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Grant allows church to focus on turning young adults into new generation of leaders

Grant allows church to focus on turning young adults into new generation of leaders

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Grant allows church to focus on turning young adults into new generation of leaders

July 29, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0125}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

JACKSONVILLE  — The numbers are disproportionately alarming.

According to an article by United Methodist News Service the average age of the U.S. population is 33.5, with more than 26 percent of the population falling between the ages of 12 and 30. Less than 10 percent of those attending a United Methodist church fall into the 12-30 range, and the average age of United Methodist members hovers around 55.

Young adults are the missing piece of the United Methodist family, but New Life Community United Methodist Church here is attempting to put the brakes on the disappearing act of young adults by both retaining and training its young adults for ministry.

The church started Project Awaken Well-Appointed in Truth or Project A.W.A.I.T. earlier this year after receiving a $15,000 grant from Shared Mission and Focus on Young People through the General Board of Discipleship. The group, which includes 17 members, 10 of whom are core members, takes its name from Romans 8:19, "For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons/daughters of God."

"The purpose of Project A.W.A.I.T is to see transformation in the church and of the church by getting more young adults involved in ministry in their daily lives, at work, at school and at play by being change agents," said Karon D. Blue, a young adult member at the church."

Blue said it is crucial for the present and next generations to become change agents for Christ. "We live in a world where it's getting more and more difficult to take a stand for what is right," she said. "It's almost come to the point of being outlawed for speaking the truth."

Encouraging young adults to stand up for what's right is only one of the goals of the program. It is also about training young people to step into the arena of ministry. Project members are working hard to set up training opportunities that will begin this October with local workshops geared toward young adults and two trips outside the district. The remainder of the funds will be used to present workshops and purchase food, manuals, promotional items, stamps and marketing.

Blue said the idea for the group stemmed from a speech the Rev. Candace Lewis, New Life Community's pastor, gave at Emory United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C., last year. Lewis was speaking during the culmination of a young adult ministry weekend and suggested allowing young adults to design the weekend and determine the program format in the future. The church liked the idea, but needed help getting its young adults motivated to do ministry.

Blue said Lewis relayed the story to her when she returned, prompting her to see "something that was bigger than just D.C., and knew it would be great training ground."

"My prayer is that as our team is obedient to God's calling, we will be able to have a large national young adult population who are change agents for Christ," said Blue, who has been a member of the church since it began eight years ago. "Young adults make up over 25 percent of the United States population, but are only 6 percent of the population of the United Methodist Church. We want to see an increase, not just in the United Methodist Church, and not just in numbers alone. We want to see a spiritual awakening increase."

Ciona Rouse, director of Shared Mission Focus on Young People, said the grant was approved because the program is targeting young adults who are often forgotten and neglected by the church. She said the program being driven by young adults is another positive aspect.

The 1996 General Conference created the Shared Mission Focus on Young People to challenge the church to make the needs of young people a priority and encourage young people to be participants in the life and work of the church. An important task of the agency is to provide funding opportunities for ministries with young people. Grants are given to support new staff positions of pilot programs being implemented by local churches or annual conferences in the United States and Central Conferences in order to respond to challenges in working with young people. Mini-grants are also given to local churches to help them design and implement innovative and creative strategies for listening, discerning and responding to the needs of young people.

Once Project A.W.A.I.T. is active and successful Blue said the church would like to be a prototype to help other churches get young adults active in ministry. She says the church can't afford to lose its young people.

Rouse also has high expectations the program will be able to positively impact other churches. "We hope that other churches will see the importance of being the church for all people, including young adults," she said. "We want the church to become a place for young adults and not just when they are 35 years old and want to come back because they are married with children. This program could become a model for the entire denomination."

Blue said the denomination can't afford to abandon a generation it so desperately needs. "Many young people have gone astray in search of 'spirituality' through new-age and occult practices because they want purpose and seek the miraculous," she said. "They don't realize that purpose and the miraculous is theirs for the asking with a serious relationship with Christ Jesus. They don't realize that it's really already theirs. They just have to ask to see it."


This article relates to Congregational Transformation and Outreach.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.