Our journey continues this week as we explore the wisdom found in the new book, Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church by Powell, Mulder and Griffin (BakerBooks, Grand Rapids, MI 2016). Last week we reviewed the authors statistical analysis of the fact that “most churches are not growing, and they aren’t getting any younger”. We sampled some of the myths about qualities that your church needs to grow younger. We then identified and discussed the first of sixCore Commitments that the authors share as a path to growing younger: “Unlock keychain leadership”. [See attached for last week’s posting]
Core Commitment # 2: Empathize with Today’s Young People
By empathy, they “mean feeling with young people. … empathizing is ‘the work you do to understand people … It is your effort to understand the way they do things and why, their physical and emotional needs, how they think about the work and what is meaningful to them.’ “. They note three ultimate questions of every young person:
- Who am I? – this is a question of identity, meaning a young person’s conception and expression of who they are.
- Where do I fit? – this is a question of belonging, or a young person’s quantity and quality of life-giving relationships.
- What difference do I make? – this is a question about purpose, or a young person’s commitment to and ability to engage in meaningful activities that impact others.
A key learning point from their research about these questions: “Young people are older when they turn the corners of identity, belonging, and purpose typically equated with full adulthood.” They describe this fact as “extended adolescence”. The traditional signs that a young person has entered adulthood – a spouse, a family, a completed education, a steady job, and financial independence – now occur five or more years later.”
Another key learning point: “The ongoing tumult of academic, vocational, and relational dilemmas causes young people to put critical parts of themselves, including their religious, political, racial, gender, and class identities, into an ‘identity lockbox’.” This allows young people to keep their religion and foundational values safe but means that while they are deciding who they are (identity), “their faith and core values are locked up”. By empathizing with our younger members, we can “lessen anxiety by reminding young people of what’s important and inviting them to get away from the chaos of their lives to refocus on loving God and others.”
The authors offer hope for the future with their Ideas for Action. Some examples include:
- Respond to our younger members with grace, love, and mission (empathy based on understanding the reality of their journey)
- Take time to recall your own journey as a youth and young adult (remember what it was like to explore your own identity, need to belong, and purpose)
- Don’t fall prey to stereotypes about young people based on assumptions rather than fact (do your homework like reading this book)
- Walk through your church and see your worship service through the eyes of a young person (find ways to invite them to share their reality in a safe and encouraging environment)
Core Commitment # 4: Fuel a Warm Community
This commitment begins to answer the question: where do I fit? (belonging). Over the last few decades, churches have been transitioning through three distinct phases. First came attractional – have the best worship and programs and they will come to your church. Next came missional – prioritize outreach and making a difference locally, nationally and globally, which will inspire people to join your church (what difference do I make?). The current movement is about relational – how does our church support active, faith-filled relationships among its members, the local community, and beyond. The authors describe the term warmth cluster. In churches that exhibit this characteristic, members use terms like “welcoming, accepting, belonging, authentic, hospitable, and caring.” All of these terms are directly related to the concept of relationship.
When the authors asked young people to describe their church, few talked about worship or worship style. Instead, they talked about their church’s warmth. They shared that “the phrase ‘like family’ surfaced as the most common term young people used to describe their church … .” Some key points from this chapter include:
- Honest relationships build belonging
- Warm intergenerational relationships grow everyone young
- Fostering peer friendships fosters spiritual formation
- An ecclesiology that helps us recognize the need for and embrace the call from God to “become part of one another” (Rom. 12:5 – “so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another” [NAB])
Clearly this is a key aspect of answering the question where do I fit? – not only for young members of our faith community but for all generations and life stages.
Next Week’s Update
Next week we will complete our exploration of this exciting new resource on how our church can Grow Young. We will review some of the enduring myths about this issue and identify key steps in creating a plan for change for your church. If this is an issue for your church’s leaders and staff, I encourage you to obtain and read this well researched new resource for inviting, retaining and engaging youth and young adults into our church’s faith family.