Australian Baptist Generational Ministry Research: A Recent Publication on Participation and Priorities

In the last month or so an important and interesting piece of research regarding generational ministry in Australian Baptist churches has been published. In the journal known as ‘Exchange’ Darren Cronshaw has written an article entitled ““Sticky Faith” in Australian Baptist Churches: Surveying Generational Participation and Ministry Priorities”.

It is not often that research is conducted in regard to Baptist children’s, youth, family, and young adult ministries and so I was intrigued to read this. I suppose I should mention that I do know Darren and have worked with him before. However, I hadn’t spoken to him in a while and so seeing this I was enthusiastic to see the results and what he had to say.

This article brings together the data from the National Church Life Survey (NCLS), which is a huge church census conducted every five years in Australia, and interviews with denominational and generational ministry heavies. As Cronshaw writes,

“This article is part of a denomination-wider theological action research project on building capacity for mission in Baptist church, a foundational part of which focuses here on how to better engage with a younger demographic…the article reflects on opportunities and challenges for fostering better practice, in generational ministries”.

And really, the guts of the article, after introducing the topic and outlining the methodology, is all about (1) what the situation is regarding Baptist churches and those in the younger demographic (read: Millennials and Generation Z), and (2) what practices churches can take to retain and grow their churches in those demographics.

Australian Baptist Generational Ministry Research

Considering I’m Baptist and I work with this demographic you can imagine why I’d be interested in such research. Below I will simply outline some of the findings I found interesting or worth commenting on. If you’re interested in knowing further then I’d encourage you to get a copy.

1. Growth in Baptist churches mainly comes from those switching denominations.

I do actually find this a little surprising. I know denominational affiliation has long-ago disappeared, particularly in the Gen Y and Gen Z age group, but for this to be the case in all age groups is interesting. These ‘switchers’, as the research defines them, are more common than newcomers (with no church background) and transfers (those that transfer from another Baptist church – which I expected to be the highest here).

This certainly highlights the challenge for churches and believers to think more specifically and intentionally in terms of evangelism. Growth by transfer and switch isn’t really Kingdom growth at all.

In reference to Gen Y and Gen Z, for us Baptist churches it looks like we would benefit in teaching and communicating Baptist distinctives and values to not only the switchers but also the newcomers.

The research also highlights that one in ten Baptist youth and young adults are newcomers without a church background. This means that nine out of ten of those who come along to church already have some form of church background.

2. Mission and discipleship in the age of unchurched newcomers.

Within the interviews conducted about this section of research there is mention of how generational ministries need to overcome the “internal-focussed inertia in order to meaningfully connect with youth without a church background.” I think this is very true and has become more prevalent over the last 20 years.

With the rise of youth groups in using their main gatherings as worship services the impact can be inaccessibility to those with no church background. I know there will be plenty of stories where unchurched young people have been to these worship-style youth groups and stuck around, but I’m still not convinced this is the way to go for youth ministries to reach those with no church background.

One aspect to overcome this, which is used as an example in this paper, is the rise of programs devoid of any Christian faith content. While I appreciate the need to build bridges and make connections it seems programs like this are a case of bait and switch. Slowly and surely the aim is to gain trust and relationship so that leaders can share Jesus with those who come along. I have found this makes it harder to do so because the group is focussed more on the program, and talk of faith or spirituality becomes extremely awkward and forced. If we are more honest about what we’re trying to achieve from the beginning, and understand that the foundation of our programs are build of Christ and his words, then soon enough conversations and topics about what the Bible says can be more open.

More conversation about how Baptist churches might structure their youth ministries to reach unchurched youth seems to be one takeaway from this research.

3. Retention of children of attendees in Baptist churches.

It would be of no surprise that there are children of church going parents who no longer attend church. This is simply confirmed in the research. As Cronshaw writes,

“In 2016 44% of the children of current Baptist church attenders no longer attended any church”.

That is a phenomenal fact. And what it means is that for every family of four, two parents and two kids, it is most likely that one of those kids won’t be attending church in the near or distant future.

When it comes to those children who are still in the home and under the roof of their parents “results show that younger children and early teens are largely included in the faith practices of their parents”. However, it is still the case that 30% of children aged 15 and over, who live at home, no longer attend any church. And in fact, this isn’t even a new issue. It is similar to figures in 2011 and 2006.

