Want to Increase Youth Participation in GC Session? A Practical Playbook

There was a time I wanted to be a delegate to General Conference Session.

Immediately following the 2000 Session in Toronto, the Sabbath School class I was attending at Sligo Church lamented the lack of representation of young Adventists. Someone in the class told be I would be a delegate next session.

I’m still waiting for the call.

Or maybe I’m not. I’m not getting any younger. By the time the next GC Session arrives in Indianapolis (assuming the Lord has not come), I’ll officially be middle-aged. Not quite on death’s doorstep, but certainly not what one would call a young adult. Which speaks nothing as to my mindset.

Nevertheless, we give a lot of lip service to involving young adults in the church. The arguments (excuses?) have stated that young people don’t want to be involved in church administration – they’d rather be involved in ministry. Judging by the traffic on the #GCSA15 Twitter hashtag, there are young Adventists who are very interested in how their church is run and want to be involved in the process.

So, how do we make it happen?

The first step is to understand how delegates are selected and how to address the issues through the structure of the church. 1,000 or so delegates are at-large delegates selected based upon various criteria by the General Conference. The balance of the delegates to session are regular delegates, who are selected by the various divisions, unions, and missions of the church.

The business of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is largely conducted through a committee process. Each organization has some sort of executive committee. In the local church, it is called the church board; for a conference or union, it is usually called an executive committee. Those bodies debate the direction of that specific church organization and make recommendations to the body as a whole (e.g. for a church, the entire church in business session or for a conference or union, a constituency meeting). Policies are adopted or not based on the vote of the larger body.

Another important committee in the Adventist Church is the Nominating Committee. Many are familiar with the process in their local churches, where various offices are filled. A future post will discuss how this process might need to be revised (or entirely changed); nonetheless, it is what we have right now.

Nominating committees exist at all levels of church administration. A Nominating Committee at a conference level discusses its officers and makes a recommendation to the constituency about who should fill the various offices, usually including conference presidents, secretaries, treasurers, and perhaps some field-specific offices. A similar process occurs at the union level. Divisions, being a part of the General Conference, are largely decided at General Conference Session or at the Annual Council which meets between sessions.

Nominating committees also select individuals for the organizations executive committee, which meets between constituency meetings and conducts the business of that organization. The meetings might be monthly, semi-annually, or on some other schedule, but they conduct much of the business of the church.

So, how do we increase participation among young people? Here’s my recommendation for a step-by-step process to do just that.

  1. Train the youth and young adults about how the church does its business. The process of how a business meeting is conducted is confusing if one does not understand how the process works. What is a motion? What is a second? What does it mean to table an item? What does it mean to call question on a motion? What exactly are we voting on at this moment? These are all questions that young people should be trained on in order to effectively participate in a business meeting.
  2. Send a majority of young adults as delegates to the conference constituency. This may well need to be a number of churches within a conference who each agree to explain gently to the older members that the church needs to develop its younger members. It might be a difficult conversation, but a crucial one nonetheless. By the way, bonus points for sending more young women.
  3. Get young people on the nominating committee. By sending a larger number of younger delegates, the chances increase that they will be elected to serve on NomCom.
  4. Have the young people nominate more young people to serve on conference ExecCom. Once young people are on nominating committee, they need to find qualified young people to serve on ExecCom as they are led by the Holy Spirit. Again, bonus points for women.
  5. Have young people on ExecCom nominate more young people to serve on for the union constituency. Generally, a conference executive committee will nominate names to serve at the union constituency meetings. More young people . . .
  6. Rinse and repeat. The whole process repeats.

I apologize if this sounds political. It sort of is. However, one must understand how the organization functions to effect change.

And please don’t get me wrong. I am in no way advocating for unqualified people to be asked to serve on any of these committees. I am also not attempting to diminish the work of the Holy Spirit which should guide all of our decisions. What I am trying to do is to present a process by which we can increase the number of qualified young people involved in church administration and how to develop them for leadership. I think training for these roles is a key component as it prepares people to work for the good of God’s church.