This is post nine 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, seven, and eight.
Over three months ago I started a series of reflections on the book ‘Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies To Help Young People Discover And Love Your Church’. The sentences have been underlined, the pages have been marked, and the book has now been read. Each reflection worked through each chapter, giving thought to the main research and learnings from the Fuller Youth Institute team. Much has been learnt and there continues to be much to learn from this work.
This final post about Growing Young seeks to evaluate the book and the research as a whole. While each chapter has its own learnings it is valuable to end this series with a broader scope, looking at what to take away and what to leave behind.
From the outset it is important to say that this book needs to be read for what it is. It is a book summarising research on what keeps ‘young people’ at churches. Despite the title’s byline it isn’t seeking to push a particular youth ministry philosophy. Furthermore, the research cuts across denominational and theological lines because it is summarising the results of said research.
At the same time, because of the way this research has been put together it can come across pragmatic in nature. The main point of each chapter implies what churches should focus on, implication being that overtime a church may well ‘grow young’. For example, in the chapter ‘Unlocking Keychain Leadership’ the main idea is to equip and grow young people to be leaders in key areas of responsibility. In ‘Fuel a Warm Community’ the emphasis is to be a church that is genuinely caring of students in every principle and program. In the chapter ‘Prioritising Young People (and Families) Everywhere’ the key idea is is to look at the structures and systems within the church to help facilitate integrated ministry and partnering with parents. The inference being that by doing these things your church is more likely to ‘grow young’.
However, the research findings doesn’t mean that a church should begin implementing a certain structure, program, or idea for a select period of time. No, this book is really talking about cultural change. This cultural change is focussed on growing young as a church and the principles behind it are based on the solid research from the FYI. To implement this kind of cultural change will take many years to implement and be a painful process for many congregations.
Another way this book is pragmatic is at the end of each chapter. Helpfully, the authors have included some reflection questions and ideas at the end of each section for reflection and application. By doing his the book becomes a help in encouraging churches to grow young.
In one sense Growing Young doesn’t promote a particular ministry philosophy but the way it is written means that there is a ‘system’ that can be formulated through it.
I have written extensively about the strengths of the book and each chapter in my earlier reflections. So it is worth asking how this book could have been more helpful, particularly for those of us in youth and young adult ministry.
First, I’d say, and say this very gently, that when reading a book like this those of us in youth ministry can be prone to affirming everything without sifting it through the lens of the Bible. Of course, there is the assumption that everyone who reads this is a professing believer. Yet, as I’ve pondered this research further I’ve come away thinking ‘so what?’
Of course, we want more young people in churches. We want young people to be involved in the things we do at church. We want young people to meet Jesus and know that they can have a relationship with him. We want young people to grasp the Gospel and realise that God is God and we are not. We want young people to understand that God is a personal God whom we worship, enjoy, and follow.
The danger with a book like this is that we can take the ideas, insights, and inspirations and attempt to make the church younger without making it more faithful.
I can walk away from this book thinking that my youth and young adult ministry can get bigger and more influential within the church by implementing these things. Instead I want my youth and young adult ministries to know Jesus more and grow in faith and godliness. Why can’t we use the Bible as the ‘strategy’ rather than seeking a temporary solution that seems to fit with the cultural milieu?
This is not to say culture is unimportant. I’m not saying that. We are living in a culture which requires a certain cultural response. But, if we believe that it is the Word of God that speaks, and that through that speaking God creates, and that through that creation young people’s hearts are opened to the Good News of what Jesus has done, then this becomes a central cog in the youth ministry wheel. Off this cog are the systems and processes and ideas that this book talks about.
So how does this research affect me as a Youth and Young Adults Pastor going forward?
- This book has provided excellent food for thought.
- It has given a framework to assess the youth and young adult ministry I currently lead.
- The emphasis continues to be on the long-term, not on short-term fixes.
- The research provides data regarding youth ministries and churches.
- It continues to affirm the much needed work of youth ministry within churches.
Finally, before this post gets far too long, this is an excellent resource for any youth leader, parent, church leader or Pastor in any church. For those who’ve been in the youth ministry world with a discipleship and mission mindset there won’t be too many surprises, but the framing of these things is excellent. I’d encourage you to read the book and talk with someone on the leadership team at your church about it.
The NYMC Podcast = Episode 15 + 16 – This two-part podcast delves into each chapter of Growing Young and discusses the research at length.
Book review of Growing Young by Seth Stewart
Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast (106): Kara Powell On How Many Average Churches Are Actually Reaching Millennials
Book reflection by Trevin Wax