During the first weekend of June, the Kansas-Nebraska Conference hosted its annual camp meeting on the campus of Union College. Camp meeting culminated on Sabbath with morning and evening services for adults, youth, and children and morning services for young adults. Phillips Craig and Dean held a concert after lunch, and the keynote speaker, Shawn Boonstra from Voice of Prophecy, ended the evening with a final message.
Divine worship services on Sabbath took place in the College View Seventh-day Adventist Church sanctuary, the main church on Union's campus. While the Kansas-Nebraska conference has 12,000+ members and 100+ churches, fewer than 1,400 individuals were in attendance on Sabbath morning. Roughly 60% of the attendees were members of the host church. College View has around 1,500 members on books, with about 800 people attending weekly, said pastor Simon Liversidge, the church's lead pastor.
Liversidge shed light on the attendance figures, explaining that before the pandemic, the church used to conduct two Sabbath services. However, post-pandemic there is a decreased physical attendance and increased online viewership; thus, the church decided to streamline its operations and now holds a single Sabbath morning service. Pastor Liversidge further noted that despite camp meeting catering to Adventists from both Kansas and Nebraska, encompassing over 100 churches in total, the number of attendees specifically for the camp meeting itself was smaller than the regular Sabbath attendance. This observation was reinforced by the attendance at the two services on Sabbath morning, with the first service accommodating 400 visitors and the second service welcoming 950 attendees. "Camp Meeting doesn't attract people like it used to," explained Pastor Liversidge.
Demographically, most attendees were white, comprising approximately 95% of the camp meeting participants. About 90% of attendees were in their 40s or older, with a high representation of individuals in their 60s and 70s. Interestingly, there was also a notable presence of African attendees, which Pastor Guadalupe Montour, the young adult pastor, attributed to Lincoln's status as a welcoming city for refugees. However, there was a relatively low turnout of youth and young adults, with fewer than 50 young adults and approximately 70 youth in attendance. This may be partly attributed to college students leaving the campus once the academic year concludes. Pastor Guadalupe reiterated Liversidge's sentiments that camp meeting not only struggles to attract attendees, but greatly struggles to attract young adults.
Nevertheless, this seemed to be a meaningful weekend for those in attendance. A palpable buzz surrounded main speaker Shawn Boonstra's presence. Some of the younger attendees shared memories of growing up watching his sermons, while adults expressed admiration for his life in ministry, his recent assumption of and successful leadership for Voice of Prophecy. Boonstra's sermon, which aligned with the theme "Hope for Today,” included captivating stories from the mission field and encouraged attendees to find hope in Christ's imminent return. This message resonated well with the congregation. His engaging preaching style, filled with lightheartedness and dynamic stage presence, also kept the congregation captivated throughout.
Beyond the engaging sermons and performances, the genuine warmth and friendliness exuded by the attendees left a lasting impression. It was impossible to make it a few steps without somebody stopping and saying hello or giving a warm smile. Pastor Liversidge intentionally engaged with the young adults; he attended some of their services and shared meals with them. Liversidge even took time to remember their names. The young adults also appeared to be very fond of their leader, who they affectionately called Pastor Gua.
The warm welcome extended by the members and attendees may stem from the church's long-standing practice of embracing students and refugees. Even with hundreds of individuals present, the atmosphere exuded an unmistakable feeling of familiarity and could easily feel like a home away from home for those who attended.
Editor's note—Thank you for reading this installment of the 12 Churches Project, a special 2023 series from Spectrum.
Thanks to readers like you who donated to our Grow the Vision campaign for the Bonnie Dwyer Journalism Fund, we’re commissioning reporters to visit 12 different Adventist churches in the North American Division and write about the experience. We’re aiming for diversity—at least one in each of the nine NAD unions—with a focus on key examples of various church bodies and worship styles.
Post-pandemic, what’s church like? Who’s showing up and who’s not? What’s changed? What’s working? What needs to change? The goal is not deeply investigatory but merely to witness worship and share. Hopefully, we can all learn something from these first-person experiences.
Previously in this series:
“A Visit to the Cedar Lake Seventh-Day Adventist Church” by Sam Girven
“What It's Like to Worship at Crosswalk Redlands” by Ezrica Bennett
“Visiting the District Community Church Plant in Washington, DC” by Jacklyn Frias
“A Visit to SuCasa, a Spanish-American Church in Tennessee” by Josué Vega
Ezrica Bennett is a writer, public speaker, and coach passionate about working with young adults to help them navigate life and faith. She is also committed to helping churches, and church leaders, find innovative ways to integrate young adults into church leadership and empower them to honor God's calling on their lives.
Image by the Kansas-Nebraska Conference of Seventh-day Adventists on Facebook.
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