Growing Young, Part 3

Posted by Jerry Roth on

This week we complete our review of the insightful new book, Growing Young. If you missed the first two weeks’ postings, just click on the attached document to review these earlier insights.

Core Commitment # 5: Prioritize Young People (and Families) Everywhere

The authors get right to the point by saying, “Simply put, priority is the game changer for churches that want to grow young.” This core commitment builds on the previously discussed core commitments of:

  • empathy for our church’s young people – listening for and seeking to understand our young members’ developmental journey toward identity, belonging, and purpose
  • creating a warm environment – surrounding them with a supportive, accepting and authentic community

They define prioritization of young people everywhere in our faith community as a “tangible, institutional commitment to allocate resources and attention not only for specific youth or young adult programming but also across the life of the congregation.” The common solutions of hiring a youth minister and creating a youth room are not sufficient to satisfy this core commitment. Suggestions for broadening our approach included:

  • emphasize youth and young adults in our church culture, worship, staffing and budget
  • prioritize families so that parents can spiritually influence their youth in partnership and with the support of our church
  • provide youth and young adults with load-bearing roles in the community which allow them to use their gifts in service to our church and community
  • understand that we all benefit by engaging and partnering with young people, following the invitation of Jesus to become more like children

The research identified three myths about churches that change and grow young:

  1. there is a single silver bullet – the feedback indicates that there are many paths to growing younger depending on the unique context of your church
  2. bigger or well-resourced churches can change faster and easier – many churches in the study were able to grow younger without large budgets, staff or church buildings
  3. hiring will solve the problem – although hiring staff can help in the short term, real change must be owned and implemented across the entire church and church culture

With a better understanding of the reality of growing younger, it is time to create your church’s plan for change. As with all good planning processes, it begins with listening. Without an intentional listening effort, we can often be limited in our thinking by the “three Bs” – building, bodies, and budget. Listening expands and deepens our understanding of the unique issues and unique potential of our church to become younger. The list of who to listen to might include:

  • God – often church leaders forget to begin by listening to the whispers and wisdom of the Spirit
  • Young people – this will aid in understanding the current reality of their journey
  • Ourselves – are we willing to embrace change and engage in our church’s core commitments
  • Parents – If our goal is to support and partner with parents, they must feel heard and a part of the process
  • Staff – tap into the education and relevant front line experience of your church’s staff
  • Older generations – capture the passion and hard earned wisdom of our older members
  • Research – review and study current research that will allow your church to learn from the study and experience of others seeking to understand how to grow younger

Based on what is learned through listening, the book suggests a variety of next steps that will allow you to move forward.

My own research on church leadership topics for The Center for Parish Leadership has convinced me that this may be the most important topic for church leaders today. I hope these brief summaries of this excellent resource, Growing Young, will encourage you to read this book along with the many other research references you will find in the book. Although the challenges are great, I believe that the Spirit is always at our side, filling us with the wisdom and courage we need as church leaders to create vibrant faith communities for all ages and life stages. May God continue to bless you on your unique journey.



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