Nate Elias pastors the LaGrange and Pine Mountain Valley Seventh-day Adventist Churches in Georgia, USA.

A few months ago, I met with three other pastors for lunch. After the typical small talk, one of the pastors asked, “What patterns are you noticing in your congregations?” As the four of us discussed this, a picture began to emerge, and we found similar patterns in each of our churches. One worrisome pattern was that in general, two age groups—18-to35-year-olds and those between the ages of 35 and 50—are missing. In many of our churches, members of the 35-50 age group, if they are there, rarely hold leadership positions. Thinking about my previous and current districts, I recognized a disconcerting fact: There was no leadership training or leadership transitioning. 

I recall sitting down with the elders in one of my districts to discuss the need to add another elder. Several names were mentioned, but none seemed to meet the strict requirements of the current elders. Being new to the district, I asked, “Wasn’t anyone being prepared?” Their response was disturbing: “We felt there wasn’t anyone good enough to be an elder.”

“When did you begin serving as elders?” I inquired. 

“Back when my kids were little” was a typical response from the grandfathers in the group. All the elders appeared to be about the same age. I wasn’t surprised by their statements, but I was disappointed by their myopia. 

Discussing the problem over lunch, my three pastor-friends and I identified four possible causes.

1. Local leadership is afraid to allow younger people with a different generational focus to be in leadership. A single board position or one seat on the nominating committee (sometimes referred to as “tokenism”) isn’t bringing those under age 50 into church leadership.

2. Current leaders protect their positions by not seeking out and training young leaders. Junior deacons who merely collect the offering aren’t being trained to become full-fledged deacons. Most churches don’t have a training program for elders; even fewer churches have job descriptions for elders, deacons, or deaconesses.

3. Differences in style and opinion are frowned upon rather than encouraged. Yet only through diversity in both style and opinion will the church be able to reach into the community. If our church’s approach doesn’t match the needs of the community, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate it.

4. Narrow-mindedness fails, thus we may soon face the demise of our church. When those in the 35-50 age range are missing from church leadership, those in the 18-35 age range may be completely disconnected; after all, a grandparent’s church will seem irrelevant to the younger generation.

As our lunchtime conversation neared its end, I said, “During the first six months in my districts, I reached out to many members who were not attending church. Almost all the missing members were under the age of 50. Many were in the 18-35 age group. Asking why they no longer attended, I noted several issues. They did not feel welcomed. They felt they were expected to maintain a status quo that wasn’t working. They were expected to be at church and to carry out minor roles, but they did not have a voice in leadership.”

All three pastors agreed that these responses sounded familiar. The size of the church did not matter. Each of the pastors had a similar story. 

Over the next week, I kept asking myself as a 30-something pastor, “What can I do?” My church is missing one generation and most of another. At this rate, there may soon be no one to fill leadership positions. I thought of several things that churches might try: 

1. Create young-adult groups apart from the usual routine. Creating small groups, Bible study groups, or even worship services for the 18-50 age group may help to develop a healthy dynamic of spiritual growth; small-group gatherings might be similar to the early Christian church in Jerusalem. At times early Christians gathered in the synagogue, but most often they gathered in homes, community centers, or outside.

2. Encourage unity in diversity. Rather than older members attacking the younger generation and the younger generation fighting back (or leaving), productive discussion should be actively encouraged. It is important for each of us to realize that although we may differ on minor points, we share our love of the gospel. When God’s amazing grace is our central theme, our differences need not be negative; rather, they can be a blessing to invigorate our church.

3. Return to the simple gospel message: God the Father reclaiming His creation through Jesus. That is the gospel. Justification, sanctification, and glorification are simply God’s love redeeming us. When we lose sight of the Father’s love, we lose touch with God and humanity.

People of all ages are searching for God. How and where they do so may vary by generation. We can never let the how and where block anyone from the gospel. As leaders, we must re-evaluate our methods. Are they working? Are we alienating some age groups? Are we losing our young people, the very age group that founded the Adventist Church? We must change our approach for the sake of our remnant message. The last thing we want is to have the message die with our leadership. It’s time to include these “missing generations.” 

Nate Elias pastors the LaGrange and Pine Mountain Valley Seventh-day Adventist Churches in Georgia, USA.


Worship is, in theory, at the center of Adventist theology. We emphasize the Sabbath, a temple in time set apart for rest and worship. We have traditionally defined our mission according to the Three Angels’ Messages (Rev. 14:6-12), which underscores whom we should (and should not) worship. And worship is a motif running through even our most distinctive doctrines (e.g., the sanctuary, the great controversy between good and evil). But even though worship is at the center of our theology, is theology at the center of our worship?

What is it that determines what we do when we gather on Sabbath mornings? Do our worship services grow out of carefully considered and deeply held theological convictions? Or, is Adventist worship a loose collection of practices in search of a theology? Is what we do a truly incarnational gathering, uniting God’s Word and action with human need and circumstances? Or, is our worship just an awkward blend of inherited practices and the pragmatic concerns of the day? 

Worship scholar, Robert Webber, has suggested that “the major issue” facing Christian worship today is that it has become “divorced from all theological reflection. Worship has therefore become subject to the cultural narrative, and worship has been shaped more by the cultural narrative than it has been shaped by the story of God.”1

What is the narrative that shapes our worship? Is it the story of God revealed in Scripture? Or, is it something else? And how can our worship ministry be more effective and congruent with our deepest theological convictions and values? These are complex issues with no simple answers; but as we dialogue together, we can at least begin asking the right questions. And as we grow in knowledge and grace, I pray that our worship might honor God more fully and minister more effectively to both our congregations and the wider world.

This was originally published in “Best Practices for Adventist Worship”, a Vervent newsletter of the North American Division Church Resource Center. Used by permission. Online signup is available at 

1 Robert Webber said this during an interview that can be viewed on Living Worship: A Multimedia Resource for Students and Leaders DVD-ROM (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2010).