So, what does this mean. As one of the interviewees said,

“It maybe hard to get them (the children) there, it may take a wrestle, it may feel like a battle – but I say, die trying! Do what you can to give your young person every chance of thriving.”

The most important and most influential people in the lives of children are their parents, and this is the same when it comes to faith and church engagement. At the end of the day much of the onus is on parents, but this doesn’t start when they are teenagers, this has to start when they begin primary school.

This doesn’t negate the responsibility the church also needs to take upon itself. The increase in partnering with parents as a ministry strategy now becomes even more important. Operating out of a structure of seeking to engage the whole family rather than the individual kids has to become a priority. The resourcing of parents in order to be able to have faith conversations with their kids is also something that needs to be given intentionality and thought.

This is the kind of research that can make us feel guilty and fill us with despair, particularly as parents. But, we also know that it is God who gives the growth, and as we seek to obedient in bringing up our kids in the ways of faith, within the family unit, we continue to pray for our kids and for God to work his sovereign hand upon their hearts.

Of course, more could be said about all of this, and there is more in the research here. What it does highlight is both parents and churches need to continue to work at engaging their kids in faith, praying over them, and leading them. One of the big issues having read this now is trying to cave out time so that the church can help resources and equip parents in their role as faith-builders and influencers in the home. The resourcing of parents is now vital and a new shift we generational ministries need to be intentional about.

4. Intergenerational ministry, not siloed-ministry.

I know I speak about this quite often at the moment. You can read a few of my thoughts here. But intergenerational ministry, seeing the ministry to children and young people as something the whole church needs to be engaged in, not just the children’s or youth ministries, is important to help foster faith formation.

One of the ways churches are seeking to do this is to place more resources in ‘generational ministries’. Rather than hire staff for children’s or youth or young adults there is a focus on making roles larger so that they encompass those from birth to 30 years of age.

These roles then become more oversight and leadership development – an equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry approach. It is viewing these whole 30 years in one, rather than individuals coming up with their own things in each of the age segments. However, it also means there can be a more clearly unified approach and culture formed throughout the age groups.

I’ve got to be honest, if we’re not thinking about ministry in these terms then I don’t quite know what we’re trying to achieve. There needs to be intentionality across the whole spectrum, not just within the individual youth ministry or the individual children’s ministry. The effort is otherwise pretty futile. If you’re a youth leader in any capacity I’d begin by seeking a coffee with people in the children’s ministry. It’s time to start working more closely. This is a cultural shift, and one that needs to happen ASAP.

Interestingly enough though, the research seems to suggest that,

“Baptist attenders are more likely to value age-related ministry compared to all attenders. Youth, young adults, and mid-life adults were more likely than older adults to value these ministries. Baptist attenders were more likely to be satisfied with what was offered for children than for youth or for their own age.”

When I read this it highlights how much work we’ve got to do to change the culture of churches from a silo-generational into an inter-generational culture.

5. Other comments.

A few others comments worth more reflection than I can be bothered right now:

  • There is an undercurrent of fear in much of this research. And I don’t mean specifically this paper but in all the research that speaks of keeping people in church. With cultural Christianity gone, if it was ever there, why would we be surprised that people are opting out of something they didn’t believe in the first place? This isn’t new. Surely.
  • Furthermore, when we begin to despair about all this we begin to question God’s sovereignty and faithfulness. We know God is building his church, and while there are concerns and things we need to improve on, worrying about many things that are out of our hands doesn’t seem to help.
  • The final aspect of this paper is in terms of investing in generational ministry. There are stories of what churches and denominations are doing about this. Each state Baptist union allocates staff and resources in these areas. I have seen over the last 20 years how this has grown and adapted in various ways. However, it has been going on for 20 years and I’m not sure whether that says something or not. I’m probably going to shoot myself in the foot if I say anything further so I’ll leave it there. Although, I have been involved at the denominational level regarding this for a period of time too so I include myself.

In conclusion it seems Baptist churches need to look at how they can share their distinctives with those of non-Baptist background, and begin looking at how an intergenerational approach to ministry can occur. One of the most important takeaways from this paper that I can see is that of resourcing parents.

There is much to pray for and much work to do.

This is far too long, I apologise.

Reflections On The Rooted Ministry Leadership Summit

In May just gone I had the privilege of attending a leadership summit organised by the US-based youth ministry organisation Rooted Ministry. I’ve written for their blog over the past couple of years and enjoyed many of the articles they produce. Unbelievably, I was invited to attend this small summit in Birmingham, Alabama with other 40 like-minded youth ministry practitioners.

