Today the new book Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church, releases nationwide. This is a great book and one I highly recommend!
I had the privilege of serving on an advisory council the last couple of years with Fuller Youth Institute and watched first hand this research come together and the entire project unfold.
I also asked Kara Powell, co-author of the book, to answer a few questions related to the new book and the project overall.
We keep hearing that young people are leaving the church and Christianity in droves. Is it true, and what can we do about it?
You’re right, we do hear a lot of doom and gloom about young people leaving the church, and much of that is true. Church attendance is declining overall. Recently the share of US adults who identify as Christian dropped from 78 to 71 percent. No major denomination is growing. Further, 18-29-year-olds make up nearly 20 percent of the US population but only 10 percent of church attenders. Taken together, this can seem like a pretty bleak forecast.
But in the midst of this storm, Jake Mulder, Brad Griffin and I wanted to study the bright spots. The exemplary churches doing remarkable work with high school, college-age and emerging adult young people. We studied over 250 churches—of all sizes, ethnicities, and denominations—all across the country. What we found was both surprising and hopeful.
Based on our team’s 10,000 pages of data and 10,000 hours of research, we’ve identified six core commitments held in common by churches that don’t age or shrink, but grow, and grow young.
That sounds like good news, and a positive sign for the overall Church. What are a couple of highlights from the research?
Well, some of the biggest highlights were what we didn’t find in those 6 core commitments. It turns out that reaching young people is not primarily done through a specific worship style. Or a great facility. Or a big budget. Or being a particular size. Or designing super-entertaining ministry programs. Reaching young people goes much deeper. It’s much more about the heart of what it means to be the church. That’s why we call these six strategies “core” commitments.
For example, the power of relational warmth surprised us across the study. The top way young people described their churches was by using the phrase, “like family.” They talked about “being real” and “being myself here.” What they didn’t talk about was how cool or hip their church may (or may not) have been. Sure, some churches were pretty cool, but what we learned from young people is that warm is the new cool. Experiencing a welcoming community that’s like a family turns out to matter more.
What’s one practical step a leader could take this week to help their church grow young?
Talk to a young person! Set up a meeting over coffee to listen to their hopes, dreams, and concerns when it comes to their lives in general as well as what’s going on in your church specifically. We find that when leaders don’t assume what young people want, but instead ask good questions and listen well, they save their churches from creating well-intentioned programs that end up distancing young people even more. Often what young people need most from churches is not a new program, but a renewed point of view.
This could actually lift your whole church. One of the great findings of our study is that as churches engage young people, the entire church benefits. New vitality. More passion. More innovation. As one leader put it, “Everybody rises when you focus on young people.” That’s good news for the church. That’s what it means to grow young.
Thanks Kara, Brad and Jake for the countless hours you put into writing this book! It's a gift to the Church as well as leaders everywhere.
Find out more and order Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church today at ChurchesGrowingYoung.com.