/06/youth-apostasy-and-recovery.html; https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/1991/06/ministering-to-the-youth-on-their-own-turf; But the exodus continues.
It makes sense to me. No, it really does. The plan to keep our youth is simple. Tell them what they want to hear and give them what they want (or what you think they want) and they should stick around. And it will work… as long as you keep up the pretense. But this strategy (which admittedly, nobody would put in these terms) is fundamentally flawed.
A Personal Testimony
At age fifteen I was a dope-headed, head-banging, devil-worshiper. Then I got arrested and incarcerated. That year I was in juvenile detention, I read the Bible and was converted to Christ. It wasn’t Christian rock, a youth pastor with a spike, or a café that convinced me I needed salvation. It was the Bible. It was the power of God’s word that changed me and took away my desire for drugs, death-metal, and rebellion. Do we, as a church, believe that the Scriptures still have that power? Or do we believe it is a boring book that can’t compete with the entertainment of the world so we try to jazz it up with theatrics and edgy approaches to outreach?
As one who wanted a New Life, I wasn’t afraid of what God would ask of me. I knew, because the Bible taught it, that this “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4) would mean a total reformation in my life. I certainly struggled as my will was crossed and my lifestyle was challenged, but I knew, absolutely knew, that God knew what was best for my life. And I put my trust in Him.
So when I read what the Bible said about Christian behavior, I gladly surrendered. Sabbath-keeping. A new diet. Removing all ornaments and dressing simply. Stop reading novels and watching Hollywood TV. Begin tithing and stop gambling. Giving up caffeine. Refusing to look at porn and fanaticizing. Treating others kindly and forgiving those who wronged me. And beginning a devotional life. These, for the most part, became a natural part of my new life. Even when I failed, I knew the Savior could forgive me and lift me up again. I desired truth in my inward parts. I wanted to be holy.
"Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’? Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:25-33, NKJV).
Here is the radical difference between the Biblical strategy and the new world-based strategies. God appeals to our need for change. Man appeals to our desire to stay the same. God calls us up higher. Man presents the smooth, wide path. God calls to perfection. Man offers compromise and acceptance in sin. Our Lord points to the great hope of His Second Coming as a reward for self-sacrifice and total surrender. Man points to success in this world and a bright future here. And is God’s strategy successful? Does it work?
Yes, and Amen! I am a Seventh-day Adventist today because of the High Calling, not in spite of it. I wanted something more than this world offered. I saw that my will, in control, only leads to pain and suffering. We are told, “the Christian’s life is not a modification or improvement of the old, but a transformation of nature” (Desire of Ages, 172; 2 Corinthians 5:17). Many Christian leaders that surrounded me, shortly after I gave my heart to Christ, offered me a watered-down Christianity. They appealed to flesh with offers of “fun” worship, an easy religion (they let me eat pork and drink coffee), and an easy conscience (grace covers even future sins, they would say).
But allow me to make a bold statement: “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:14). And another: “And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” (1 Peter 4:18). And one last one that should speak to our hearts: “By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season” (Hebrews 11:24-25).
My counsel to everyone who loves Millennials, is to not be afraid to uplift the standard. Show them that serving the Master now and yielding our lives to Him will yield the most incredible reward here and in the hereafter. Teach them that, “individual responsibility, individual effort, personal sacrifice, is the requirement of the gospel” (The Ministry of Healing, 147). Include bold sermons that teach that, “Purity of life and a character molded after the divine Pattern are not obtained without earnest effort and fixed principles. A vacillating person will not succeed in attaining Christian perfection. Such will be weighed in the balances and found wanting. Like a roaring lion, Satan is seeking for his prey. He tries his wiles upon every unsuspecting youth” (Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 2, 409).
If you have faith in the Bible and the Testimonies as the revelation of God’s will, please take up this challenge. Yes, it is a new generation. The challenges may be different, but God hasn’t changed. It is not helpful to lower the standard to meet the Millennials. In fact, we are told, “No one should have a part in the training of youth who is satisfied with a lower standard” (Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students, 67). Step aside or unite your noble efforts and good ideas with what we are told in Inspiration.
