Investing in young adults

French Harmon
French Harmon President, Chief Executive Officer & Treasurer

By: French Harmon

I am blessed to represent the Kentucky Baptist Foundation (KBF) across the commonwealth and beyond. As I travel to Kentucky Baptist Convention (KBC) churches, I have anecdotally observed that there appears to be a large swath of our population missing — young adults ages 18-29. To be sure, this is not true in every church or location, but is quite obvious in some congregations. 

After personally noticing this phenomenon, I decided to research official statistical records from the KBC. The data confirmed a troubling trend in reaching and baptizing young adults. There has been a precipitous decline in baptisms over the last 50 years. More specifically, over the last 10 years KBC churches are having a very difficult time attracting, baptizing and discipling young adults.

Year    Baptisms (ages 18-29)       Primary Worship

1980    4,354                                       Not Available

1990    3,056                                       199,548

2000    2,910                                       229,318

2010    2,292                                       237,408

2012    2,235                                       228,124

2022    1,277                                       181,350          

In the churches that I led, I sought to prioritize, participate and promote young adult involvement in our church. I had a sense of urgency to reach younger leaders to build His Kingdom. Here are five suggestions for church leaders to connect and retain young adults …

Listen to young adults.

The stories and experiences that young adults have to share are inspirational and harrowing. They are finishing college, raising COVID19 children and making their way in the Christian faith during this season of their lives. But they have a hunger and thirst for spiritual things and the church should engage this important group of adults.

Promote new programs.

Similar to Southern Baptist churches’ outreach programming for children, youth and senior adults perhaps more congregations should strategically reach out to young adults. Programs like Mom’s Day out, date night childcare, social events, men’s sports outings, women’s gatherings, mission projects and additional worship opportunities have been successful in many churches across America. Young adults are looking to the church to provide guidance and direction to many of life’s questions and church leaders can point to Christ for these answers.

Empower the next generation.

I would often convene pastoral staff meetings with four or more young adults in church leadership. We had robust discussions that aided my thoughts and also allowed ministry formation for these young leaders. It was very beneficial to hear from these emerging church leaders. Investing in young adults and bringing them to the leadership table can bring huge dividends to the local church. Interestingly, business leaders often empower younger leaders well before the church gives these emerging leaders an opportunity. Young adults can be leaders today.

Equip the next generation.

Dr. Todd Gray has a vision to train the next generation of KBC leaders. The Calling out the Called initiative brings necessary funding for those called to ministry. The KBF is excited to financially support this vision. The foundation has increased our ministry scholarships for students at Clear Creek Baptist Bible College, Boyce College and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Additionally, Michael Cabell at KBC can provide more information for young adults considering ministry — he can be contacted at [email protected] or 502-245-4101. Many young adult leaders are trained during this time of life and churches can help identify and guide them in ministry.

Acknowledge their contribution.

The local and national media covered the 2023 Asbury revival with great interest. On one hand, it showed how desperate older people were to join and engage in the spiritual movement. Asbury professor Dan Lewis said, “Many of the older believers had never been in a revival and were just amazed.” On the other hand, the revival was led by young adults desiring to be closer to Jesus. There is an obvious hunger from young adults to lead in the local church. I encourage pastors, deacons and leaders to allow young adults to participate and provide opportunities for the Holy Spirit to lead.

The Kentucky Baptist Foundation stands ready to assist young leaders in growth, spiritual development and navigating the ever-changing church landscape. I look forward to hosting gatherings for younger pastors throughout the coming year. We have scheduled a young leaders luncheon for Monday, Nov. 13, 2023, at noon at First Baptist Church, Somerset. We will also continue to provide resources that will help advance the kingdom of Jesus Christ.

Together let’s seek ways to unleash the creativity and commitment of young adults across the Kentucky Baptist Convention. I look forward to meeting many of you on my travels across Kentucky.

French Harmon is president of the Kentucky Baptist Foundation.

The information in this article is provided as general information and is not intended as legal or tax advice. For advice and assistance in specific cases, you should seek the advice of an attorney or other professional adviser.

This article was reposted from Kentucky Today.

French Harmon

French Harmon

French Harmon is a native Kentuckian. He was born in Ashland and graduated from Paul G. Blazer High School. Harmon holds educational degrees from Marshall University, University of Louisville, University of the Cumberlands and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has earned an executive education certificate in non-profit leadership from the Harvard Kennedy School. He has pastored three congregations in Kentucky—Allen Baptist Church, Fort Mitchell Baptist Church and First Baptist Church in Somerset. He has been a professor in leadership studies at the University of the Cumberlands and was team leader for church development at the Kentucky Baptist Convention. He is married to Rachael and together they have three children—Trae, Madison and Jack. Harmon has written one book God’s Ordinary Giants (2020). He enjoys sports, photography, travel and presidential history.

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