I am thrilled to be part of the #growingyoung launch team for Fuller Youth Institute. I just received my copy of the book and have eagerly begun to read it. I’ll be posting my reflections and chapter highlights here. The book is Growing Young: 6 Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church by Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin.
What Congregations Are Doing Right
This chapter, as with most Chapter 1’s, lays the foundation for the entire book. The scene is set. The procedure is explained. Why, how, who, what, and where is defined. We are ready to go.
“Churches are dying.” We hear it over and over again. As I wrote about in a previous post, I’m over it. There’s so much more to it than that. After reading the first chapter, it was nice to be reminded that I’m not alone in my perspective. The slow decline of church as we know it is not the whole story. It is also critical to remember that this is not just about church membership. Attendance is only a side effect of the reality of an all-encompassing life of faith in Jesus Christ. This is something I always keep in mind when reading studies or articles about things like this and I hope you will too.
A great quote from Max De Pree is shared in the first pages and it’s one to keep in mind, especially as we talk about the church:
The first job of a leader is to define reality.
Reality. While working with people of all ages in the church, I’ve found that this is where most of our stress and anxiety about the church is bound up. What is our reality? Many people respond with, “Perception is reality.” That is true to an extent, but we should never leave it there. Our perception is biased for a multitude of reasons. So, as leaders, we must define reality over and over again. What is our history? (Was there ever a “golden age” of youth ministry or Sunday School?) Where do we come from? (On October 31, 1517 a man with a mighty hammer walked 50 miles in the snow, barefoot, to nail his new world order to the doors of a cold and exclusive church to then create his own religion and save the world forever from the destructive forces of…) Who are we today? (Where are all the kids?) Where are we headed? (Are we a lost cause?)
See? I feel all stressed out and I don’t even believe those parenthetical examples. So leaders, let’s take a deep breath. Let’s set the tone, defining reality, pointing to reality, with our behavior and our responses to these necessary questions.
For example, an interesting aspect to our reality has to do with our understanding of adolescence. Who are we even talking about when we’re talking about “the youth”? Here’s an interesting note from chapter 1.
In 1960, 66% of American men and 77% of American women had completed five traditional markers of adulthood by the age of 30: leaving home, finishing school, getting married, having a child, and becoming financially independent. In 2010, only 28% of men and 39% of women had done so by age 30.
Many factors play into this extended adolescence, but it is still an important difference to note. The life of a young person isn’t necessarily better or worse than what it has been in the past, but it is different and this difference requires attention. This difference changes the way our churches need to respond to the reality we are living. This difference changes the way the life of our church needs to look as we live this reality together.
Chapter 1 proceeds to share The Six Core Commitments Your Church Needs to Grow Young. These commitments seem obvious and I think that is one reason so many congregations have not made them intentional priorities. They are assumed. In our assumptions we warp these commitments to tell ourselves that, Yes, we believe in shared leadership. Yes, kids need to be understood. Yes, we love Jesus. Yes, we are a really friendly church. Yes, we love families. Yes, we care about our neighbors. Believe me, the six commitments shared in Growing Young are so much more than those above statements. So in our defining reality, we must beware of our assumptions and name them together so that they can be overcome.
In Fuller Youth Institute’s commitment to provide not only insightful, current research; they also work hard to provide practical resources. That means each chapter concludes with a list of strategic questions. I’ll close my reflection with a few of those questions for you to ponder. Feel free to respond to my response and then I’ll respond when I get the chance and we can respond together and/or share your reflections on the following questions. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
- What motivates you to read a book geared to help churches grow young?
- How have young people added vitality to your life and congregation?
- Who needs to join you on your journey to help your congregation grow young?
If you would like to pre-order your own copy or learn more about this book and research, please visit Churches Growing Young.