Young adults share dreams, realities with bishop, conference leaders

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Young adults share dreams, realities with bishop, conference leaders

By Mary Lee Downey | July 23, 2009 {1051}

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — To equip, expose, empower and engage. Those are the four “E’s” of the Florida Conference Young Adult Network.

Corey Jones and Kelly Moore, administrative director of the conference Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry, participate in discussions during lunch. Photo by Greg Moore. Photo #09-1255.

They were also the focus of a lunch discussion between the young adult delegation attending the annual conference session in June and Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker, district superintendents and leaders.

Forty young adults and 15 cabinet members met over lunch a day before the start of the conference to discuss the future of young adults in ministry in the local church and how the local church can minister to young adults.

“Our primary goal is to see growth in the number of young adults who are active within churches of the Florida Conference and to see more young adults involved in full-time Christian ministry,” said Corey Jones, co-chair of the Young Adult Network, as he opened the group’s time together.

After a series of presentations by young adults from throughout the conference, participants brainstormed what needs to happen within the church to achieve those goals.

What the church could be

In the first presentation of the session Cindy Harris, a member of the conference Young Adult Table and Conway United Methodist Church in Orlando, asked the group to “dream of a church.”

“I dream of church that not only welcomes everyone, but makes everyone feel loved — (from) everyone with the tiniest toes to the whitest hair,” she said.

Harris said she also dreams of a church that is part of the Shared Mission Focus on Young People — an organization of youth, young adults and workers with young people from around the world — and a place where young people can vocalize their own dreams for the church.

“Dream big,” Harris told participants as they prepared for their first table discussion. “Dare to dare a dream that is only possible with God.”

Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker (far right) and the Rev. Dr. Wayne Wiatt, superintendent of the conference’s East Central District (second from left), talk with young adults during table discussions. Photo by Greg Moore. Photo #09-1256.

The Rev. Dr. Mont Duncan, executive director of the conference’s New Church Development office, said he dreamed of a church where young adults took the reigns and were on a church plant team. Others said they dreamed of a church that is welcoming to all people and ages; a church that is passionate and evangelistic, inviting all into its doors. 

Perception versus reality

Erik Seise, director of the Florida State University Wesley Foundation, brought the group back to the “reality of church.”

Reality and perception, Seise said, sometimes end up being the same thing in the eyes of a young adult, so even if the reality is that churches want young adults involved in their ministry, perceptions say otherwise. Those perceptions could be influenced by how many resources are allocated to young adult ministry, in what areas young adults are asked to serve and even the worship styles in which young adults are invited to participate.

The overall reality, Seise said, is that young adults are looking for community and acceptance, and the church already has a structure in place to provide both.

“There is a reason why there is so much self help out there. There is a reason for so much need for counselors,” he said. “There is a need for community to grow in, and our church has the structure to set up and do it. That’s the reality.”

Many young adults echoed Seise’s comments during the related table discussion, saying the “real” church is often unwelcoming to young adults and lacking in both leadership from young adults and older adult mentors who are willing to reach out to the younger community.  

“We had a lot of good ideas shared” about the reality of local church life, both good and bad, Whitaker said. “(We had) good discussion about what are some of the best approaches for outreach to young adults.”


The Rev. Vance Rains, pastor at the Florida State University Wesley Foundation and director of the Florida Conference Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry, greets members of the young adult delegation. Photo by Greg Moore. Photo #09-1257.

Young adult Danielle Warner shared the path her church, Frostproof United Methodist Church, has taken during the past few years and how it has come back to life.

Frostproof was a dying church, she said, but with outreach to the community, starting another worship service and focusing on younger adults and youth, the church is now growing. Warner says that growth came down to two things.

“It takes 24 ‘nos’ to get one yes, and every generation needs to remember that,” Warner said. “From youth age to the grandmothers who sit on the back row, we all need to be inviting people to church all the time and not in a forceful way, but in a hospitable loving way.”

That lesson, Warner said, leads to the second necessity for growth — hospitality. “We need to love and care for every generation … no matter whether they walked in off the street barefoot or they have been sitting in that back pew for the last 80 years,” she said.

Participants said churches do need to be more welcoming. They must also provide more small group outreach and discipleship. Young adults, too, need to be more proactive and engaged.

“We should not be apologetic about stating our purpose, which is to live as disciples for Jesus,” Whitaker said. “You can’t just talk the talk; you have to walk the walk. If we are really serious about living as a disciple of Jesus then we need to realize that people are going to look at us and ask the question whether or not our living matches our rhetoric.”

Many young adults also expressed a need for a church that is multicultural and inclusive, offers a deeper understanding of scripture, has clarity of mission, and is honest and full of love and acceptance.

“The conversation was so enriching and good for me to just sit back and listen and hear critique,” said the Rev. Dr. Wayne Wyatt, superintendent of the conference’s East Central District and co-organizer of the lunch with the conference’s Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry. “Having children who are young adults I know they have felt at times the church was not intentional about reaching out to young adults.”

But to be intentional, Wyatt said, the church needs to be passionate about its outreach to young adults.

More than 120 youth and young adults attended the conference session. In addition to the lunch and roundtable, they participated in a beach clean-up and cookout, the annual laity session and a small group discussion to explore future plans for ministry. Photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #09-1258.

“What, really, young adults are looking for now is meaningful connections in relationships,” he said. “They are really yearning for home … so they are looking for belonging, that sense of home, that place they can be mentored, nurtured, and loved and accepted just the way they are, just as they are.”

Delving further

The Young Adult Network took the momentum of the lunch conversations and met with a smaller group of young people for a roundtable discussion later in the conference session.

They further considered the four E’s, including joining teams to begin making each goal a reality within the conference.

Matthew Stephenson, a lay member of the annual conference session from Anona United Methodist Church in Largo, said the roundtable was very helpful in propelling young adult ministry. He said many people expressed interest and passion in young adult ministry and their role in the church.

“What I see is young adults starting to take charge for themselves where the ministry is going to go,” he said, “instead of sitting back and saying the church should do something, and saying we are entitled to a ministry; saying they are going to step up and do the work to create one.”

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Downey is a freelance writer based in St. Cloud, Fla.

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