Growing Young – Growing Young In Your Context

This is post eight in a series of reflections on the book Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies To Help Young People Discover And Love Your Church. For an introduction to the series please read part one and continue reading the reflections in part two, three , fourfivesix and seven.


The final chapter!

To conclude Growing Young the authors provide a chapter designed to help churches, pastors, parents, families, and anyone interested apply the research to their own context.

Having made my way through the chapters it’s become clear that different churches will apply this in different ways. Every church I know of would agree that they seek to grow young people in faith and number. The decline in young adults continuing on in the faith has been dramatic over the past 20 years and many churches are grasping at straws, willing to try anything to hold on to the young people they have. Yet, if anyone reading this work comes to the conclusion that it’s an easy task then they haven’t understood the research or church culture. The process to reverse this trend and begin growing faithful young adults will require years of constancy and faithfulness.

Growing-Young-Book-3D-Transparent.png

In this final chapter Growing Young gives a broad process to help you or your church work improve its engagement of young people. There are five steps, outlined below:

First, listen.

Start conversations with everyone in the church. Listen. Listen to the kids, the young people, the leaders, the families, the parents, the young adults, the older people, the community, the whole congregation. Everyone. Go ask questions about how the church should or could engage with young people. You might see the problem clearly, others might not. You might understand the need and urgency, others might not. You might believe there is a massive problem, others might not. Begin with conversation.

Second, tell stories of future hope.

There will be no movement without a vision for the future. After listening and conversing with others the problem and challenge of growing young will appear. With this in the forefront of people’s mind it will be time to form a way forward. Begin by telling stories of what could be. Begin dreaming. Begin by white-boarding ideas. Let these dreams, ideas, and possibilities form into stories for the future. All good stories have a moment where there is a problem to overcome. Pitch the problem, pitch the solution. Tell stories of the future hope that could be.

Third, list the challenges.

There are going to be heaps of challenges. There is the problem that the church you’re in may not be growing young but the bigger challenges will come when you begin to move forward in seeking cultural change. The challenges that will occur will be to do with worship style, lack of interest, lack of volunteers and leaders, a large generation gap, and a lack of resources. These and more will make the task a tough one. But it is patience and persistence, all part of the journey itself, which will help to bring about change.

Fourth, experiment at the margins.

Someone once said, “To love is to risk not being loved in return. To hope is to risk pain. To try is to risk failure, but risk must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.” Churches are often risk adverse. In order to grow young as a congregation risk will need to be taken. The place and way to start this is with those on the margins of the church. Those ministries and programs not seen as the backbone of the church is where the possibilities begin. Is there a ministry that could use a little bit of risk-taking? Is there something that young people could takeover or drive themselves? In the listening phase was there something found that the young people could be directing?

Fifth, be patient.

I was at an event last week with some experienced pastors and church leaders from around the state. During my conversation with one elder statesman of the Victorian church I asked how long he thought a certain cultural change might take to implement in a local church. He responded with the sides of his mouth upturned and a glint in his eye, “Oh, you’ll probably see fruit at around the 20-year mark”. And that’s what it seems to take in the church of God. It is long-haul ministry and long-term thinking that will bring about faithful expressions of discipleship and maturity of faith. Pray hard, preach hard, and be patient, realising it is God doing the growth.

Growing Young – Be The Best Neighbours

This is post seven in a series of reflections on the book Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies To Help Young People Discover And Love Your Church. For an introduction to the series please read part one and continue reading the reflections in part two, three , fourfive and six.


In these first few months of being involved in the life and ministry of Rowville Baptist Church I’ve been blown away at the commitment to the local community. Part of the culture of the church is to serve the local community through its time, money, facilities, and people resources. The more I’ve seen the various programs and people in action the more I’ve seen the body of Christ neighbouring well.

So far I’ve seen a fortnightly dinner put on for those in the community that need a feed, a week-long school holiday program, a drop-in centre for those who need to chat and some pantry supplies, and a twice weekly breakfast served at a local school. In coming months there will be a Christmas Day lunch held at the church for those with no place to go and a nearly weeklong service ‘camp’ that sees young people lead and serve the local community in practical ways.

This culture, this DNA, is what the final chapter summarising the Growing Young findings is all about.

