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 , four, five 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.
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).