No need to wait for tomorrow

Conference in B.C. one of several initiatives inviting young adults to roles in church

Camp Squeah will host the Young Adult Anabaptist Conference for an Active Future June 7-9 in British Columbia. — Camp Squeah Camp Squeah will host the Young Adult Anabaptist Conference for an Active Future June 7-9 in British Columbia. — Camp Squeah

Summers are full of faith-building opportunities for youth in high school or middle school to attend camps and conventions. But those options dry up as life transitions quickly into college, service, work and family pursuits.

This June, young adults are both the planners and attendees of a conference just for them. It’s one of a variety of recent efforts to better connect with the leaders today’s churches will need tomorrow.

The Young Adult Anabaptist Conference for an Active Future will take place June 7-9 at Camp Squeah in Hope, B.C. Led entirely by people ages 18-35 from Mennonite Church British Columbia, the gathering will blend roundtable conversations with hikes and relaxation.

“We have all these youth retreats and camp, and then we’re just left to look after ourselves,” said Zachary Shields, an undergraduate peace studies major at Goshen College who is one of the event’s planners. “After we have our young adult baptism, we might be part of the church but not have many peers, especially as so many churches are dwindling in every denomination. Mennonite Church British Columbia identified with our call for action.”


The regional church of Mennonite Church Canada works to schedule young adult activities throughout the year — from dinner parties and sports to hiking and even murder mystery parties.

The conference this June is an outgrowth of those efforts, taking inspiration from a small gathering of young adults focused on climate change that took place last summer in Winnipeg, Man.

Climate change will receive attention from Ian Funk, along with keynote speaker David Cramer, faculty at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, speaking on issues of war and peace. Other topics include restorative justice, Indigenous relations and inclusivity. Rather than formal lectures, the presentations are designed to take place in small group settings with a bulk of time reserved for conversation.

“It’s about connecting faith, activism and church and putting it all together on the ground and living our lives in Jesus’ radical call to action,” Shields said. “We’re trying to build community, provide networking connections, worship together, but my personal biggest goal of the conference is to give young adults the tools and the spiritual empowerment that they need to make a difference in the world. . . .

“There has been an oversight because the dynamics of young adulthood have shifted so much in the last few years. Churches haven’t pivoted to address their spiritual foundations.”

Young Adult Anabaptist Conference for an Active Future
Young Adult Anabaptist Conference for an Active Future

In recent years, the U.S. Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches has tried to address a broad range of generations from ages 12 to 39 under the umbrella term NextGen. Kyle Goings, NextGen pastor at Ridgepoint Church in Wichita, Kan., is also USMB NextGen chair. He said lines have blurred as adolescence has expanded in American society and churches have been challenged to stay relevant.

“The older generations are having a harder time understanding younger generations, just like every other time in history,” he said. “But we’re seeing these different values. They are looking at churches in different ways, and the church hasn’t paid enough attention to this, so the generation gap is getting wider as technology widens that gap.”


Millennials and Gen Z, which he defines as people now 28-42 and 7-27 years old, respectively, have grown up in an online world, which impacts how they form relationships with each other and with their faith. In broad terms, he said, younger people are not looking for a church where they suspect someone is putting on an act.

“They are going to value what is true and what they can experience first,” Goings said. “. . . We want them to experience the kingdom of God, not just hear about the kingdom of God.

“This is not new. If you look at Acts, there was teaching, fellowship, prayer. They call it more engaging. You’re not changing the message or preaching a stronger gospel. They need to see that the kingdom of God will drastically change your life.”

Over the past five years, USMB has noticed a shrinking pool of candidates for everything from pastors and conference leaders to mission workers and worship leaders. Goings said ministry preparation programs at colleges have diminished, resulting in fewer potential pastors as young adults look to other careers.

“We lost the art of shoulder tapping,” said Goings, who noted there are more pastors over the age of 55 than under the age of 40 in the U.S. The pandemic and increasing polarization have also contributed to burnout.

“Pastors are so overwhelmed with current responsibilities they don’t see how to look back to look at another generation coming,” he said.

USMB launched its Leadership Pipeline program in 2021 to promote ministerial inquiry in 10-week summer internships. Last summer saw five participants, and this summer 15 interns will be working in congregations in youth ministry, worship leading, graphic design, children’s ministry and general (lead) ministry.

“I see hope in the Anabaptist Mennonite Brethren world, just because there’s an awareness now,” Goings said. “We had a vision summit in January to discuss what we can do regarding the next generation. Even though there aren’t actual plans, there’s discussion — not just talking, but saying ‘What are we going to do about it?’ That’s a positive thing.

“I don’t know where God is leading us, but we are looking toward what the next generation can do for God.”

Rachel Ringenberg Miller, Mennonite Church USA’s denominational minister of ministerial leadership, echoed the sentiment that young adults shouldn’t be waiting for their time to come a decade or two down the road.

Ringenberg Miller
Ringenberg Miller

“A challenge we face as churches is telling young adults that they are the future of the church, which isn’t the full truth. Young adults are the church now,” she said. “There are new ways and established ways of encouraging and welcoming young adults into full participation in the church.

“One newer way is Mountain States Mennonite Conference’s Future Anabaptist Leaders Program, which allows 18- to 30-year-olds to explore leadership roles in churches and passion ministries throughout the conference.”

That program is a recent regional addition beyond MC USA’s more established Ministry Inquiry Program, a collaborative initiative of the denomination’s colleges and universities to provide financial scholarships and placements for students interested in exploring congregational ministry.

In early May, MC USA launched the podcast Lead/Follow for pastors and leaders, hosted by executive director Glen Guyton with inspiration and strategies from across the denomination. The first season of 10 episodes will explore ways to engage with youth and young adults.

Tim Huber

Tim Huber is associate editor at Anabaptist World. He worked at Mennonite World Review since 2011. A graduate of Tabor College, Read More

Anabaptist World

Anabaptist World Inc. (AW) is an independent journalistic ministry serving the global Anabaptist movement. We seek to inform, inspire and Read More

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