It seems that those churches who are good neighbours to their local community are more likely to ‘grow young’ than those who aren’t. 

photo-1472653816316-3ad6f10a6592.jpeg

Growing Young suggests it is this kind of culture that keeps young people at church. On one hand there is the good teaching that comes from taking Jesus’ message seriously. On the other hand there is the fact that young people seek to be involved in practically serving others together.

“…churches that grow young recognize the careful dance that values both fidelity to Scripture’s commands for holiness and knowing and graciously loving their neighbors. This dance affects how they serve, pursue social justice, help teenagers and emerging adults find their calling, interact with popular culture, and respond to heated cultural issues. Much more than developing detailed policies or releasing theological position papers, these churches train and infuse their young people with an integrated discipleship that enables them to thrive in our complex world.”

Reading this chapter didn’t feel like I had to take sides in some kind of evangelism versus social justice debate. No, this chapter brought together the first and second commandments – to love God and love others – in a way that upheld the proclamation of the Gospel and good works. Yet, it did highlight the fact that young people are attracted to that which deals with the physical and practical needs of people and communities.

A second area this chapter highlighted was the ability for growing young churches to converse well with the tough topics. You know, sexuality and gender, refugees and immigration, alcohol and drugs, marriage, relationships and divorce, suicide and mental health, death and grieving, calling and vocation. These topics can be challenging for any person to converse about, let alone a church. But what Growing Young has found is that those churches willing to converse about such topics go a long way in helping young people grow and stick at faith. It is often the process and the discussion about these topics that is more helpful than the answers themselves.

How then does this chapter help in thinking through youth and young adult ministry? 

First, recognise young people are action-orientated and want to be part of something that helps the local community and beyond.

Second, provide time and people to walk alongside young people as they explore answers to the deeper questions of life and society.

Third, ask questions of the young people already connected to your church and of the local community to understand their culture and passions.

Fourth, teach and show a gospel-ethic providing a balanced diet of Biblical teaching and good works.

Fifth, spend a period of time actually serving your neighbours well, meeting some needs they have.

May your light shine before others so that they see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Matt 5:16).

The post-Christian Society

The post-Christian society, which denies its own Christian underpinnings, falls into the trap of religiosity. Because it is religious and yet denies its own sinfulness, it must blame the other. The right blames the “illegal immigrant”, the left the “uneducated working class” or “unsophisticated rural folk”.

– Mark Sayers in Disappearing Church (p29)

Growing Young – Prioritize Young People (and Families) Everywhere

This is post six in a series of reflections on the book Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies To Help Young People Discover And Love Your Church. For an introduction to the series please read part one and continue reading the reflections in part two, three , four and five.


A church that confines the involvement of young people to their youth group won’t be a church that young people or emerging adults hang around too long. The whole church needs to be a place where young people and their families can participate.

This chapter in Growing Young makes the case for churches to focus on young people and their families in everything they do. Whether it be the Sunday service, the children’s ministry, the working bee, the missions team, or the cleaning roster. In every area of church life the question to be asked is: How can young people participate? 

yja2so4srtmdlfrskd5t_moulin-fisk

This is not just a superficial or patronising question. Well, it’s not meant to be. It’s a question that needs to be asked by churches and ministry leaders not so more young people come to the program or event but so that young people have active involvement in leading and shaping it.

This question becomes a church culture question: How is the church thinking about the participation of young people and families in the life of the church? 

“How do churches that grow young make youth and emerging adults a greater priority? When they think about budget, strategy, worship planning, programming, community life, theology, and all other aspects of church life, they think about young people. They intentionally pay attention.”

One of the most significant comments in this chapter is about the role of parents in a young person’s faith. It has been and continues to be found that “…parents still carry the most important weight in their kids’ faith development.”

This begs the question: What are we as Pastors and churches doing to encourage the parents to discuss faith within the home? 

Only three days ago I was in a conversation about how churches have a big focus on children’s and youth ministries, as well as a support focus with older people, but those going through the middle season of life, the parents and adults, are basically left to there lonesome.

“Research continues to affirm that the best predictor of a young person’s faith is the faith of their parents. That means the role of ministry leaders who care about kids also must include the care, equipping, and formation of parents and families…According to pastoral leaders, when parents are intentional about faith building outside of church, overall faith maturity and vibrancy within the congregation rises even more.”