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This summit was three days of being fed in my faith, my love for God, my love for youth ministry, my love for writing, and for ministry in general. I made some great connections and friends, and was edified by everyone I met. I saw and heard more about American Christianity and life, and I also experienced some amazing Southern hospitality and food. Incredible.

In the months since this summit I have often reflected back on what I learned and the different conversations I had. Below is an outline of some of those reflections under four distinct questions.

Where Was God?

This is always a hard question to answer, because of course, God is everywhere! But, it is always worth asking because it helps us observe and be intentional about where we believe God is impacting us. It’s the kind of question I constantly ask on short-term mission teams, and we as a youth ministry ask it at the end of each youth night. The question is worthwhile in this context too.

I believe I saw God at work in:

  • The conversations I had with the people and those I connected with. I stayed with some friends before I arrived at the summit. It was great to reconnect with them and hear about how God has been shaping them and their lives in recent years. The conversations I had with my hosts and at the social gatherings of the summit were often powerful. And also, God was at work in the small group conversations we had as our writing and speaking was critiqued by others.
  • The terrific teaching we had from pastor and preacher Robbie Holt. Robbie was from a church in South Carolina (I think!). He spoke from Genesis 27-33, the story of Isaac, Esau and Jacob. It was certainly encouraging; and in some ways was preaching I hadn’t heard in a while. The applications to church, youth, and family ministry was particularly beneficial.
  • Having a greater understanding of the vision and passion of Rooted Ministry. To hear more about the beginnings and then the hopes for the ministry, the impact it is having, was really encouraging and felt like ‘home’ in some sense. An organisation that upholds the grace of God, theological depth, and relational youth ministry.

How Was I Encouraged?

I was encouraged in ministry through:

  • Understanding more about the breadth of contexts there are in the US, but also seeing how similar some of them are to Melbourne and to me.
  • Hearing the stories, the challenges, and encouraging growth of God at work with people, youth pastors, and the ministry itself. Often it is hard to find the encouraging stories in amongst the trees, but they are always there.
  • Realising that many of the issues to church-based youth ministry and youth pastors are issues everyone has to deal with in their own contexts. Issues like human sexuality and gender, social media, biblical illiteracy, evangelism and mission, loneliness and isolation, and mental health.

What Was The Impact Of This Summit?

I think this summit will impact my future ministry in the following ways:

  • I am encouraged to be even more conscious of shaping the ministry through the Bible.
  • Thinking deeply and theologically regarding ministry shape and philosophy, including pastoral responses and issues.
  • I’ll continue to mentor younger youth pastors and emphasise the use and effectiveness of the Bible in their youth ministries.
  • This summit has put a greater urgency in the mission and evangelism aspects to youth ministry. The summit highlighted for me the importance and urgent need to think and speak in evangelistic ways in youth ministry.
  • I was also reminded of the need to gain clarity on strategy for our youth ministry and family ministries. This includes communication of that strategy, particularly to new students and families. In a world where most parents believe youth group is going to be either, (1) a saviour for their child or (2) a place where they find wholesome values that are similar to their own experience, it’s important to outline why we do what we do.

Why Was It Worthwhile?

It was worth going to this leadership summit because:

  • It helped build relationships and hear encouraging stories of other people involved in youth ministry.
  • It provided exposure to different contexts. There were youth pastors from all over the States and provided a microcosm of experiences and issues people were dealing with in their own cities and towns. The US is the largest youth ministry market in the world and as ideas on youth ministry filters down through resources coming out of the States; no doubt Australian youth ministries will be impacted by them in the future. Having a first hand experience with a number of people from different parts of the US has helped me in understanding this more.
  • It strengthened my alignment to Rooted Ministry as a youth ministry organisation. I was grateful for the grassroots type approach to the ministry that they are seeking to undertake and encourage.
  • It has made me reflect on the state of youth ministry here in Melbourne and Australia. There are very few, if any, youth ministry organisations that are solely church-based, with the similar approach to that of Rooted Ministry.

All in all this was a terrific time and a worthwhile week. It was a privilege to be invited and have the opportunity to go. I look forward to writing for them more and perhaps reflecting further in coming months. I’m very thankful for the opportunity given to me because of the generosity of Rooted Ministry, my church, and individuals too.

