Looking left and right

By Bishop Jonathan Holston

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19)

The college orientation session for our daughter was a mixture of awe, excitement and reality.

In one particular session, the presenter was brutally honest. First, she asked the prospective students to look to their left and right. Then she made a statement that silenced the voices in the room; namely, One of these persons will not be here next year. What a sobering moment. You could hear the muttering of parents: Certainly, not my child! The realization that Brittany was to the left and right of someone else brought her to attention. Only time will tell if this statement bears any truth.

Interestingly, the church is not exempt from such a brash prediction. In a recent USA Today article, a survey of America •’s Protestant Churches revealed some startling facts. The columnist, Cathy Lynn Grossman, stated, Seven in ten Protestants age 18-30 both evangelical and mainline who went to church regularly in high school said they quit attending by age twenty-three.

When we look to our left and right, there are many who are absent, gone or have vanished before our eyes. The reasons are many. They range from wanting a break from church to being tied-up at work. Many are attending college, moved to far away from their home church or feel disconnected from people at church. Regretfully, a few indicated that they attended church only to please others.

Yet the news is not all bad. Many in the 18-30 age group continue to attend church, and 35 percent of those who leave church return by the age of 30. These young adults return or stay because the church is vital to their relationship with God. Many say the church helps them become better people, and others, frankly, fear living without spiritual guidance.

Friends, the S.C. Conference is not exempt from this concern, as well, but we can be proactive in our response. In fact, we can answer the clarion call to witness in exciting ways.

A report in November 2012 stated that 560 college students and campus ministers attended the United Methodist Student Movement in St. Louis, Mo. This delegation of young adults chose to focus on children and poverty as their justice priority in 2013-2014. How wonderful it is to know that this focus is also in line with the S.C. Conference Initiative with Children and Poverty. Certainly, this is evidence of a ministry opportunity relevant to the sharing of our faith.

Recently, James Salley, vice chancellor at Africa University, shared with me that students at Africa University were energized by the Stop Hunger Now event held at the 2013 S.C. Annual Conference. So inspired by our efforts, these Africa University students are seeking to create a God-sized initiative of having a Stop Hunger Now event in Zimbabwe. If so, it will be a first-time event of its kind. Once again •¨ evidence of ministry that is relevant to the sharing of faith.

Friends, the opportunity is waiting for us to make a difference with young adults in our communities, colleges, universities and beyond.

If you are in doubt about this initiative, just look to your left and right.

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