What is the background behind iCOR?
Youth as a key factor
Young people need the church and the church needs young people. The age of adolescence is marked by physical, psychological, social and economic transition. And of course, one’s spiritual life is also affected. Societal developments are prolonging the phase of adolescence, and thus this stage is becoming more significant. Youth are no longer children, but they have not yet become completely integrated in the life and world of adults. Since youth are experiencing a phase of change, they themselves also become agents of change. They are dynamic, creative, innovative and productive. The roots of many Christian revivals and reformations have originated in youth movements. When Jesus called his disciples, most of them were yet mere youth. The history of the Adventist Church also bears the marks of the influence and spiritual dynamism of young people. They have always been supporting pillars of a thriving church community, and therefore need our special attention. We must give them support in the areas of relationships as well as ideological and spiritual development. This can be best achieved in the context of an intergenerational community of faith—and what is true for young people, is also true for all generations.
Unfortunately, various studies concerning church drop outs and the Adventist church unanimously reveal that we lose virtually every second youth that grew up in our church. Roger Dudley reports that “40 percent to 50 percent of those who are baptized members in the mid-teens will drop out of the church by the time they are halfway through their twenties” (Roger Dudley, 2000, p. 60). Studies also clearly reveal that the reasons for leaving the church have more to do with relationships than with doctrine. This is a growing trend in Adventist churches worldwide. The “Valuegenesis Europe” provides ample evidence that the most important factors influencing whether a youth stays in the Adventist church or not involve experiences made in the church.
On the other hand, churches in which young people are involved in shaping the life, vision and mission of the church are generally very vital communities. Here we see various generations working together passionately as a manifestation of what is described in Malachi 4:6: “And the heart of the fathers shall turn to their sons and the heart of the sons shall turn to the fathers.” Experience shows that such churches
are also better able to reach people in today’s world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Adventist message. Those who are relevant for young people are also more likely to be relevant for this day and age.
“Very much has been lost to the cause of truth by a lack of attention to the spiritual needs of the young … Why should not labor for the youth in our borders be regarded as missionary work of the highest kind? It requires the most delicate tact, the most watchful consideration, the most earnest prayer for heavenly wisdom.”
What does iCOR mean?
In Europe, we are facing the same challenges and questions confronting our church in many other parts of the world: What can we do to keep our youth in the church? Or how can we win them back? The Center for Youth Evangelism (CYE), a research institute at Andrews University, developed the Church of Refuge (COR) concept.
According to Ron Whitehead at the CYE, churches of refuge are “inclusive, accepting, communityoriented, strategically placed, safe, spiritual environments for young adults. They are faith communities that accept people for who they are, where they are. That is, friend-
ship and acceptance are not given or withheld due to personal history, appearance, current belief system or other factors. Also, members know they will not be disrespected or excluded because of mistakes, questions or doubts. In these communities designed to meet their needs, young adults can seek God and grow in Him.”
(Ron Whitehead, CYE 2008)
The cities of refuge mentioned in the Old Testament served as a model: the key idea is of the church as a safe haven that provides protection, mediation, justice and long-term nurturing care. While iCOR builds upon COR, it has developed the idea further and revised the concept. The idea of the church as a spiritual refuge or spiritual home is the essence and at the same time the goal of iCOR. On the basis of the New Testament understanding of the church, the iCOR initiative is intended to provide churches with value-oriented support in making this spiritual home reality for all generations, all cultures and all social classes. In other words, iCOR promotes churches that make a conscious decision to be modern spiritual communities in which young and old, insiders and guests, poor and rich, workers and academics can feel at home and have freedom to grow in faith. Therefore these churches seek to create an environment in which Christian fellowship is a central factor and in which people of all backgrounds, age and education are empowered to live out and strengthen their faith.
“The church of Christ, enfeebled, defective as she may appear, is the one object on earth upon which he bestows in a special sense his love and his regard. The church is the theatre of his grace, in which he delights in making experiments of his mercy on human hearts. The Holy Spirit is his representative, and it works to effect transformations so wonderful that angels look upon them with astonishment and joy. Heaven is full of rejoicing when the members of the human family are seen to be full of compassion for one another, loving one another as Christ has loved them. The church is God's fortress, his city of refuge, which he holds in a revolted world.”
