All churches grow old. Strategic churches grow young.
–Kara Power, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin, authors of Growing Young
The most common sentiment I hear on congregational visitations is a desire to reach young people, as if they were on a far off planet. But in fact there are young people in our congregations, in our families, and in our neighborhoods.
It’s true that most of our congregations have a median age much older than their neighborhoods. And that the pandemic and its consequences have hit young people and families with children particularly hard. Thus as we turn our collective gaze as a diocese to ministry with and among rising generations, we have some listening and praying to do.
Where better to begin than with the young adults in our congregations? This Friday evening, as the start to our Diocesan Convention, we will listen to the testimonies of four young adults in our diocese. The conversation will be guided by our guest speaker, Mark Yaconelli, Founder and Executive Director of The Hearth, who has 20 years’ experience working with young people and the people who serve them.
All are welcome. If you haven’t registered yet, you can do so here. My hope is that Friday’s gathering will inspire us to listen anew to the thoughts, feelings and life experiences of the young people we know and love, and then imagine how our congregations can become communities that serve rising generations well. It is one of the top priorities of our strategic plan that we begin to address in earnest this year.
In addition to listening to the young people in our lives, we can learn from congregations whose efforts among rising generations are bearing fruit. An excellent resource is from a national study of over 250 congregations that are successfully engaging young adults (ages 15-29) and as a result are growing spiritually, missionally and numerically. Its findings are captured in the book Growing Young: 6 Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church.
It is an encouraging study, because the congregations highlighted are diverse in size, denomination, geography, and cultural/racial identity (over half were congregations of color).
More good news: the strategies identified do not require us to become something we are not. They do, however, require a commitment to invest in young people. For those of us who are no longer young, they ask us to gracefully give up our primacy in congregational life. As the authors write, “Making the intentional decision to disproportionately prioritize young people is the inflection point between growing young and growing old.”
The 6 strategies are:
- Unlock keychain leadership to empower others, especially young people.
- Empathize with today’s young people, stepping into the shoes of this generation.
- Take Jesus’ message seriously and welcome young people into a Jesus-centered way of life.
- Fuel a Warm Community and aim for meaningful peer and intergenerational experiences.
- Prioritize Young People (and Families) everywhere and look for creative ways to tangibly support, resource and involve them in all facets of your congregation.
- Be the best neighbors and equip young people to serve others, both locally and globally.
Here is an invitation: if you would like to gather a small group or sponsor a congregation-wide study of Growing Young, the School for Christian Faith and Leadership will provide up to four free copies of the book. Our only stipulation is that you identify the group in advance, identify your goals in reading, and when finished, let us know what you’ve learned and intend to do as a result. Please email the Rev. Jenifer Gamber for more information.
I realize that our congregations that enjoyed ministries with lively youth, young adults and families before COVID have seen a dramatic decline in their engagement. It’s been discouraging, but that doesn’t mean we should give up. Surely there are ways we can learn to reach out, with open and listening hearts.
As with the strategic goals we addressed thus far, our focus on rising generations will not be an item to check off, but a sustained investment toward a preferred future. Nor are we starting from nothing, for we are blessed with many gifted and passionate young leaders. What is new is the level of our intention, commitment, and measures of accountability. May 2022 be the year we remember as our inflection point and shift toward growing young.