A REVIEW By Andy Jung
We have heard the statistics: Young adults ages 18 to 29 comprise 22 percent of adult population in the United States, yet they only represent 10 percent of church attendees nationwide.
The well-publicized “rise of the nones” points to nearly 23 percent who consider themselves religiously unaffiliated.
Most studies in religious demographics show that no major Christian tradition is growing in the U.S. today. The reality is, most churches are growing old.
How do churches stem the tide? What must churches do to not only reach 15 to 29-year olds but also to retain them in the life of the church? Does a church have to change its worship style and set aside its traditions and identity?
Does it have to radically change the building structure or have a huge budget? Do the worship services have to be hyper-entertaining to attract the young people? How do churches grow young?
The good news is that there is hope for all types of churches. In Growing Young: 6 Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church by Kara Powell, Jake Mulder and Brad Griffin (Baker Publishing), leaders at Fuller Youth Institute share the results of ground-breaking research.
Based on a study of 250 churches across denominations, ethnicity and congregation size that are effectively reaching the younger generation, the research found six essential qualities churches shared in reaching this demographic that had little to do with music, church building or budget.
The study showed that churches willing to share key leadership, empathize with their struggles, help them take Jesus’ message seriously, create a culture of warmth within its fellowship, prioritize young people and their families and go outside the walls of the church to be good neighbors excelled at reaching and retaining young people.
All six principles are attainable for all churches. Whether a church has a large professional staff or a single pastor, it can learn to be intentional about entrusting and empowering young people with key leadership.
No matter how many or few young people a church might have, it can learn the context and culture of today’s young people to show them empathy by helping them wrestle with their sense of identity, belonging and purpose. All churches can model for young people what it means to take the words of Jesus seriously and to live missionally.
Churches can grow young by weaving warmth into its DNA through encouraging authenticity and relationships across generations. Churches should put a high priority on young people by integrating them into all aspects of the church, especially in its overall philosophy, worship gatherings, staffing and budget.
Finally, a church of any size can help young people value being a good neighbor by leading them outside the church to show love locally and globally. It is exciting to know that it is feasible for any church to accomplish all six principles with careful planning and strong leadership.
It matters because the present and future church hinges on these young people. When young people are a part of the fellowship in every way, the whole church benefits. Everyone rises when young people are engaged in the whole church.
These six principles are not principles for youth ministry or young adult ministry. The principles found in the research are for the whole church.
Helping a congregation grow young takes everyone: the pastor, age-group ministers, volunteer leaders, parents of young people and the entire church family. Growing Young shows pastors and other ministry leaders how to position their churches to engage younger generations in a way that breathes vitality, life and energy into the whole church. NFJ
—Andy Jung is pastor of First Baptist Church of Albemarle, N.C.