In Japan, Young Adventists Revive Aging Church with New Life
Setagaya congregation, rebranded, hopes to train 300 young leaders
ASeventh-day Adventist congregation in the center of Tokyo, Japan, had dwindled to fewer than 10 active members, prompting fears it would be closed.
Instead, local leaders of the movement designated the church as the "Setagaya Youth Church," and today, membership is thriving as young adults continue to find nourishment for their faith.
The now-regular weekly Sabbath attendance of 25 to 30 people, one-third young adults, jumps to as many as 70 for a monthly Bible seminar. Many of the young people stay at the church over the weekend in sleeping bags, eating meals together, and going to the nearby onsen, or public bath, at night. On Saturday night there’s a fellowship time at the church for the young people.
Jin Kaidi, a Chinese young adult, age 23, is one of those young adults. He is studying chemistry at Tokyo Denki University, and began attending Adventist worship when Pastor Yasuki Aoki, who also is Youth Ministries Department director for the Japan Union Conference, invited him. Two years ago, Kaidi was baptized and now attends the Setagaya church.
“I enjoy this church because people in my age group are here,” he said.
Risa Horita, also 23, came from a non-religious family but found the Seventh-day Adventist Church while a student at Glendale Community College in California. She started attending the Setagaya Youth Church and participated in "Youth Rush Japan," an evangelistic outreach, last year. She said she “enjoys passing out tracts to homeless people along with a bottle of water.”
Church leaders, including Aoki and Daniel Fukuda, a youth literature evangelism leader who works for the Japan Union Conference, say the Setagaya Youth Church offers three programs—each once a month—with young adults in mind.
The “@Church” meetings are designed for people to invite their non-Christian friends to church for the weekend. Subjects include creation vs. evolution, what is the Bible, and what is Christianity. Every Thursday evening, there’s an English-Japanese language exchange meet-up gathering at the church for the community.
Setagaya Youth Church, in Tokyo, Japan, was once a dwindling congregation. Now, as many as 70 people attend weekend conferences there. (Japan Union Mission photo)
A deeper dive into Bible topics is offered via the “@Jesus” meetings. These have covered studies of Daniel and Revelation, 1844, the Three Angels Messages, and a program on how to give a Bible study.
Practical evangelism is taught in the “@World” meetings. The congregation seeks to do as much volunteer work in the Setagaya district as possible. A group of community people gather at the Setagaya Church every other Friday to have special fellowship meeting on how to better serve the community. A special Christmas program drew 30 visitors from the neighborhood.
Over the next few years, the @World group will plan and organize two to three weeks of literature evangelism every winter, spring, and summer for young people at various locations all over Japan.
Perhaps the most ambitious effort is “Gideon 300,” where Setagaya seeks to equip 300 young people to become disciples and leaders for the church and send them out across Japan in evangelistic efforts.
Kameyama Hartuo, who after studying theology at an Adventist college in Thailand started a self-supporting media and discipleship training ministry, also attends the Setagaya Youth Church. He preaches and leads Bible study groups there, as needed.
“Beside producing media that is relevant to young people in Japan, which is my official ministry, I love going to restaurants and ‘Izakaya’ (Japanese bars) with non-Christian friends. Of course, I don't drink there, but these friends feel free to ask me about my faith and life style and then I can break down biblical concept of life as well as my conviction in Jesus.”
From a congregation on the brink of collapse, it appears that Setegaya Youth Church is now showing the way to revival in Japan.
—With information from Daniel Fukuda in Tokyo.
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