11 Things: Nothing Else Matters

A while ago I wrote a post about what I wished I knew when entering youth ministry. This is part six of a series dedicated to elaborating each of those eleven points. You can read part onepart twopart threepart four, and part five here.


When in the guts of week-to-week youth ministry it is unlikely that anyone cares about what you’ve achieved in the past. The only time your education, prior experience, and variety of training helps you is through the application and interview process. Once your name has gone to the church, an introductory A4 sheet of paper is handed out about who you are (and your family, if you have one), and the vote has been taken, it’s all over. All of that is forgotten.

What matters most to those in your church is how you relate to people and whether you can look after the students.

Seriously, get those two things right and generally people will be happy.

However, for us as Youth Pastors, we have a sense of pride in our work. This is not the kind of arrogant pride, overconfidence, and belittling of others. No, this is a sense of achievement, being happy and satisfied in the work, education, and relationships we have in our life.

If you’ve been in youth ministry longer than 5 years you should feel good about that. If you’ve completed a particular course, you should feel good about that. If you’ve travelled, you should feel good about that. If you’ve been through tough experiences and come out the other side, you should feel good about that. If you’ve taken the step to get married, I hope you’d feel good about that! Whatever your accomplishments and achievements are you should feel good about them. We are all unique and will bring those experiences into our youth ministry role at church.

The issue is, no one will care more about this than you.

I wished I knew that what I’d achieved in the past would only matter to me earlier than I did. At one stage I believed that the two-years in mission work would help me gain a position as Youth Pastor. I thought it would at least provide a good platform for leadership in the church. After all, I knew what I’d done, the experiences I’d had, and was confident in my own abilities. Yet, when in conversation with someone in leadership they simply dismissed this experience because it wasn’t youth ministry specific. Little did they know me, let alone the experiences I had, and how totally applicable and formative it was to youth ministry.

Often we begin to believe that the experiences we’ve had in the past aren’t very influential or relevant to the role we play as Youth Pastors. This isn’t true.

Everything we’ve done is really formative for us. Our experience in life and work all helps in the youth ministry role, helping us relate, care, and create as Youth Pastors. Whether it’s a course of study, travel, corporate work, gardening, or cleaning toilets as part of your entry-level McDonalds job, all of these help in forming us in youth ministry.

All this being said, it comes down to the realisation that we can’t rest on these experiences. We can’t have our hope and identity in our past accomplishments, just as we can’t have our hope and identity in our role as Youth Pastor.

While these things help form us, they aren’t known to others. Youth ministry volunteers, parents, the students don’t know your story like you do. When something comes up that they’re not happy with, that they challenge you on, that they disagree with you about, then none of your accomplishments matter. It’s not about status and achievements. What matters is how you’re going to deal with the situation you have in front of you. What matters is whether you’ve learnt from your experiences, and how you can leverage them in dealing with the challenges and joys you face in youth ministry now.

The point is really about identity.

Our identity is not in our position as Youth Pastor. It’s not in our accomplishments. It’s not about our ego.

It’s in Christ (John 15:15; 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 2:20; Col 3:3).

We serve him. His people. And try to get the ego out of the way.


Questions for reflection:

  • Do you put too much weight in the achievements of the past?
  • Is your ego seeking to remind you of all the awesome things you’ve done?
  • How are you learning and growing to serve others in humility?

When You’ve Been Writing For 8 Years And Your Blog Still Sucks

I’ve been writing on this blog, on and off, for about eight years.

And yep, my blog still sucks.

There are probably a number of reasons the blog sucks. The writing. The topics. The lack of consistency in publishing posts. The poor promotion, even though it is the age of social media.

I don’t like to think about these reasons. It’ll send me into a spiral.

But, yeah, the blog sucks.

When You've Been Writing For 8 Years And Your Blog Still Sucks

Any person with basic mathematical skills will work this out when they read my stats. A blog’s stats are like Microsoft Excel to an accountant, they measure and tell the story of the site. They help the owner of a blog calculate how well they’re doing.

Well, my stats tell me that my blog sucks.

I’m not even sure if I should tell you my stats. I don’t see this as a done thing in the blogosphere. Everyone is so secret about it.

Here goes.

