GATLINBURG, Tenn. (Feb. 5, 2016) -- Fewer young people are sitting in the pews. We know that already, but the surveys and reports keep coming. As recently as December, a National Congregations Study showed that 56 percent of adults in a typical mainline congregation are over 60 years old.
At Holston’s annual spiritual retreat for young adults, the Rev. Jasmine Smothers, age 33, referred to the reality that young people aren’t attracted to the church as it exists today. Young adults typically believe the church is hypocritical, she said, and so their voices are sorely missing from church leadership.
Then, Smothers went where the research doesn’t go.
“Why have you abdicated your power?” Smothers asked her group of 404 worshippers, ages 18 to 35. “Why have you not pushed back and said, ‘This is my church, too. This is my God, too’?”
At Divine Rhythm, held Jan. 29-31 at W.L. Mills Conference Center, participants seemed to find some gripping inspiration – from Smothers' preaching as well as music and service – to stay connected to God and the church.
In its 16th year, Divine Rhythm was attended by fewer than in previous years (454 in 2015, 770 in 2009). The annual weekend for young adults followed Holston’s annual January weekend for junior- and senior-high students, Resurrection, attended by 6,008.
Smothers is co-author of the book, “Not Safe for Church: Ten Commandments for Reaching New Generations.” She is associate director of ministry teams for the North Georgia Conference, and the daughter of Divine Rhythm’s first-ever speaker in 2001, the Rev. Rodney Smothers.
Throughout four sessions – Friday night, Saturday morning, Saturday evening, and Sunday morning – Smothers passionately laid out the Biblical case for her listeners to connect with God, find their unique purpose, and boldly pursue it.
“How many of you are ready to get on your face to beg God to activate in you the very reason he put you on this planet in the first place?” she said, after telling the story of Nehemiah.
Smothers encouraged worshippers to pray and study scripture for perspective and perseverance.
“Do you know who you are? Do you know where you come from? Do you know that you come from a family that gives you the faith, that gives you everything you need to stay connected on this journey called life?”
Bobby Russell, age 29, said that Smothers’ message of “connecting with your purpose” resonated.
“We always think about it. We all have a purpose, and it just makes you think and pray about it,” said Russell, a member of Fincastle United Methodist Church in LaFollette, Tenn. “’Am I doing what God has called me to do? Is there something more I should be doing?’ … It really opens you up to God and just giving him complete control and trusting that whatever he calls you to do, that you'll be willing and able to do it.”
OUTSIDE THE NORM
For the second year, The Digital Age led worship with covers on songs including "Break Every Chain” as well as the original “Glow.” The foursome from Waco, Texas, are former members of the David Crowder Band, another modern-rock Christian band.
Maria Jimenez, age 25, said that Digital Age “was unique in a way, very different than what I'm used to hearing, which is a good thing … The lyrics were great.” Jimenez attends Fairview United Methodist Church in Maryville, Tenn.
Twenty-seven participants came out for a Saturday-afternoon mission project, coordinated by Live-It Ministries of Sevierville. Young adults traveled 30 miles northwest to Dupont, Tenn., to clean up the house of 60-year-old Air Force veteran Ed Schneider.
Clay Tarleton, age 31, of Oakdale United Methodist Church in Morgan County, Tenn., said the service project was one of the most important parts of Divine Rhythm.
“Some of my happiest moments as a youth member was helping others,” Tarleton said. “This gets you outside of your normal space and gets you together with people you don’t normally hang out with.”
Tarleton’s pastor is the Rev. Tom Robins, who brought 23 people from his four congregations comprising Morgan-Scott-Roane Parish.
“I’m a big fan of Divine Rhythm,” Robins said. “A lot of 18-to-35-year-olds – they’re barely able to go to school and keep their jobs. So we tell them that if they can get here, we’ll pay their way.”
Robins’ parish raises money to pay for participants to attend Divine Rhythm as well as Resurrection and Rez Kidz, all of which build relationships between the four congregations, he said. The churches include Rugby Road, Sunbright, Oakdale and Woods Chapel, ranging in worship attendance from 12 to 50.
“This generation – they are do-ers,” Robins said of the young adults cleaning Schneider’s house on an unusually warm and sunny afternoon in late January. “They love hands-on work and being able to see what they’re doing.”
The weekend concluded with a celebration of Holy Communion with Bishop Dindy Taylor.
Divine Rhythm participants gave a total offering of $1,582 for local children in poverty, Holston Conference’s 2015-2016 mission emphasis.
In 2017, Divine Rhythm will be held Jan. 27-29, again at W.L. Mills Center, adjoining Gatlinburg Convention Center. The speaker will be the Rev. Jacob Armstrong, founding pastor of Providence United Methodist Church in Mt. Juliet, Tenn., and author of "Treasure" and "The God Story." The Digital Age will return to lead worship.
"Divine Rhythm inspires comeback participants -- and even a wedding" (The Call, Feb. 9, 2007)
"Divine Rhythm leaves home, stretches legs in Pigeon Forge" (The Call, Feb. 11, 2005)