The family of God
We believe in a relational God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is fully one. The Bible uses words in the category of “family” to describe God. In this context, God created humankind as man and woman and commanded them to be fruitful and multiply.
God thus established the nuclear family; he made man and woman parents and therefore responsible for future generations. Further, God instituted his people—in the language of the New Testament: the church—the community of the children of God (the followers of Jesus). Jesus then also declared the church to be his family (Mark 3:31–35; 10:28–30).
iCOR is therefore based on the biblical understanding that God created two fundamental social units that foster spiritual growth and through which faith is primarily passed on and supported: the nuclear family and the extended family.
The metaphor of the family is the fundamental concept for Christian fellowship among the children of God. This also corresponds to the understanding of the church as the “body of Christ”. The church is therefore a loving, caring and supportive intergenerational and intercultural community that strengthens its members and helps them to connect with Jesus and to develop their full potential in this relationship with God. The metaphor of the family makes it clear that faith and religious practice are in their very essence love in action and relationships.
Churches that see their mission in being an extended family can be a great support for the nuclear family in its pivotal role for the next generation in a time with many broken families and an individualistic society.
Intergenerational, intercultural and inter-social-class
iCOR emphasizes an inclusive approach that is welcoming all generations, cultures and social milieus. This is rooted in the conviction that we all need each other in order to grow spiritually.
Just as it is with people of various ethnic backgrounds, different generations also often represent diverse cultures, lifestyles and faith traditions. The “i” in iCOR therefore stands not just for intergenerational, but also for intercultural and inter-social-class.
Churches that actively seek to fulfill the “i” and therefore to establish positive interpersonal interaction show appreciation for each individual, but do not promote a purely individualistic attitude. They foster a climate of fellowship that respects and integrates all generations, connecting them with the body of Christ in a special way. The biblical principle that “the heart of the fathers shall turn to their sons” (Malachi 4:6) is of utmost importance for them.
As a result, the hearts of the children will turn to their fathers.
An intergenerational community does not mean that each generation insists on asserting its own rights and needs, but rather that their hearts turn to each other. Life in general and God’s order of creation require that the parent generations—those who have already been able to establish themselves—should be the first to turn to the young generation—those who are still searching.
The youth as partners
If a church wants to be relevant, it would be well-advised to orient itself on the youth. Quite often, they are a mirror that reflects contemporary society and times to a greater extent than the older generations. We dare not ignore the large number of young people who leave our churches (but do not necessarily abandon their faith!). Although there are many factors that can play a role in this, we must take the question of how we can satisfy the spiritual needs of our young people more seriously than we have been in the past.
From a statistical perspective, young people are the most receptive. Several empirical studies have shown that more than 80 percent of all decisions for Jesus are made before the age of twenty-five. This is also true for the decision for or against the church. The phase of adolescence has great significance for future life as an adult because it is characterized by serious reflection, transitions and formative decision-making. That’s why it is so important for churches to learn how to relate to young people authentically, narrate the story of God’s redemptive work and set a living example of what it means to be reconciled with God and each other, as well as address and communicate spiritual and biblical issues according to our Adventist understanding in a relevant and practical way. By consciously attending to the spiritual needs of young people (including their emotional, social and ideological needs), churches work to help youth turn to God instead of away from him in the most crucial phase in their lives. Youth ministry is therefore at the same time evangelistic and church development work. However, iCOR is not about churches just taking better care of the youth (youth as an object), but much rather about youth being viewed and actively involved as real partners (youth as subjects). Young people should and want to take part in forming and developing the life and mission of the church. In this way, the church community keeps moving forward. Ultimately, the church possesses no greater source of potential for advancement, renewal and development than is found in its youth. The Bible and the history of Christianity are full of examples of how God works together with young people and does exceptional things through and with them. However, we will only experience that ourselves if we are involved in the lives of our youth and get them involved in the church, giving them training and assistance, and empowering them to assume responsibility in the church and in mission outreach.
“Against all odds the early Christians won thousands to the Savior and ultimately triumphed completely over competing religious options in the Roman Empire. And we can trace much of the vitality of the Christian movement to the surrogate family values and behaviors that characterized local church life.”