Recruiting Youth in the A.M.E Churches : LUSENET : A.M.E. Today Discussion : One Thread

Greeting Brothers and Sisters of the A.M.E faith. I am a 30 year old A.M.E. in South Georgia. As I prepare for our annual Founder's Day in February, I can't help but to take notice of declining memberships of our youth. Can anyone offer suggestions as of what it's going to take to attract our youth to ensure that the A.M.E church continue to be the religious, educational, and political cornerstones in our African American communities that we have been for so long?

God Bless and Merry Christmas!

-- Anonymous, December 21, 2002


Welcome to the board Tret! We have been discussing your question quite a few times on the board and thank you for bringing it up. One of the things that I notice the fundamentalist churches do to recruit youth which is a priority for them. Is to hire a youth minister. A person who is young who will work full time or part time with youth. That is a model that we may be able to adapt in our churcches. Also are you working with the lay organization in your area and or district. That might me helpful. I would love to hear what thoughts you have also. Merry christmas and welcome to the A.M.E today family.

-- Anonymous, December 21, 2002

There are two things which are turning the youth off to mainline denominational churches (Methodist, Episcopalian, Presbryterian, Luthern and Baptist) The first is the strong spirit of traditionalism and the second is bureacraticism which greatly impedes any attempts to make progressive change. All of the mainline denomonational churches have these two things in common. While it is important to maintain traditions and history. It is also important to realize that the world has moved on. Traditions which no longer meet everday practical and spiritual needs are like the tombs Jesus mentioned appealing on the outside and rotting within. The world has moved on and many of us refuse to acknowledge it.That is why there are great debates over things like praise dancing and contemporary gospel music. Fifty, seventy-five, one hundred years ago the world was different and hard in ways our youth today do not realize nor can identify with. In an enslaved and segregated world where old age and death came at 40, and 50 years of age. People's souls trebled at songs which proclaimed. (One glad morning when this life is over I'll fly away". In a world of Tiger Woods, black corporate executives and millionaires. Young people "get their praise on" While still realizing that with the gains of silver and gold. They would rather have Jesus than "a mansion on top of a hill". Older generations who remember cardboard in the bottom of shoes and grits with fatback grease for gravey are just glad "He put food on the table". There is also the matter of youth leadership and participation in decision making. It would be nice to go to connectional gatherings and see YPD leaders from the local church level up to the episcopal level who don't have grey hair in their hair and are in fact youth (no older than 25 years of age). Until these things are internalized in the AME church. We can continue to watch our youth leave. And we will continue to decide to change the music and allow means of expression such as praise teams and dancing long after the non-mainline denominational churches have perfected these ministry tools. Take note in your community....Which church memberships in general (don't pick out exceptions) are growing the most in your community? Are mainline or non-mainline denominational churches building most of the new larger churches in your community? We need to wake up and stop dreaming about the past. The church is like our Lord - a LIVING GOD. Anything that is not growing or changing is dying and decaying That is a physical as well as a spiritual law.

-- Anonymous, December 21, 2002

Thanks for both answers! The Lay Organization in our church has not been very strong, but I'm going to attempt to build it up. Rev. Woodberry, you are deep! I think your answer is absolutely correct. Just like fashions, fads and customs, religious practices has to change to appeal to the "generation Xers & millennials," remembering to keep God first in all that we do. I love this website, and look forward to gaining many ideas to improve the well being of my church. Please pray that I "through Christ" will be able to make a positive impact in the recruiting and retaining of not only youth, but all unsaved souls. God Bless.

-- Anonymous, December 22, 2002

Rev. Woodberry's commentary on this topic should be required reading by every Bishop, clergy, lay and especially YPD officers. Many thanks for outlining the real issues we face concerning how we integrate youth members in our church structure. QED

-- Anonymous, December 23, 2002

This conversation reminds me of a friend I have in the Atlanta area. He prefers traditional worship, and is looking for a church that has a good youth group. He's having trouble matching the two though. Every traditional church he's tried is "nothing but old people", and he never makes a second visit. I told him to keep looking. Atlanta's a big place. I fear he may have given up though.

I see a generation gap across the Body of Christ. My experience tells me it's hard to mix the worship styles preferred by older and younger Christians in one church. There are surely some who succeed when they do both, but too often it leads to some form of division. Best case it will result in separate services. Worst case it splits the congregation.

My church body doesn't try to be all things to all people. We target the under 50 crowd with no apologies. There are plenty of churches with styles to suit the older folks, but we saw a need for a place for those interested in non-traditional worship. We don't see ourselves in competition with the other churches because we know that our congregations wouldn't be interested in each other's services. Between us we'll have something for everyone in the city.

Of course over time the more traditional churches will either change or cease to exist. Either one is ok. A church that has served its purpose can be closed with no regrets as long as a newer one takes its place.

