Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church
In Growing Young, Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin have created a research masterpiece for churches of all backgrounds, sizes, and denominations, looking for ways to attract, engage, and retain the youth of today in their congregation. It is not only brimming with real-life anecdotes, statistics, and practical advice, it’s bursting at the seams with hope, both for the present and future of your church.
To get started, follow the Growing Young Wheel’s 6 Core Commitments:
- 1. Unlock keychain leadership
- 2. Empathize with today’s young people
- 3. Take Jesus’ message seriously
- 4. Fuel a warm community
- 5. Prioritize young people (and families) everywhere
- 6. Be the best neighbors
The order in which your church follows these steps is flexible, but the pursuit of Jesus is the overriding motivation.
COMMITMENT 1: Unlock Keychain Leadership
Keychain Leaders, pastoral and congregational leaders, are those who have the power to let people in or keep people out. They are acutely aware of the keys on their keychain, and they’re intentional about entrusting and empowering all generations with their own set of keys (capabilities, power, and access of leaders that carry the ability to empower young people). There are four types of key leadership:
- 1. Key-less leaders – young and inexperienced, without much authority or access
- 2. Key-hoarding leaders – refuse to give others access and run the show
- 3. Key-loaning leaders – let others borrow keys temporarily and return quickly
- 4. Keychain leaders – very aware of the keys they hold, the leader you want
Keychain Leaders are constantly opening doors and entrusting those who are ready. This is the leader you want, and this is the leader who people often list as the reason they serve in the church today. Keychain Leaders must be mature, real, warm, know what matters to people, entrust and empower others, and take the long view. Authenticity is key to attracting young people, and Keychain Leaders must be approachable and genuinely care.
COMMITMENT 2: EMPATHIZE WITH TODAY’S YOUNG PEOPLE
If a church wishes to grow young, they must make an effort to understand young people, both internally and externally. They must truly feel them. There are three main questions that plague every young person:
- 1. Who am I? (a question of identity)
- 2. Where do I fit in? (a question of belonging)
- 3. What difference do I make? (a question of purpose)
In an effort to empathize, churches can respond to youth with grace (identity), love (belonging), and mission (purpose). God’s grace, love, and mission can best answer their plaguing questions.
COMMITMENT 3: Take Jesus’ message seriously
Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD) is the pervasive religious framework of youth today. Young people associate faith with generally being a nice person (moralistic), so faith makes them feel good about themselves (therapeutic). God exists, but this God is not involved regularly in human affairs (deistic). MTD threatens to distract young people from Jesus. Youth of today also follow the Golden Rule Gospel, which follows some version of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Luke 6:31). Golden Rule Gospel focuses on “right living”, as opposed to “right believing.” Both MTD and Golden Rule Gospel are behavior-based and toxic to faith.
Rather, Churches should aim to create a more robust faith, and pay attention to the life and words of Christ. Three shifts churches can take to steer young people away from MTD and Golden Rule Gospel are:
- 1) Less talk about abstract beliefs and more talk of Jesus
- 2) Less tied to formulas and more on a redemptive narrative – interpret each part of the Bible within the whole unfolding story of God and God’s people.
- 3) Less about Heaven later and more about life here and now – not only reward at the end but also transformation now, in everyday life
Young people want to take action and know what they are being saved for. If a church is to grow young, they must focus on participation and challenge.
COMMITMENT 4: Fuel a warm community
As far as young people go, warm is the new cool. Warmth is the lifeblood coursing through the veins of your church body, and it goes much deeper than just programs and structures. The majority of programs either never gain momentum, or they start with a bang and end with a fizzle. Structures are important, but they simply aren’t enough. Church leaders must stop assuming that programs alone will foster close relationships in their church. No doubt, they are important, but churches must be mindful not to depend on them solely to eradicate the isolation often felt by young people.
Warmth must be in the DNA of the church family. It helps young people find and stick with a church. Young people seek a messy warmth, rather than neat and tidy, and they desire to share their messiness and walk alongside the real, authentic messiness of others. As young people develop, personal relationships are key, and they desire an honest experience that feels like family.
COMMITMENT 5: Prioritize young people (and families) everywhere
In the faith development of young people, parental influence matter most, and parents must be intentional about faith-building, both in and out of church; however, parents need support within the church. Churches must partner with parents, because prioritizing young people means the parents must be prioritized as well. Young people must also be allowed to play a load-bearing role in the community, which will allow them to use their gifts to serve the community. Basically, Churches should look to build a big family of faith.
In strategizing this plan for your church, good intentions are not enough. Who you say you are is far less important to young people than who you really are, which will often require a culture shift within your congregation. You cannot fool young people into believing you have made them a priority. For the young people in your congregation, actions speak far louder than words. Churches must be intentional in its actions when including young people, and they must be prioritized everywhere in the congregation. Churches follow Jesus’ lead when they prioritize the young, and reorient their church community around them.
COMMITMENT 6: Be the best neighbors
The Best Neighbors ask, “Who is my neighbor?” Love of God and love of neighbor are inseparable. Churches striving to be the Best Neighbor reflect selfless mercy to those outside of their congregations, both locally and globally. However, Best Neighbors must avoid the following four common pitfalls:
- 1. Aiming for perfection – young people appreciate their church’s good intentions, even when not done perfectly
- 2. Copying and Competing – do not attempt to copy the culture around them or compete with the entertainment industry
- 3. Condemning and Critiquing – must use this posture sparingly
- 4. Finding the one “right” program, cause, or social justice issue
Churches that grow young by being the Best Neighbors will honor what is good, make the world better, embrace ethnic diversity, and assist young people in discovering their calling in life.
GROWING YOUNG IN YOUR CONTEXT
Every church needs to know how to embody the Six Core Commitments in their own particular setting, because what works for one church may not work for the next. Context truly is everything, and it must be applied strategically. In planning your church’s strategy, you must keep the following three myths regarding growing young in mind:
- 1. There is a single silver bullet – there’s no one easy step to take or one common problem to fix.
- 2. Bigger or well-resourced churches can change faster and easier – some of the most innovative churches are quite the opposite
- 3. Hiring _____ will solve the problem – changes must be owned and implemented by the entire church.
For many churches, the main barrier to initiating change and growing young is not lack or desire, but rather it’s a lack of long-term dedication and discipline to make transition a reality. Church leaders must keep in mind that the process is not based on statistics or strategies, rather on seeking God’s call for your congregation. If you are a church leader ready to attract the young people of today, Growing Young is a must-have for your bookshelf. Nobody said it would be easy, and nobody said it would happen quickly, but it can happen. CHANGE IS POSSIBLE. Why not start growing young today?
You can learn more about Growing Young here: https://churchesgrowingyoung.com/
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