Growing younger, growing “smaller” and growing deeper for the fame of Jesus
“The church is not a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners.” This statement has been used prolifically in a variety of Christian circles, but Dr. A. Allan Martin, teaching pastor of Younger Generation (YG) Church, has taken the statement a step further.
“We see YG Church as a teaching hospital, a learning lab, for younger generations,” says Martin. “It’s a place where young adults are expressing, in their lyrical, technological language, their excitement to deepen the devotion of those around them to Jesus. They’re not doing it by themselves—we have intergenerational relationships of people working together. We really see this as a living laboratory of leadership.”
YG Church, the thriving young adult ministry of the Arlington Seventh-day Adventist Church in Texas, USA, began in 2004 as a third church service under the leadership of then-senior pastor Mike Tucker. His desire, according to Martin, was for young adults to direct, produce and participate in worship that would be meaningful for them.
“This was very revolutionary at the time,” said Martin. “YG Church was an anomaly across the Dallas Fort Worth metroplex and probably across the nation. It was a contemporary worship service with dynamic, relevant preaching and contemporary worship music for young people.”
In 2010, YG Church invited Martin to transition from his teaching position at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary to pastor the YG community. Martin, who has a rich ministry background, including planting and pastoring a thriving church in Celebration, Florida, USA, recognized God’s leading and moved to Texas to lead the YG community.
“When I came in, one of the things we wanted to do was integrate this great worship service with the entire church, not just be a church within a church,” he said. “We moved from being a really cool and flashy youth and young adult service to a more robust, discipleship-minded, mission-minded ministry embedded in the heart of Arlington SDA Church.”
Now, more than seven years later, YG Church’s weekly service averages 300-400 attendees and up to 1000 online viewers each week. Under Martin’s leadership, YG Church has developed into a vibrant ministry that “transcends age and program boundaries, making authentic efforts to foster the Great Commandment and Great Commission in new generations,” according to their mission description sheet.
“It’s not unheard of in our church culture to have a 13-year-old running the sound board,” says Martin. “That 13-year-old is being mentored by a young adult, who is being supervised by our media director. There are even kids younger than that, seven or eight years old, behind cameras training to do broadcasts.”
This intergenerational mentorship is intrinsic to the YG community, and has been an important part of integrating YG Church into the larger Arlington SDA Church family. Martin has intentionally nurtured intergenerational mentorship through his #EveryMemberAMentor initiative.
“We believe that every church member can benefit a member that is younger than them by pouring a little bit of God’s grace, God’s goodness, and their experience of Jesus into that person,” he says. “If you’re a high school student, there’s always Jr. High students that think you’re the coolest thing since Ken and Barbie. Or, you could be a 70-year-old couple that can pour into those younger whippersnappers, those 50-year-olds, who don’t know anything. No matter what age you are, there’s always a generation coming behind you that you can mentor.”
Along with reaching next generations with the gospel, YG church’s mission is to “deepen our devotion to Jesus Christ by pursuing intimacy with God, experiencing community with each other, and inspiring those around us with the hope of grace,” according to their mission description sheet. These three values—intimacy, community and grace—are embodied by the ministries of YG Church.
Pursuing Intimacy With God
“Pursuing intimacy with God through our worship experience is our most prominent and most heavily-engaging element of our mission statement,” says Martin. “We pursue this with everything we’ve got. On Friday nights, as we’re preparing for our worship service at Arlington, our church is brimming with groups of young adults doing everything from getting cameras ready to preparing prompters to artists up on stage getting the band ready. We’re using YG Church as an opportunity for young adults to be heavily involved in every aspect of what we’re doing.”
YG Church is not limited to a worship service, however. Experiencing community with one another is an important element of YG that happens all week, and is integral to reaching the hearts of younger generations.
“Millennials are a lonely generation,” says Martin. “They have very few relationships of depth, but a kajillion friends on social media. So we believe at YG Church that in order for us to grow big, we have to grow small.”
On any given Sabbath, around 1,500 people attend at least one of the three services offered at Arlington SDA Church. In order to ensure that YG members have an opportunity to experience community, each member is encouraged to join a Life Group. These groups range from interest-based gatherings, such as basketball teams, to theological discussion groups. However, each group studies Scripture together, prays together and seeks to hold one another accountable.
“That’s where growth happens, where relationships form, where accountability happens,” says Martin. “That’s why the first-century church flourished, because people were doing life together.”
The third aspect of YG Church’s mission is “inspiring those around us with the hope of grace.”
“We know from the research that most young adults won’t give a second look to your church if you’re not doing something meaningful in your local community to make a difference,” says Martin. “So we do everything from helping out at the local food bank, to being involved recently with the hurricane relief efforts. This is more than just evangelistic, though it can include evangelism. It’s about making a positive difference in our world for the sake of the fame of Jesus.”
YG Church has made this value such a part of their corporate identity that they encourage their members to carry a heart of service wherever they go.
“We have the saying at the church—“I Am YG.” So no matter where our members are, they’re being compelled to be involved in their community and be an extension of our church, even if they’re college students studying far away and are not able to be here every single weekend,” Martin says.
Start With Listening
To pastors or ministry leaders in churches where ministry to younger generations is practically nonexistent, Martin makes this challenge:
“If a church decides they want to reach out to young adults, all they have to do is begin listening to the young adults they already have. As you create opportunities to spend time with them, even if it’s just over meals, or watching a TV show together or attending a ball game—as the Holy Spirit gives you a heart for the young person, inevitably, God will come up. Faith will come up. Questions about life will come up. . . Start by listening.”
Looking for More?
1 Hear Dr. Martin present LIVE at the #ReachingMillennialGenerations Conference
2 Take Dr. Martin's FREE young adult ministry training course offered through the Adventist Learning Community
Article originally published by Centre for Secular & Postmodern Studies