-- Anonymous, December 23, 2002

Recently, Since our last Annual Conference and the reading of reports, I have done my own personal study on churches, which thrive and grow. Consequently I have found that the Downtown Atlanta Churches of every denomination continue to grow and survive despite the fact that none of their members live in close proximity of the church.

What I have found is it is really not about changing anything that these churches do or have done through the years. It is more about being CONSISTENTLY who they are. By not changing with every whim and fad, the members have grown to love and respect themselves and their church.

By the same token the churches, which jump on every whim, fancy and fad, have a false sense of growth and are always in s constant state of flux. Members both come and leave in large numbers. However, they never seem to remain for more than a couple of years at best. A look at the so-called "mega-churches" in your own community will bear this out.

It has been my experience that following whims and fads in the church is like going the WRONG WAY on a ONE WAY street. The Bible fitting describes it in Proverbs 16:23 as the way that seems right to man but the end thereof is death. That is to say, total annihilation or destruction. The church would do well to learn that this is true.

Secondly, I have found that churches which thrive and grow never fail to teach. They constantly teach all age groups what the membership or denomination holds to be sacred and why this is so.

[---"when your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean ye by these stones? Then ye shall answer them"--Joshua 4:6- 7.]

In their worship services these churches don't usually separate adults from the youth, but all worship together and the babies are allowed in worship as well. They generally have NO JUNIOR CHURH but one united congregation where all age groups are respected, loved and allowed to participate during each worship service. (No Special Sunday is set aside for the youth but they participate each week). Training their youth is evident in these churches at all times. This follows the biblical admonition, "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." - Proverbs 22:6.

These churches also put a high priority on excellence from the pulpit to the pew. Because excellence is rewarded no sermon or choir selection, Sunday School Teacher of reader is ever unprepared. The result is a benefit and blessing to all.

Additionally, and perhaps what stands out most about the churches that reach all age groups and the continue to survive is that they are very much PEOPLE oriented and committed to ministry as well. This ministry is not only to the members of the congregation but to the community at large. It is the ministry, which in fact Christ has left us all to do.

The downtown church, which I attended last Sunday, has never had a lack of youth. In fact it has a large and growing membership of ever group and age. Additionally the worship is one, which the denomination designed and has used since before I began singing in the choir in 1962. Hymns and Anthems are expected and sung by all. Each choir participates most Sundays and the music is superb. The sermon is usually taken from the Lectionary and is most excellently prepared. One is usually able to spend the entire week focusing on messages the pastor or Associates preached. Ministry and outreach are high priority. As a result it never lacks support. Volunteers are sought and gotten and the offering is somewhere between $15,000 and $25,000 each week. On Christmas Eve, members of all ages--but especially the youth--will be attending the Nutcracker at the famous Atlanta Fox Theater. Last week they also attended a "Christmas Carol" at the Alliance Theater. All of these tickets were secured for $10 each.

On Sunday the service was "Nine Lessons and Carols". Though led by the pastor NO PREACHING occurred. The message came from the lessons and carols, which concluded with the "Hallelujah Chorus". The lessons were read by families--all ages involved and each choir sang the carols in turn from the seniors to the very young. The Congregation was assigned carols to sing as well. This shows the orientation for people and the TRAINING of their youth. This is what I have found to be the way churches successfully recruit and retain their youth.

Following whims and fads is GOING THE WRONG WAY ON A ONE WAY STREET. The end thereof is the WAY OF DEATH.

-- Anonymous, December 23, 2002

I have been searching for a church here in South Georgia like the one mentioned above. I would never disagree about remembering the traditions of our church, but at the same time most youth and young adults prefer a more contemporary way of worshiping. Remember when Thomas Dorsey introduced Gospel music, he was critisized at first by traditionalist who only believed in spiritual music. In rural towns such as these in South Georgia, there are not many plays to attend "such as the Nutcracker." Many of the congegations have 12 grade educations and below. One would also believe that the "seasoned" ministers are appointed to the larger cities. I wouldn't consider the ministries mentioned previously as being a "fad or fashion," but as a way of saving the souls of a younger audience as well. May God Bless each and every one this Christmas!

