Western Washington Churches Continuing to Grow Young

“Growing Young isn’t about changing youth ministry. It’s about changing church culture.” — Brad Griffin, Fuller Youth Institute associate director

With the average age of an attending Seventh-day Adventist Church member growing older as the years go by, how do churches start to grow young? Last year three Washington Conference churches went on a journey with the Fuller Youth Institute by joining the Growing Young Cohort. This has been an ongoing mission to help churches grow young by changing the culture of how younger and older people interact within the church.

Intentionally Growing Young

Emerald City Community Seventh-day Adventist Church in Seattle, Wash., was one participating church that decided to become more intentional about growing young.

“I sensed that more emphasis was needed to be focused to reach out to our younger generations,” says Eugene Lewis, Emerald City Church pastor. “I saw throughout the church the impact of not having young people there, so we wanted to step it up and look from the bottom up instead of from the top down.”

Lewis has always felt Emerald City Church was full of active young adults, but they hadn’t been completely intentional about growing young. The church needed to address how to grow both young adult and adult members. Lewis aimed to fix this process by asking senior members to mentor their new, young leaders.

“I first had meetings with key leadership and talked about where we wanted to be in two years and how Growing Young would help with that,” says Lewis. “At the end of the day, it was about growing together.”

During the process, some leadership were challenged to give a senior leaders position to a young adult, and the church remained committed to creating an intergenerational leadership.

“Everything goes through a cycle. Our churches are in the cycle of the ‘flat tire syndrome.’ The wheels are still on the church, but they’re flat. If you don’t fill that tire, you’ll lose a generation of people,” says Lewis.

Growing Young has energized Emerald City Church and given it the conduit to build a future for their church.

Volunteer Park Church in Seattle, Wash., has always had many young adults in their area. Like Emerald City Church, their challenge was to focus on the whole church and not just the young adults. Andreas Beccai, former Volunteer Park Church pastor, started the Growing Young journey last year to change their church culture. Today they have a large group of active young adult members leading out in church worship, activities and more.

Growing Young, Growing Strong

“Pastor, if we don’t get more young people here, the church is going to die.” Those words from a church leader spurred Dustin Serns, Port Orchard (Wash.) Church pastor, to pray for the impossible: “God, give me 30 active young adults in my congregation by the end of 2018.”

As Serns and the church leaders began praying this prayer, they started to connect with every young adult that came to their church. Serns started opening his home for a weekly young adult Bible study, and soon they had built a contact list with 40 young adults.

During this time Serns received the invitation to join the first-ever Growing Young Cohort sponsored by the North Pacific Union Conference, Washington Conference and the Fuller Youth Institute (Pasadena, Calif.). The yearlong journey focused on six key traits of churches that effectively reach their youth and young adults.

“Through two in-person summits, monthly webinars, personal coaching and a churchwide assessment, Port Orchard Church chose to build a vibrant young adult group and educate their membership on how to grow young,” says David Yeagley, Washington Conference young adult director. “It was a turning point for the congregation. As they began to pray and focus intentionally on activating their young adults, God began to bless.”

“We committed everything we possibly could do to engage and activate every young adult we could for the kingdom of God, and God broke through and blessed that focus,” says Serns. “We went from having five young adults any given Sabbath to over 30.”

There are now five young adults who serve on the Port Orchard Church board and the young adults are continuing to actively engage with their church and community.

“Maybe you find yourself in a church with not many young adults as part of your congregation and say, ‘Well, what can I do to even see a change?’ Well, there’s a whole lot you can do,” says Serns. “Look around every Sabbath and make it your goal to connect personally with every young adult that ever enters into the doors of your church, and you’ll get to know who they are and what they’re passionate about and God will change you and your community as a result of that decision.”

Vision for the Future

This year, eight Washington Conference churches have joined the Growing Young Cohort to commit to growing young in their ministry:

  • Chehalis

  • Bellingham

  • Federal Way Hispanic

  • Bellevue

  • Sequim

  • Highline

  • Transformation Life (Olympia)

  • North Cascade

The cohort experience lasts 12 months and features two face-to-face summits, webinars, a churchwide assessment tool and personalized coaching. Washington Conference is committed to making this experience available to all Washington Conference churches. Discover more about the Growing Young Cohort by visiting www.churchesgrowingyoung.com.

Featured in: May/June 2019