In preparation for an article for an UMCOM publication, I had the opportunity to interview Jorge Acevedo and talk a bit about the united Methodist Church and the Next Generation. Jorge is the lead pastor of Grace Church a multi-campus church in the Fort Myers area and the author of Vital: Churches Changing Communities and the World.
Jeremy: You have spent a lot of time dealing with the statistics in the vital congregations research. What does that information tell us about the next generation in the UMC?
Jorge: I was part of the call to action steering team where we did what I call a statistical deep dive into the UMC. We were wanting to discover what were the drivers of local church vitality. Unfortunately, that information does not tell us much at all about how we are engaging the next generation because we don’t measure that. But that does say a lot about what we see as important. By not measuring our engagement with young adults, we are saying it’s not important. That means that all of my insight into this issue is Anecdotal.
Jeremy: Ok. How is your church approaching young adults and young families?
Jorge: We are just beginning to get serious about this. About a year ago, I stood up to preach, looked out at the crowd and said, “Oh my goodness, they have grown old with me.” We are in a working class suburb with an average age of forty-two. We are not too far off from that average as a congregation. I have been in this church for a long time and the kids who were in youth when I came are now young adults with kids.
I’m not Bono or anything. I do wear jeans to work every day if that makes you cool, but I have all of these young adults coming up and asking me to hang out, and what I really need to do is to spend some relational, community-building time with them. I think what they are looking for is a mentor, but not to be mentored through a workbook, but through conversations and talking about life.
Jeremy: I totally agree. You are talking about something like relational mentoring.
Jorge: Yeah. I like that term. A old friend of mine was going to be in town and when one of the young adults on my staff found out, she said, “I’d love to hang out with the two of you.” So, I invited her over for dinner, we grilled steaks and then the three of us talked about life. Something just feels right about grilling steaks and hanging out.
Jeremy: In addition to the relational side of things, are there things you thing churches need to do program-wise?
Jorge: Sure. I think that motivation is important. If you’re doing it to save your church, I’m not sure that’s the right motivation. It never needs to be about saving a church. It has to be about reaching people for Jesus.
Jeremy: So where do churches start?
Jorge: You need to start with your platform. Who is up front in your services? If there are not young people in up-front leadership, people who visit who are that generation aren’t going to connect as well with what is going on. part of what we are doing is hiring young leaders and setting them up for success banking on the idea that these young leaders will have much more potential to reach the younger generations.
Jeremy: If you could say one thing to churches who are working on this issue, what would it be?
Jorge: I would say, let God break your hear for the next generation. Just this morning I was reading in my devotion the passage where God was speaking to Joshua, and said “Just as I was with Moses, I will be with you.” It is interesting that the vision God gave Moses at the burning bush outlives Moses’ life. God-honoring leaders must have a vision for their church that will outlast them.
This is it. This is where we start, and it is my prayer that God will place this same relational, long-range vision in the hearts of ministers throughout the Church! If you want to read more on this subject, this is a good article.