It’s a no brainer for those in children’s, youth and family ministry to begin focusing more on the parents than the kids themselves. Continue to work and have programs in these areas but begin the culture shift through encouraging and engaging parents in their role as faith-builders.

So what could this look like in the life of a youth ministry?

  • Send an email or message that talks about what aspect of faith the youth ministry is focussing on at the moment.
  • Give parents a few questions to help them initiate faith conversations in the home.
  • Suggest a reading plan for the family to do together.
  • Run an afternoon tea where all the parents are in the room and they get to chat and find support with others in the same situation.
  • Start talking about how you are a church or ministry that partners with parents.

In regard to the other parts of this chapter, seeking to prioritise young people and families in the church. It might be a good time to review the ministry structure and evaluate where young people are involved and where they are not and what needs to be changed.

I have to say that this mind-shift is something that can take a bit of time. It is a cultural shift for a church focussed on a programmatic approach to children’s and youth ministry with little engagement of parents.

 

 

Growing Young – Fuel A Warm Community

This is post five in a series of reflections on the book Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies To Help Young People Discover And Love Your Church. For an introduction to the series please read part one and continue reading the reflections in part two and three and four.


I’m not sure what comes to mind when you think about church but I suspect one of the presumptions you would make is that it’s a warm place to meet other people. I don’t mean it in the sense of the ducted-heating being set at the right temperature. I mean it in the sense of people being welcoming, open, hospitable and the like.

If a church is too hot then it is hard to find your place and penetrate the cliques, groups and family members within the church. If the church is too cold then it can be jarring and uncomfortable. But a church which is open to newcomers and gives a warm welcome, well, that might be a church worth heading along to, possibily even belonging to.

In its research Growing Young found a number of words like welcoming, accepting, belonging, authentic, hospitable, and caring to be commonplace in churches that retained young people. A warm church is a church that keeps young people.

warmsunset.jpeg

One of the chief ways churches were warm is through something pretty obvious.

Relationships. 

Yet, Growing Young also points out that these relationships are built naturally and in a way that provides long-term support. In other words, in the messiness of life there is the need for other messy people to walk with young people and keep walking with them.

As the authors put it:

“The warmth young people seek isn’t usually clean and tidy. That’s just fine, because family isn’t neat. It’s messy. And messy is a good word to describe what young people want from a congregation. They desire not only to share their own messiness but also to walk alongside the authentic messiness of others.”

Due to this need churches are moving away from the programmatic and systematic structure of congregational life to help foster relationships. With intentionality the structure of the church changes in order to give people more time to socialise and meet together during the week rather than be locked up in church programs. This provides opportunity for people to have relationships with those outside of anything formal or structured.

As one church pictured in the book commented:

“We see our job as creating the environment where relationships can happen. We have programs, yes, but more importantly, we build the platforms where people connect. Our strategy has been to create an environment that screams, ‘Stay here!’ after worship. Every week we have food, things for kids to do (all within eyesight of parents), and a football or baseball game on a big screen nearby. We see the time after the service as just as important as the service itself.”

With this chapter focussing on helping people belong to their local church how do you incorporate it into youth and young adult ministry?

  • What does it look like for young people to be connected within a local church?
  • How do young people gain a sense of belonging within the whole congregation?
  • How do young people get to know others in an authentic way?

In many ways it comes down to getting back to the basics.

Welcome well, connect people with others, and have something, in hardcopy if possible, that explains who you are as a church or youth ministry.

At youth group I’ve always been one to make sure everyone gets a good welcome when they arrive. Be outside and give a clear ‘hello’ to everyone that walks past, meet their parents, and link them to another leader. Find others in the group to connect with the newbie and give out a welcome pack at the end to say thanks for coming. Some of these things are currently in place and in other areas there is always need for improvement.

In small groups it is ideal to have food. Have dinner, which allows for socialising and belonging, before getting underway with the Bible study and prayer time. That’s a pretty simple and straightforward idea but it will still take 18 months before the the group really starts humming along, and that’s meeting every week.

