The DNA of YG
BY: MELINDA PANDIANGAN
Melinda Pandiangan, a ministry leader at Younger Generation Church, sat down for a conversa- tion with Mike Tucker, who served as the senior pastor at Arlington Adventist Church for seven- teen years. Seeing a drastic need to reach young adults, Mike Tucker facilitated and championed the beginning of a new “church within a church” for young adults called Younger Generation Church. In this conversation, Melinda and Mike unpack the philosophies that have made YG a thriving and transformative ministry over the past decade and a half.
Pandiangan: I’m excited to talk with you about how Younger Generation Church got started. I remember walking into a YG service for the first time as a recent college graduate and thinking, this is for me. This is different. This is church done well. I want to be a part of this.
YG has always been effective at drawing young adults closer to the faith at a time when people my age are leaving the church in droves. But I know at first it wasn’t accepted by everyone. In fact, YG drew a lot of criticism from outside church leadership. What was it about YG that really rattled them?
Tucker: The music. The staging. The lights. Smoke machine. Everything about it. They said, “We like the fact that you’re doing a young adult ministry. We think you could do it differently.”
I replied, “Where have you seen where it was done differently and it was this effective?”
“Well, we’ve not seen that,” they replied.
“Until you can show me a better model, this is my model.”
At its core, it was the message of YG that was novel. That, to me, is the most important part. When you’re talking about music, that has to do with the target audience. The music style draws people and makes them feel comfortable, depending on their background. Once you’ve drawn them, you’ve got to feed them. If all you’ve got is the music and the lights, no one will stay. But if the message of YG—of any church—is something that feeds the soul, is biblical, and gives people hope, they return.
Pandiangan: What was the revolutionary message that was coming out of YG?
Tucker: First, it was the message of grace. Every true revival starts with the understanding of the love and the grace of God. It starts with understanding who God is and what He’s done for you and me.
The second part of the YG message was telling young adults, “You’re not the church of tomorrow. You’re the church of today. It’s time for you to take responsibility and ownership.” And they did that.
I said, “God will use you in ways that He can’t use me, so let God be the one that establishes your methods, means, and message. What I know is that the message is always going to be about grace. And what that looks like and how that’s translated is going to be up to you.”
Tucker: I can’t say that I created YG. I didn’t. I knew that we had to do something for young adults, so I gave young adults the opportunity to create something with the Spirit leading them. I set them in motion, gave them the opportunity, protected them, and got out of the way.
Pandiangan: And that’s how change is done. When the people you want to serve become the agents of change.
Tucker: Yes, allowing young people to be led by the Spirit and truly lead.
From the beginning, this was a program not just for young people, but by young people. I remember the Friday night when they were having their rehearsal for the first YG service. I walked through the sanctuary, listened to the music, saw the lights, and said, “Well, I’m going to get fired.”
Pandiangan: [laughing] Oh no! That’s good. That means they’re actually doing something innovative.
Tucker: Yes! I told them that to everyone who criticizes you, just say to them, “Listen. I’d love to talk to you about this, but I’m just doing what Pastor Mike asked me to. You really have to go talk to him.” I said, “Don’t argue with them, don’t justify yourself, don’t get engaged in the conversation with them. Just send them to me.”
And I had people come to me and chew on me for three to six months. But then there was a turning point where people stopped and accepted it.
One of the more theologically conservative members of this church grabbed me one day during YG and said, “Come in here!” And I thought, “Oh dear, here we go.”
He said, “I hate this. The lights, the smoke, the loud music—it’s awful. I detest this. But you see that kid over there? I thought he’d moved away. You see that other kid over there? I even thought he was dead. See all those kids over there? I don’t know who they are. I hate this, but I’m glad you’re doing it.”
Tucker: If that’s everyone’s attitude—seeing the value in it—we’ve won. I’ve even had people come to me and tell me, “I don’t like this.” I said, “It’s not for you.” They would look confused. “What do you mean?” I explained, “Church isn’t what we do to entertain you. Church is what we do for our community.”
Church is an act of service in obedience for our Lord, but primarily it’s geared towards our community. When they come in, they’ll see that we care enough about the church to create a place that they can enjoy, feel at home in, be moved by, and can be drawn closer to Jesus with. Church is the one institution on Earth that should primarily exist for the benefit of our non-members.
I’ve had people from other churches say, “We want our young adults [to stay].”
I say, “No, you don’t. What you want is for young adults to like what you like, think what you think, do what you do, and endure what you endure. But they won’t do that. If you truly want young adults, you’re going to have to turn it over to them. They’re going to make a lot of noise, mistakes, and try new things. But if you let them do it, you can have them. If you’re not comfortable with that, you don’t really want your young adults.”
Pandiangan: That’s good stuff.
Tucker: One thing about YG that has really been impactful is mentoring the next generation. Because of my travels, there were years I had not attended YG. And finally, one Saturday I came to YG, and I realized that of all of the people on the platform, leading praise and worship, that not one of them had been there when I was last there. Even the main leaders were different than when we had started it. I said, “Praise God, they’ve done it. They’re mentoring the next generation and the next generation is right here.”
Pandiangan: What do you think is the next move for YG to stay relevant to our audience and community?
Tucker: Recognize that YG will evolve, eventually. It may not be exactly what it is now; as our high schoolers come and grow up—they’re a different generation. If you’re not willing to make the changes, you become a dinosaur. The next generation will need something different. What it’ll be, I don’t know. But I think it’s going to take people like Pastor Allan and the younger leaders who will be wise enough to ask, “What is it that we need to do for you?” Because that’s how we created YG. I asked, “What do you need? Create something.”
There’s always a temptation to worship methods or strategies because they've done so much for us, and to call those things sacred, when what is actually sacred is the prompting of the Holy Spirit, the willingness to take chances for Him, and the willingness to innovate. Sharing the gospel and loving our neighbors: those are the things that create rebels, renegades, and risk takers.
This church has always had innovative people. It has had people who were willing to look at the big picture and not be limited by the thought: “We’ve never done it that way.”
Innovation was the DNA of Arlington Adventist Church. And we’ve never lost that DNA.