  • So far this year I’ve had 2000 post or page views. The most views in a year was 2016, at just over 2500.
  • The most views are directly to my homepage. In terms of the most viewed post, the winner is an obscure post about Christian persecution in the Middle East from 2014.
  • I have 97 people who follow this blog through WordPress or via email.

So as I was saying, my blog sucks.

There are days I want to blow it up. To detonate it and send it into internet oblivion. To see it gone from the history of the web forever. I then wonder whether anyone else would like to see this happen too.

But then there are days where I just want to keep plugging away. To keep trying to publish regularly. To write things and let the world have them. To create and put out into the world thoughts, reflections, and understandings that might have an impact on someone.

And so I don’t and won’t blow it up right now. I won’t hit the switch. I won’t delete my words from the interwebs.

I’ll keep going.

I’ll keep posting.

I’ll keep writing.

Because at the end of the day I have seen improvement. I enjoy the writing process and putting things out there for others to consider. I am pleased with some of what I have written. It’s not about the stats but my own growth in my writing.

But, yeah, my blog still sucks.


This post is a free writing exercise in response to The Daily Post topic ‘Detonate‘.

11 Things: The Grass Isn’t Greener

We are constantly comparing ourselves to others.

From our material goods to our leadership skills to our parenting, we are always comparing ourselves to others. There is something about our fallen humanness that leads us to measure our uniqueness with the uniqueness of others.

This also happens in the church, and in youth ministry.

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We are enticed into dreaming about the bigger, and supposedly better, youth ministry down the road. Our mind drifts to consider what it would be like to be in a position at that church, or under this leader. What would it be like to have that role, live in that place, and have those facilities? For some reason we believe that the person leading that youth ministry or the role in that church will be better than the current position we find ourselves.

I think this is natural.

I hope it’s natural.

I know it’s not helpful.

Part of this thought is solidified by social media. Those glorious pictures of friends on holiday, travelling to exotic places, and experiencing amazing things compound our thought life. We tell ourselves that life is not like that, but we can’t help wonder whether our life is matching up to what we see around us. The same is true when we follow other youth group accounts, meet with other Youth Pastors, and hear of stories of what God is doing in other youth ministries. The pics portray a false reality that leads our thinking and dreaming into unhelpful areas. We begin to judge ourselves with the bigger church down the road, the one which has more money, better facilities, and the opportunity for seemingly more influence.

Instead of praising God for the work he is doing we sit there comparing ourselves, turning the work of youth ministry into an exercise in self-centredness.

But the truth is, the grass in not greener on the other side (or in another church).

The issues, challenges, hard work, conflict, and all those frustrating and negative things we are dealing with now are still there in the ‘bigger and better’ church down the road. It might not look that way from the stories or the pictures or the conversations, but despite a change in place or position those pastoral and youth ministry related challenges will still be there.

As I wrote in my original post, “It’s easy to let your mind drift to the church down the road and begin to think of how good it must be there. It’s not. It’s just not. They are having the same issues as you. They are having the same struggles. They are having the same problems. The same goes with going into a different ministry role or a role at a para-church organisation. The grass isn’t greener. It’s work. It’s hard.”

So, instead of dreaming and spending time unhelpfully thinking about the church next door why not do some of the following things to help gain some perspective. What we do now, in the place and position we are currently in, is important. We are called to be faithful to it and work hard in the youth ministry we are involved in now.

Abide In Him

In John 15 Jesus talks of abiding in him. Jesus makes the connection between fruit and abiding in him. If we are to be fruitful we need to be faithful to Jesus. Through remaining in Christ, walking closely with him, and realigning our thinking with his, we will find ourselves in a better frame of mind about our current position.

Pray

Once we realise we are not living with Jesus as well as we should be we do need to admit that to him. Through prayer we can lift our thoughts to God and ask for forgiveness. We can then ask God to help us understand what he has for us now. While our life with Jesus is a major part of our drifting into unhelpful thinking it may also be tiredness, weariness, and demotivation for a period of time. Pray for the ministry and your rhythms in all of this.

Vision Over Task

With the never-ending to-do-list we can get stuck in the task. Remember the vision for youth ministry you have. Spend some time mapping out the broader vision for the youth ministry, and do some brainstorming about future ideas and possibilities. When we are stuck on task we can get bogged down. Lift your eyes to the heavens and dream about the big-hairy-audacious goals. It’s usually pretty inspirational.

Write A List

Have the list of everyone involved in the youth ministry at your church. Make specific comments on what you appreciate about them. Write them a note or a card referencing those specific appreciations.

