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 , four, five, six 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.
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:
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.