And so at church it’s again important to connect people with others, same age-group or not. Growing Young suggests a mixture of age groups is probably ideal. I theoretically agree with this and know that it is a growing area. It’s one thing to link a young adult to a group of other young adults, it’s another to link them to others out of their generational bracket.

So, is there a downside to all this intentional warmth?

Well, yes, one.

It’s a slow work. It’s a work that requires time, and quite often a very long time, in order for people to feel connected within the church and with others who are there.

In the end the Growing Young team suggest looking at it like a family. With a family there is messy stuff going on but there is also much to appreciate and enjoy.

Different and unique people bring different and unique personalities to the wider church community but through it all God continues to do His work in life and faith.

“Rather than lean into the allure of viewing the worship service like a trip to the theater, imagine it as a gathering in the family room. Whether you meet in a sanctuary filled with pews, a contemporary auditorium, a high school gymnasium, or an actual house, envision your worship experience like a family room.”

Growing Young – Take Jesus’ Message Seriously

This is post four in a series of reflections on the book Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies To Help Young People Discover And Love Your Church. For an introduction to the series please read part one and continue reading the reflections in part two and three.


As the title of the chapter states, another reason for seeing ‘young people’ actually stay in church is through churches taking the message of Jesus seriously.

This is pleasing to know.

It means that instead of softening the message of the Gospel and the teachings of the Bible, as many kids and youth ministries are assumed to have done over the years, it is better to increase the temperature of what it means to follow Jesus.

In providing a place for young people to discover and discuss the hard questions of faith, receive a challenging vision of what it is to follow Jesus, and see how this faith becomes counter-cultural in its application is what is keeping those in their teens and twenties at churches.

It’s not surprising that the research highlights how those under 30 are more focussed on Jesus than the Bible or Christianity. In recent years there have been plenty of YouTube vids, posts, and other articles and papers highlighting how Millennials are following Jesus and doing away with institutionalised religion. Reading this reminded me of when I signed up for Facebook and entered my religious views as “A Jesus Guy”. It was something I thought was a bit different, but evidently not. It also speaks of how those my age and below (Millennials/Gen Y) are more prone to say they follow Jesus rather than say they are “a Christian”.

Growing-Young-3D.jpg

Chapter 4 of Growing Young outlines a variety of reasons why taking Jesus’ message seriously actually keeps young people in the local church. Anecdotally I can see in my own experience, and with a number of my friends, that throughout our emerging adult years we craved serious Bible teaching and looked up to people who took Jesus and the Bible seriously.

One particular section of this chapter outlines a phenomenon known as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. This is the idea that young people in the West are generally following a philosophy of thinking that is (1) moralistic, where faith is equated to being a good moral person. It is (2) therapeutic, because it is this faith that makes them feel better about themselves. And it is (3) deistic, meaning that God does exist but this god is not involved in human affairs.

MTD a curse upon the youth and young adult conscience and has been helped to solidify itself in those who’ve had a little church background because of the super-mega-hype youth ministries of the last 20-30 years. To be a nice person, believe in a God you think is going to help you and bring favour upon you, but not be too close to you in your daily life is a distortion of the reality of the Christian faith and what it truly means to follow Jesus. Sadly, the rise of individualistic Christianity, a sprinkle of post-modern thinking and the dumbing down of Jesus through youth ministries have no doubt contributed to this.

Yet all is not lost.

As young people seek a faith that is authentic and in line with the reality of who Jesus is churches are beginning to realise that teaching the costly and sacrificial side of faith might actually be important. Growing Young puts it this way:

“Following Jesus is costly, requires sacrifice, and invites us to actively participate in God’s kingdom. In fact, the church by its very nature is participatory, which means everyone shares the work. It’s a body (Rom. 12:5–8; 1 Cor. 12:1–31; Eph. 4:1–16), and every part needs to play its role in order to build up the whole. As indicated by Jesus’ command to both “follow me” and “take up your cross daily” (Luke 9:23), pursuing Jesus requires no less than everything, every day (Rom. 12:1). There’s nothing therapeutic about that call…In short, teenagers and emerging adults in churches growing young aren’t running from a gospel that requires hard things of them. They are running toward it.”

In what ways can your church help young people run toward faith, a genuine faith, that takes the message, actions, and words of Jesus seriously?

