A short time ago, I was invited to attend a Friday night program at a church that my friends attended. It was geared toward youth and young adults. They had been involved in this program for a few years, and they put a lot of time into it. While the program had enjoyed quite a bit of success early on, my friends were lamenting the fact that attendance had dropped off quite a bit recently.
This resonated with me, since I, too, led out in a Friday night program for more than a year. We, too, met with great attendance at first, but it was virtually nil as time went on, and we ended up scratching the program altogether.
My program and my friend's program was quite different, however. Whereas my program was largely Bible-study-based and had few frills, theirs had all of the bells and whistles that young adults seem to "need" these days. The place where they had the program was complete with dim lighting. There were nice comfy chairs that attendees could lounge in. The music was "contemporary." And, best of all, there was plenty of junk food for everyone's culinary tastes, complete with Krispy Kreme donuts. I, of course, had one.
As I sat there and analyzed the program, something suddenly occurred to me. I wonder how long they had been singing the same songs, eating the same donuts, and sitting in the same comfy chairs. While these things can be attractive in one's programming (though I felt like I almost OD'ed on sugar, between the donuts, soda and candy), there has to be more. People - whether young or old - need to be brought deeper.
Many programs I have sat in have less depth than my kindergarten Sabbath School class growing up - and these are geared towards more "mature" young adults or even older adults. Too many of us are Krispy Kreme Christians, and the unfortunate thing is that those who lead us don't think we are capable of going any deeper. Either that, or they, themselves, lack depth.
As I was thinking about these ideas, I happened to be working with a young man who just graduated from high school at an Adventist academy. Some how or other, we started talking about a program that a local church runs for young people. He attends it from time to time but hasn't been going recently because very few people attend it anymore. I was somewhat surprised because, last I heard, the attendance was high.
When I asked him why no one attends anymore, he replied, "Because people don't think it's cool anymore." Intrigued by his analysis, I prodded him more, "The problem is," he continued, "at these types of programs people are either entertained to death, or they're bored to death." He continued, "We don't want to be entertained. If we wanted to be entertained we would go to a movie. We don't come to church to be entertained." I believe the young man is on to something.
I proceeded to ask him if he had ever heard of the General Youth Conference (GYC), and when he said that he had, I asked him what he thought about it. He told me that there seemed to be a lot of people who attend it, but he wasn't sure why. "People just seem to get together and pray and listen to sermons all the time, but for some reason, a lot of young people want to go." He wondered if it had something to do with the fact that the people who attend these meetings become active and they involve themselves in different types of ministries.
Lest you think I'm trying to plug the GYC, let me just assure you that I have no agenda to push. I have never been to the GYC, nor do I know if I'll ever attend. At face value, there are probably things that I may not agree with, yet I recognize that the GYC must be doing something right. It has had staying power for a number of years now, unlike a lot of our other programs that start with a bang but fizzle out.
What are they doing right? Maybe it has a lot to do with the depth that they are pursuing. Few of them are Krispy Kreme Christians. Are their actions perfect? Hardly. But they understand that young adults are capable of going higher and deeper; that programs don't need to be amped up to draw interest; or that small group discussions don't need to be devoted to trying to find "God in the movies."
This is not a call to attend the next GYC. Neither is it a call to trash the guitars or can the PowerPoint. It's not even a call for legalistic reform that does not proceed from a changed heart.
It is a call, however, to move beyond the donuts. We are all a part of the unfortunate problem. But we can all be a part of the solution. When we uplift Christ and Him crucified, people will be drawn to our programming, donuts or no donuts.
*For an article I recently wrote for the Adventist Review on the issue of music, click here.