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Connecting the Church with Young Adults


In August, 28 Christian Reformed young adults ages 18 to 30 gathered in Grand Rapids, Mich., to voice their concerns about the CRC to denominational leaders and to develop plans for the future.

The roundtable discussion was hosted by the Leadership Exchange, the denomination’s ministry to promote leadership development.

The men and women came from across North America and from diverse ethnic backgrounds.

Some, like Dordt College student Dan DeGraff from Lowell, Ind., are frustrated with what they see as the denomination’s lack of action. “We hear [the denomination] talking about how they want to connect, but we don’t see it getting done,” said DeGraff.

Rev. Mark Hilbelink, 26, from Sonrise Community CRC in Austin, Tex., agreed. “From the denomination side, we are systematically built to exclude young adults.”

Chris Pullenayegem, director of the Leadership Exchange, said the reason for the discussion was simple: “Young adults were falling between the cracks in the denomination. Everyone was talking about losing them, but we needed to do something about it.”

Ken Kruithoff, Leadership Exchange Coordinator, described the event as a chance for young adults to “voice some frustration that they have with the place of young adults in the denomination.”

The group noted several problems, including the lack of ministries for single young adults in churches and the fact that few young adults hold leadership positions in the denomination.

They also tried to focus on next steps. “We wanted them to name their vision,” Pullenayegem noted. “What would [they] like to see happening in 5 to 10 years’ time?”

One thing the participants want is better support. Amy VanderVliet from the Washington, D.C. Christian Reformed Church, said, “Young adults are looking for the support from their councils and pastors. They are looking for support and mentorship.” VanderVliet was a youth advisor to synod, the annual leadership meeting of the CRC, and helped put together a plan for a proposed youth summit for Synod 2012.

Overall, Hilbelink thought the day was a step in the right direction. “I love the fact that we are getting together, but we can’t make it the typical CRC thing where we talk and we don’t take any action,” he said.

To keep moving forward, one suggestion was to hold additional regional events like this one to raise more awareness, and to use electronic communication to keep the discussion going. The group plans to use social networks such as Facebook to list more ideas and plans.

“Young adults need to take ownership of their own future,” Pullenayegem told them. “It’s your church. You are the denomination.”

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