Look At Your Calendar

Hopefully you have a calendar. Look over the last 3 months, writing down everything you’ve been involved in – the people you’ve seen, the meetings you’ve attended, the teaching you’ve presented, the events you’ve been to. Everything. Look at how much you’ve accomplished.

Call A Friend

Either a mentor or a close ministry friend. Give them a call. Verbally vomit on them about how you’re feeling and the frustration you’re going though. Tell them about the unhelpful thinking. Let them help you process what’s happening right now. Let them slap you around (metaphorically, of course).

It’s often not admitted, but we know it’s there. Perhaps it’s time to let go of the belief that it’s better somewhere else. God has us where we are for a reason, we are to be faithful to him in that.

And remember, the grass isn’t greener.


A while ago I wrote a post about what I wished I knew when entering youth ministry. This is part five of a series dedicated to elaborating each of those eleven points. You can read part onepart twopart three, and part four here.

Published: Ecclesiastes For The Student Minister

I’ve had a piece published at Rooted Ministry today.

“Oh how comforting the Teacher of Ecclesiastes is when he reminds us that in a few years, no one will remember us! All that work and toil we’ve undertaken in our ministries will be long forgotten. The weeks and months and years of investing in people, seeking to help them know Jesus and grow in Jesus, becomes a distant memory.

It’s like the Teacher is trolling each of us.”

You can read the whole thing here.

Other published writing can be found here.

We Like It, But Do We Care?

We all see the photos.

You know, those photos that depict the perfect life someone else is living.

matthew-smith-100638Those photos of beautiful sunrises. Those photos of the legs on the beach. Those photos of nights out with friends. Those photos of perfect families, all smiling and joyful and happy. Those photos of food. Oh, those photos of food. The ‘amazing’ smashed avo for breakfast, the ‘delightful’ quinoa salad for lunch, and the ‘huge’ burger for dinner. OMG. Like. Like. Like.

We’ve all seen these photos. They pop up all the time.

And as we sit on our couches scrolling through our phones, feeling sorry for our self and jealous of our so-called friends, I wonder whether we care about the other side…?

Because there is another side.

This other side is the side of people we don’t see while traversing the inter-webs through the 5 different social media apps we have on our phone.

It’s the side of sadness, unhappiness, anxiety, hurt, and brokenness.

A little while ago I was struck by how social media changes my perception the relationship I have with others. I noticed one morning one of my friends was with a new partner. I was stopped in my tracks. The last time I saw a photo they were with their spouse and kids, looking happy. Yet, here in front of me is this person with another partner. It was a bit of a shock.

It’s not a shock because of the relationship breakdown. No, relationships fail and marriages breakdown, that’s not the shocking part. The shocking part is that I felt I was in a position where I could reach out and ask how they were.

In reality I haven’t seen this person in over 10 years. We’ve got no real relationship. Yet, because of the way social media comes at you it makes you feel like you know them, and know them well. What kind of response would they have if I did reach out?

“Oh, you’ve been stalking me on social media”.

“Oh, you’re not really a friend but more an acquaintance, and now you want the goss on what’s happened to my relationship”?

“I haven’t heard from you in 10 years and now you want to connect because something seems to have gone wrong. In my world it’s been heading that way for over 12 months and this is the end result, which every one of my actual friends knows about”.  

None of this comes across well.

We all have friends who we haven’t physically seen in years, and have nothing to do with them outside of our digital world. Yet, because of the nature of social media we find ourselves believing we’re closer to people than we actually are. What we perceive on social media may well be what is happening at the time, but underneath there’s a lot more going on.

There’s always another side.

And so, I wonder whether we actually care about those ‘friends’ with whom we have no outside relationship with?

Where are those friends of ours who don’t post?

Do we think of them?

Do we touch base with them?

Do we care enough to like them too?

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.

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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.”


Here are the links to the series of reflections on the book:

  1. Growing Young
  2. Growing Young – Keychain Leadership
  3. Growing Young – Empathise With Today’s Young People
  4. Growing Young – Take Jesus’ Message Seriously
  5. Growing Young – Fuel A Warm Community
  6. Growing Young – Prioritise Young People (And Families) Everywhere
  7. Growing Young – Be The Best Neighbours
  8. Growing Young – Growing Young In Your Context
  9. Growing Young – Final Reflections