October 20, 2023

Alliance Young Adult Conference: “The Church of the future looks like you.”

The Alliance recently held its first young adults conference in Cleveland, OH.

by Mandy Gove

October 13–14 was a milestone weekend in The Alliance, as 310 young adults representing 86 churches, 13 states, and 15 districts, came together for the first-ever Alliance Young Adults (AYA) gathering. The event was hosted by Grace Church in Olmsted Falls, Ohio. The campus, nestled in the woods, welcomed spiritually hungry eighteen- to thirty-year-olds to worship together. The event was co-led by Josiah Stumbo, pastor of Young Adults at Grace C&MA Church, and Amy Roedding, director for Candidate Recruitment and Development at the Alliance National Office. In launching the event, the AYA team’s prayerful intent was to reclaim the deeper life in Christ and find purpose and belonging in the Body of Christ among a generation that is becoming increasingly prone to mass church exodus.

I, too, am a young adult who attended the event. I was overwhelmed by the number of peers who came to earnestly seek God. Our generation is lonely. We are at an age when there is no defined path to follow, and Christian community is often characterized by division and complexity. It takes courage to engage in the local church because it means committing to broken people and “messy” ministry. The participants’ eagerness to learn was evident throughout the event as they packed breakout sessions to standing room-only capacity, worshiped earnestly at the altar, showed up with enthusiasm at prayer gatherings, and wrestled through honest questions about being wounded or disenfranchised by the church.

“Throughout the weekend there was a really beautiful sense of unity and excitement to be part of the C&MA family,” Josiah Stumbo reflected. “We saw this most clearly through their engagement. Young adults really leaned into our jam-packed schedule the whole time. They went from relationship-building conversations, right into worship, then hearing from the Word, then fun activities.”

Throughout the event, the AYA leadership team was attentive and sensitive in their approach to engaging young adults. As a young adult in a digital world, I struggle to pay attention to long sermons; but at the AYA gathering, the main messages were only fifteen minutes long. The team also kept things moving by switching breakout sessions every 45 minutes. Each activity was bite-sized and to the point— intentional, interactive, and conversational.

A personal highlight for me was attending a breakout session led by Sally Fry, a leadership development specialist in the Northeastern District. The session was titled “Navigating Church Culture,” and I was interested because, from my perspective, there are a lot of “flavors” of church out there. I can understand the idea of the Body of Christ and “big C church” clearly, but understanding the local church with all the personality and complexity is difficult.

It is easy to take the path of least resistance by leaving the church, which is what many of my friends have done. But Sally encouraged us to see the local church for what it is—to decide what is important to us in the church and to be the change we would like to see, to have a sense of humor when dealing with church conflict, and to recognize whether something is hurting the greater Kingdom impact or if it is just a different culture than what we prefer.

An attendee, Andy, sensed that the group was “acknowledging church hurt but not allowing it to keep us from engaging with the church.” He said, “There seemed to be an overall agreement that we can work to change parts of our church culture without completely deconstructing or starting over.”

I am certain that church members from all generations have had to reconcile their ideals for what a perfect church should be with what church actually is. Now it is time for the next generation to ask the hard questions, grab the batons, and engage full on in ministry.

One of the main speakers, Ariana Waters, was tasked with answering the question, “What could church look like for future generations?” She admitted that she rewrote the sermon a few times and never felt like she got to the heart of the answer. Moments before addressing the young adults from the stage, God gave her a powerful word: “There is no answer to this question to write down on a piece of paper, because the answer is you! It looks like you. Look around at the people around you. Take a minute and look at them. The church of the future looks like you.”

Many who attended this event would agree that there is a bright future ahead for The Alliance as the next generation takes up the faith. Amy Roedding says “I confessed to them that in The Alliance we have focused a lot on those with a direct call and left out those who have a particular calling to bring Jesus and to steward well the place Jesus has placed them! I am trying to change the culture of our denomination around calling in this small way. But at the same time, after the first evening session when Josiah had encouraged everyone to commit to using their gifts for the Kingdom, I had stations with leaders so young adults could learn more about chaplaincy, missions, Envision, church planting, worship leading, pastoring, etc., and each group was filled with young adults wanting to learn more!”

I hope that other young adults came away from the event feeling like they were part of the Alliance family. The love that the AYA team showered on the young adults is not ending any time soon. There are plans to host more AYA gatherings, and in the meantime, there are communication channels that have been started for the young adults to stay in touch. If you are a young adult, join us over on Discord and check out the Instagram page to watch out for more ways to get involved.

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