One of the critical experiences in my time as a Youth & Young Adult Pastor is small groups. That is, groups of around 10 people who gather together to eat, read the Bible together, and then pray for one-another. In one group I’ve been involved in we had a couple who had just joined the church. Both were reasonably new to faith but one of them wasn’t a Christian. Over a period of time, by simply looking at the Bible, passage by passage, she became a Christian. It showed me how instrumental it is to simply read through books of the Bible week by week and then seek to communally apply it to peoples lives. Through doing so we take the Bible seriously, but more so, we take the person, work and message of Jesus seriously too.

How this taking-Jesus-seriously thing applies further in our churches might be to consider the application we teach in children’s and youth ministry. The classic example for people teaching Sunday School, particularly the ‘famous’ stories of the Old Testament, is to make the application moralistic. Through the story of Abraham, Moses, Joseph, David, and Jonah we somehow come to suggesting that our hearers should change behaviour and because of that change in behaviour God will be happy with us. In the end we get the reading of the passages incorrect by making them all about ourselves and then say all we need to so is be a nice person and through this we’ll be made right with God.

Sound familiar?

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism perhaps?

Rather than this let’s teach the Old and New Testaments in line with the overarching redemptive storyline. This is where we see the main person of the story is not actually us but it is about God and his work in this world, culminating in Jesus Christ. A good example of this type of teaching is The Bible Project and The Gospel Project.

Growing Young itself gives a good outline in how to teach the storyline of the Bible in this way through a Good-Guilt-Grace-God’s People-Gratitude-God’s Vision framework:

  • Good (Gen. 1:26–27): God created us good, in God’s image.
  • Guilt (Rom. 3:10–12): We then chose to disobey God, leaving us with the guilt of sin. All of us carry this mark and it impacts us every day.
  • Grace (Rom. 3:23–24; Eph. 2:6–10): Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God has extended grace to us to make things right and restore us to relationship with God and one another.
  • God’s People (Eph. 2:19–22): As we experience grace, we are adopted into the body of Christ, enacting God’s reign in the world. We join the mission of God, participating in the work of God happening in and through God’s people today.
  • Gratitude (Col. 2:6–7): Out of this gift of grace, we respond in gratitude toward God. This is the well out of which our obedience—which includes moral behaviours—flows. In other words, the gospel doesn’t begin with behaviours nor is it dependent on behaviours. The behaviours are an act of thanksgiving to God in response to grace. As we grow in trust, we naturally grow in obedience.
  • God’s Vision (Rev. 21:1–5): We are living in between Christ’s first coming and his return.

Other areas where churches can increase the temperature of their teaching regarding Jesus is in one-on-one meetings, youth leadership meetings, youth group itself, and in other gatherings where there is a discipleship purpose. But wherever that may be for you, your church or ministry may you be encouraged, as I was, knowing that teaching the hard things of Jesus and the Bible isn’t something to be scared of.


Another good article reflecting on the book, and mainly on this chapter, has been written by Trevin Wax at The Gospel Coalition.

Growing Young – Empathise With Today’s Young People

This is post three in a series of reflections on the book Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies To Help Young People Discover And Love Your Church. For an introduction to the series please read part one and continue reading part two about Keychain Leadership. 


“Young people these days…”

It’s the classic derogatory quote used to describe the actions or opinions of a ‘young person’. It’s usually said by someone one or more generations older than said young person and highlights the generational gap. Unfortunately it is within the church where this phrase and those of its kind are repeated often.

youngpersonthesedays.jpeg

In churches, where loving God and loving others is promoted heavily, young people often get the rough end of the stick when it comes attitudes and how people view them. Often things are said in a way that isn’t meant to be demeaning or offensive but they end up putting the ‘young people’ in their place because of what is or isn’t expected of them. Let’s look at a couple of scenarios.

Cleaning up after youth group

It’s often expected that the cleanliness of the church is going to be lowered somehow because the youth group had an event. Yet, for those of us in youth leadership know that part of being a healthy youth ministry includes cleaning up well for others and getting those who came to the event to help. It instills values, makes them part of the community, and helps the wider church.

