In #YouthMin world September 20 was a big day. The people over at Fuller Youth Institute released their latest book, Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies To Help Young People Discover And Love Your Church. This is the culmination of many years and many pages of research and data to help the church understand what makes ‘young people’ stay in church and committed to their faith.
I picked up the book a few days after release and am slowly making my way through it. But as an exercise in reflection I hope to write a few posts about the book as I read it and hopefully provide some application into the youth ministry context here in Australia.
If you’re a Youth Pastor or in youth ministry then it would’ve been hard to ignore the impressive launch of the book. There were plenty of posts leading up to the release and then on the day it was available there were numerous interviews with the authors.
Growing Young has eight chapters. The first being a summary of the book and the final chapter putting the learnings into practice. The rest of the book describe in detail the six core commitments churches that are growing young are doing. These six core commitments are:
- Unlock keychain leadership
- Empathise with today’s young people
- Take Jesus’ message seriously
- Fuel a warm community
- Prioritise young people (and families) everywhere
- Be the best neighbours
From the outset this book brings a positive look to church and engaging ‘young people’ in church and faith. It’s a shame no one can think of a better phrase than ‘young people’, because it makes me sounds tremendously old and I cringe as I write it. Yet, it is ‘the young people’ who are exiting the church in droves with 40-50% of those in youth groups today drifting away from God and a faith community when they finish up high school. This is a harrowing fact and one I suspect most Youth Pastors, parents, and churches can resonate with anecdotally – even here in Australia.
It seems, however, that there are pockets of hope and encouragement as the church seeks to engage young people in faith and church. Those churches that are growing, and ‘growing young’, are doing so through (1) engaging well with 15-29 year olds and (2) they are churches which are growing spiritually, emotionally, missionally, and sometimes numerically. This leads the FYI authors to say that in order to grow young everyone in the church needs to be involved and by doing so it actually energises the whole church.
While the six core commitments state what is needed to help a church grow young there are also a number of pointers that are not necessary for a church to grow young. These things include:
- A precise size
- A trendy location
- An exact age
- A popular denomination or no denomination at all
- An off-the charts cool quotient
- A big modern building
- A big budget
- A ‘contemporary’ worship service
- A watered-down teaching style
- A hyper-entertaining ministry program
This certainly gives me hope. To know that you don’t have to be big, cool, soft on teaching, and have all the bells and whistles of what is assumed to be an awesome youth ministry then I’m all in! This is not to say that I’m against these things but it allows churches and those in youth ministry to be realistic about how to engage ‘young people’ in faith and not worry about superficial things.
The research also found that churches who did grow young and were focussed on doing so energised their own congregation because ‘the young people’ added more service, more passion, more innovation, more money, and greater overall health to the church. And who doesn’t want a church with these things?
So it comes back to these six core commitments, and I’ll explore each one in later posts. But for now, with that summary of the book in mind, I wonder what strikes you?
For me, this causes me to reflect on how churches go about thinking through their youth and young adult ministries. Whether they see them as separate entities of the church looked after by a Youth Pastor or whether they genuinely think of them as part of the overall church, part of the family of God, and giving opportunity for them to serve in meaningful and significant ways and feel part of the larger local church community.
As a local congregation, is your church engaging ‘young people’? Is this a focus? Is there a willingness to make significant changes to do so?