Let us read again and again Child Guidance, The Adventist Home, and Christ’s Object Lessons. Let us read Education afresh, and have true Education reform. We must remember: “The true object of education is to restore the image of God in the soul” (Christian Education, 63). This applies to Kindergarteners as well as Seminarians and everyone in between. If we follow the pattern God has given us we can keep our youth. It’s His plan, if only we have the faith to follow it.
"Dear young friends, are you daily preparing for graduation into the higher school? Are you daily becoming better fitted for entrance into the heavenly courts? Are you making the most of your privileges, seeking earnestly to overcome all evil habits? At the great examination day, one wrong habit unconquered will keep you from receiving the overcomer’s reward. Do not let sin obtain the victory over you. Strive to enter in at the strait gate" (Letter 1, 1905 – to the Students of Oakwood School).
Church growth experts, please consider that every young person that you convince is “accepted” by God in their sin, is another soul lost until he/she repents. God is too loving to allow heaven to be defiled with any rebellion. Jesus didn’t shed His precious blood to excuse sinful living, but to save us from it. You are not doing Millennials any favors by attenuating the high calling we have been given. There are so many that are inwardly pleading for a Gospel of Hope that can bring them out of their mess, out of their confusion, out of their self-destruction. They need purpose. They need unmoving morals and eternal ethics. They resent pandering. They just want truth. Undiluted truth.
Don’t believe me?
Have you heard of Generation. Youth. Christ. (GYC), a youth-led, denominationally faithful, cutting-edge movement that is passionate about our church’s mission to reach the world for Christ? Young people on fire without compromise.
This is a conference of Millennials and Post-Millennials, for the most part. Now, I’m not sure if 33 is still considered young, but until I’m 36 I just have to pay the standard registration fee. I attended my first international GYC conference two years ago in Phoenix and, again, last year in Louisville. This year (December 28-January 1) several thousand young people (most younger than me) will descend upon Houston, TX to fellowship, worship, pray, and study together. But it is so much more than a social gathering of Adventist youth. GYC is a think-tank of evangelism, a movement of Millennial missionaries who will go anywhere for Jesus, and praise God, a people of principles.
Take for example this year’s theme for the conference: “When All Has Been Heard.” It is taken from the last chapter of Ecclesiastes where Solomon calls us (specifically the youth) to consider judgment and salvation. From their website:
How does salvation work? What does it mean when justice and mercy meet? Is the judgment something I need to fear? What is the role of Christ’s righteousness? What does this all mean on a practical level? (https://gycweb.org/conference/information/).
GYC fascinates me. When was the last time you heard young people discussing the righteousness of Christ? It seems like many of our hoary headed saints tend to pat Millennials on the back and say, “There, there, don’t worry about such things. You’re far too busy, too distracted, too young, to understand these things.”
So, what is the conclusion of this matter? If you really want to help young people, don’t offer the world wrapped up with a Christian bow, but rather present the charms of Christ — His love and holiness. His compassion and uncompromised living. Teach us the meaning of these words:
“As the truth is brought into practical life, the standard is to be elevated higher and higher, to meet the requirements of the Bible. This will necessitate opposition to the fashions, customs, practices, and maxims of the world. Worldly influences, like the waves of the sea, beat against the followers of Christ to sweep them away from the true principles of the meekness and grace of Christ; but they are to stand as firm as a rock to principle. It will require moral courage to do this, and those whose souls are not riveted to the eternal Rock, will be swept away by the worldly current. We can stand firm only as our life is hid with Christ in God. Moral independence will be wholly in place when opposing the world. By conforming entirely to the will of God, we shall be placed upon vantage ground, and shall see the necessity of decided separation from the customs and practices of the world. We are not to elevate our standard just a little above the world’s standard; but we are to make the line of demarcation decidedly apparent” (Fundamentals of Education, 288).
And please have faith that this strategy, this plan, coupled with the many other revealed methods, will be met with true success. Success that will endure to the end.
We Millennials have received an imperative and it is this: “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). Please do not stand in our way or offer a compromise. Don’t tickle our ears, please.
Wyatt Allen is a full-time traveling evangelist/associate speaker with Amazing Facts. He lives and travels in the “Bible Bus” with his wife, Jenni, two-year-old daughter, Purity, and newborn Zealous Truth Allen. His miracle-life story is documented in his book The Least of the Least. You can find out more about their work at EndTimeHope.org.