Young people aren’t committed these days

It’s either they aren’t committed or not committed enough. And in some cases this may well be true but there is a big difference in understanding what ‘committed’ means. I don’t believe I know too many young people who aren’t committed to things. It’s what they’re committed to and why.

Currently churches need to deal with this in regard to church membership. Church membership is something that young people don’t seem to be taking up or ‘committing’ themselves too. Yet churches (1) don’t really push church membership in a big way and (2) the reasons why a young person should join the church in a formal way is never well articulated. Many are already serving in some capacity, whether it be on the music team, youth leading or running the children’s ministry. These are significant positions and not much will change if they change their membership status. But if churches outlined their vision of what it is to be a disciple of Jesus, be part of the movement of God through that local church, and play a significant role in shaping that vision themselves then perhaps church membership might be something more young people would sign up for.

All this is to say that there can be a fair bit of pressure for ‘young people’ in the church. There is the realisation that not everyone sticks around and as that number has dwindled significantly in the last 20-30 years churches are grasping on to those they have.

The question Growing Young deals with is not how to hang on to those who may be leaving but what is keeping them at the church in the first place? This is the thesis of the book and this chapter highlights how it is on the older generations to be empathetic to young people and the pressures they face.

One of the main helps is realising the three main questions young people are dealing with.

  • Who am I? (Identity)
  • Where do I fit? (Belonging)
  • What difference do I make? (Purpose)

Here we have three crucial questions all people need to answer for themselves but are of particular importance to teenagers and students as they mature in the game of life.

Due to the changes in life and culture in the past 20-40 years the actual length of being a young person has extended. No longer are the markers of adulthood achieved in the early 20s. Those markers of adulthood – being a spouse, having a family, completing school and/or university, working in a steady job, and being financially independent – are all occurring five years later than they used to. As the authors suggest, “This means there is no hurry to set down permanent roots and there is the possibility of rejecting one of these markers totally. Today’s emerging adults seem to be explorers by nature.”

It is also important to note that the opportunity to explore and discover various parts of their personality occurs much later too. Due to the increased pressure from schooling and general family life there is little time to explore a variety of hobbies, sports, instruments and other creative pursuits. More often than not young people are required to choose what they would like to specialise in much earlier than previous generations had to. As a result when this generation hits their 20s they begin travelling, changing university courses, and taking gap years in order to explore their passions, gifts, abilities, and grow in their skills. Something that was restricted while in their teenage years.

And so Growing Young suggests that “Parents don’t often realise the constant heat felt by adolescents, increasing the pressure for them to figure out who they are and what important to them.” A perfect example of the pressure emerging adults face is this article recently published on Relevant. It’s great to learn stuff but there is the underlining pressure of having to be the best in their chosen field, be the most productive person they know, and someone who has sorted their life out by the time they’re 25.

Growing Young also reminds us that this pressure is depicted this way:

“On the one hand, today’s young people are touted as justice crusaders devoted to helping those who are poor or marginalised. They are portrayed as selfless revolutionaries ready to change the world one dollar and social media post at a time. On the other hand, the very same cohort of young people is depicted as egotistical and entitled, motivated primarily by whatever best serves their pursuit of their own happiness.”

There’s a lot of challenging things here for the church and society. Thankfully Growing Young also provides some answers.

One of the main ways churches can help young people is to provide people who are more mature in their faith and life to walk alongside them.

I think this is of major importance.

Those who are older can make such a great contribution to the youth and young adult ministries of their church by simply being a person who walks with a young person. This is commonly called mentoring, coaching, discipling, and whatever other name you can think of that describes this kind of care. To have an open adult who is willing to meet, ask questions that make the young person think through their faith and life for themselves, and be a support when it’s needed, is the perfect person for youth and young adult ministry.

Of those three questions above, Growing Young also suggests:

“We think that young people’s deepest questions about identity are best answered by God’s grace. We are convinced that teenagers’ and emerging adults’ need to belong is ultimately met through the unconditional love of community. We believe their hunger for purpose is satisfied by being involved in God’s mission in the world.”

Rightfully so and very well put.

It is now on churches, with special reference to Youth Pastors and Young Adult Pastors, to enable and invite a community of people, both young and old, to show God’s grace, provide connectedness and relationship, and to lead them into the places where God is at work, helping them understand their place in God’s mission.