What I Learned from Listening
by Larry Evans
In 31 young adult focus groups held in 16 different countries, I listened and I learned. Those who came to the focus groups were generally between the ages of 18 and 30. Concerns had been raised that the Millennial generation was down-on institutions and on the practice of contributing systematically to the church. Some of those concerns are valid but there is a silver lining. First I’ll share a little background.
"Living through a period of compressed social, cultural, and technological change. This environment invites them to live out their faith in new and sometimes startling ways"
David Kinnaman, researcher and president of the Barna Group, wrote that today’s young adults are “living through a period of compressed social, cultural, and technological change. This environment invites them to live out their faith in new and sometimes startling ways” (You Lost Me, p.103). This was certainly verified during my visits. While such changes can be disconcerting, it is also a time of great opportunity for teaching and learning. Let’s look at some concerns observed during these focus groups. They hold clues to opportunities that might become realized if we respond accordingly.
Concerns and Opportunities
The following are seven reflective summary statements gathered from the focus groups.
1. The word “stewardship” is not understood. It is not a term used by the younger generation. An opportunity exists for young adults to develop a fresh wholistic view of what stewardship really is.
2. The uniqueness of the Adventist mission is not clear. This does not mean that they object to the church’s mission but it is an opportunity to develop better clarity in the most Christ-centered way.
3. There are generational differences. This can be seen in communication styles and in a spirit of judgmentalism by both generations. The Holy Spirit can change perspectives and even languages as seen in the events of Acts 2. What looks like a hindrance can become an open door for unexpected growth.
4. There is confusion regarding how church finances are used. Young adults sometimes label this as a lack of transparency. The difference between tithe and offerings is not clear. An informed understanding of the difference and how each is used to meet real human needs will speak to this generation.
5. There is frustration that stewardship is seldom discussed or preached. This came as a real surprise. Once the young adults grasped the broader or wholistic view of stewardship, including the financial side, they clearly wanted to hear more!
6. It would be appreciated if calls for offerings were linked to practical needs more often. This is an opportunity to build into the offering call an intentional clarity. A sense of accountability by reporting on how offerings were used was also a strongly expressed need.
"Young adults are not necessarily abandoning their faith but they may startle us by the ways they live out their faith."
7. Dividing the generations into senior and younger adults is not helpful. It has been observed by Gabe Lyons in The Next Christians, that young adults bring creativity and enthusiasm to the table while older adults bring experience and wisdom. We were amazed at how many from our focus groups were willing to be grouped into teams to actually teach stewardship together!
A Reflective Summary
One observation clearly stands out after reviewing several focus groups: Young adults are not necessarily abandoning their faith but they may startle us by the ways they live out their faith. In most cases, this acting out is neither good nor bad. It is, however, an opportunity for older adults to link their wisdom and experience with their creativity and enthusiasm of the young adults, and then, explore together new and practical ways of supporting and doing mission.