-- Anonymous, December 24, 2002

Merry Christmas to all. Brother Matthews, God bless you, my brother. You have certainly hit the mark with your response. The way of attaining and retaining members, both young and old is by way of the TRUTH. FAITH COMETH BY HEARING THE WORD OF GOD! Not by traditions,not by contemporary music, or any other whim and fancy. The man, woman, boy or girl who comes to Christ must first believe that He is and that He is a rewarder to them that diligently seek Him. No matter which book of the Bible you read, you will find that everything said after we've learned it,is meant to be taught to others. That's why Paul could say to the new believers that we are without excuse. When we come to Christ, we must come as children and children must be taught. When we come to Christ with preconceived notions on what the church should be and not what the church is according to the word of God, then we miss the mark. Jesus taught his disciples and sent them to teach "go ye into all the world teaching them to observe all things..." The whims and fancy's that are occurring in churches only serve to satisfy a few and I've not seen anyone, as yet, surrender their lives to Christ after a 'stomp' show or a so-called 'liturgical' dance or a 'mime' act. That's entertainment!! The Messianic Jewish congregation that I worship with from time to time, teaches dance, but the dance is not done in the worship service, it's done at their feasts and celebrations. In their worship service, they teach and preach Jesus. There is beautiful music and the blowing of the shofar begins every service, like our call to worship, but no dancing unless it is spontaneously brought on by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is not coreographed. They also teach God's word interrelated with their traditions. They teach it because God told them in His word to teach your children so they will teach their children and their children another generation.

When I talk to adults and they can't give me one verse of scripture that has sustained them over the years, but they can tell me how long they've been on the steward board, then I know that we've missed the mark. When our children just want to dance and sing stomp and can't tell me "in the beginning was the word...", as a preacher, my soul cries out. The church has to return to the scriptures and the Holy Spirit for it's guidance (that's when I dance by the power of the Holy Spirit - God, the Holy Spirit,you and I dance). It takes much prayer and much doing. Be you doers of the word and not hearers only. We have to do what Christ said. Teach!! Brother Witherspoon, here're a couple of ideas you might want to incorporate into your study of God's word for your youth.

To stimulate our youth's interests, we'll get them to tell us about books they're reading in school and then use it to teach God's word. We've also used short skits that we've either written or adapted from another source. These skits are on relationships, peer-pressure, etc. and we'll talk about David, Daniel, Abraham, Moses. We've used rap artists, such as Will Smith to bring home a point of scripture, and then challenge them to write a poem on whatever subject we're discussing and use a comparison hymn and scripture to enlighten them. In essence, our youth and adults have to be equipped to do what Christ said, 'go ye...' But if all we want to do is entertain then we've missed the mark. Are leaders born leaders are made leaders? Deuteronomy helps us out with the answer to that question.

Brother Witherspoon, continue to pray, use the resources you have in your rural community to instill in the youth and their parents the importance of knowing Jesus. If the congregation are mostly farmers or fishermen, or with a 12th grade or below education, start right where they are with people of the bible who have similar lifestyles like them. David was a shephard and became king. Allow the Holy Spirit to be your guide. Pray much then be up and doing!! God bless and keep you is my prayer.

Keep Christ in Christmas = The reason for the season

May the love, joy, peace, and hope of God dwell richly in your hearts.

-- Anonymous, December 24, 2002

Bob/Joyce: You are quite correct in acknowledging that the basic problem for many of our churches is a lack of Biblical teaching/knowledge. Collectively, we tend to be allergic towards studying the Sacred Text. Attendance at Church School, Bible Study and Lay Meetings are woefully smalll relative to the general membership in local churches. I fully support enlightened tradition and progressive reforms when the objective is to improve the product. There is a Japanese term which I utilize in my international economics classes called "keiritsu". This term translates into English as continuous self-improvement. This concept is embedded in the international marketing strategy by Japanese manufacturers in maintaining and expanding their competitive economic advantage in world markets. Keiritsu is a deterrent against complacency, stagnation and denial.

If the goal of our AME churches is to maximize growth this will require periodic evaluations about how we are delivering the product called, Christian worship. The exodus of young adults (ages 21-30) from AME churces is undeniable. Yes we have collegiate ministries but few of these collegians remain AME members after graduation. AME tradition unfortunately has served more as a repellant than a magnet for keeping this critical age group in the fold. The failure to attract young adults means an opportunity exists to apply a form of spiritual keiritsu. The reality is simply this: youth and young adults recognize that choices exist in their search for spiritual fulfillment. Do we let them walk away or do we reform our liturgical structure to allow for inclusiveness? Our response as a Zion (competitive business) should be to understand the needs of these parishoners (customers) and seek to provide the best in customer service without compromising the mandate of the Gospel. QED

-- Anonymous, December 24, 2002

Merry Christmas, Brother Bill,

Yes, yes,yes. We must get back to the basics of teaching and training up our youth in the way of leadership through biblical perspectives and be inclusive of social standards. As a part of one of the big 5 financial institutions of this country, whose commitment to excellence predominates with it's main objective being integrity, I must admit, in the workplace I see more Godly attributes than in the church.

When we use God's word to instill integrity without compromise, we'll begin our journey on the right road.

Love you all. They've said I can go home now. Merry Christmas!!!

-- Anonymous, December 24, 2002

One of the drawing cards we are finding for recruiting youth is the Debutante-Master Commission. Youth and Young Adults want something to do and the DMC offers a wonderful structure. The DMC web page is

Ms. Loretta Hill is the administrator.

-- Anonymous, December 28, 2002

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