Is Your Church Growing Young?

growing-young-book-3d-transparent-e1474419441508I recently had the opportunity to be a part of the launch team for a book called Growing Young by Kara Powell, Jack Mulder, and Brad Griffin based on research from the Fuller Youth Institute that addresses the vitally important issue of young people and our churches.

Across the United States, churches are losing both members and vitality as increasing numbers of young people disengage.  ~Growing Young

Church attendance is declining. Congregations are aging. According to the research found in Growing Young, “no major Christian tradition is growing in the U.S. today.”

After researching the topic of young people and their faith for my upcoming book Pouring In: Pouring The Passion Of Christ Into Our Kids, the sobering truth was undeniable. Though the numbers varied slightly from one study to the next, they all came to the same conclusion—we are losing our kids.

The decline in overall church attendance is linked with young people’s religious practices or lack thereof.   ~Growing Young

According to Ken Ham’s 2009 book  Already Gone, “A mass exodus is underway. Most youth of today will not be coming to church tomorrow.”

Seven years later does the picture look any different?

According to David Kinnaman in his book You Lost Me, “Most young Christians are struggling less with their faith in Christ than with their experience of church.”

So the problem we face is two fold; first, our kids are abandoning their faith; and second, our kids are walking away from the church.

Why is it so important to focus on bringing young people back to our churches?

Aside from the obvious reason of winning young people to Christ, there are great benefits for the church as well.

If your overall hope and prayer is to have a vibrant congregation, there is arguably no better starting place than the contagious passion of teenagers and young adults. ~Growing Young

For the church to thrive and be healthy we need young people. We must understand that young people are vital to the health of Christ’s church.

And knowing that Christ’s disciples were likely young, how can we be satisfied knowing that teenagers and young adults are extremely underrepresented in our churches?

Growing Young identifies six essential strategies to help young people discover and love the church.

The Warmth Factor

I have been feeling tension about the ‘American church’ for years. Something didn’t feel right. Something was missing. For a long time I couldn’t put my finger on what was troubling me.

When I got to chapter 5, Fuel a Warm Community, of Growing Young, I almost jumped out of my seat and shouted, “That’s it! Warmth . . . . that’s it! That’s what’s missing from our churches!”

The qualities of a warm church include authenticity, hospitality, caring, welcoming, accepting, and belonging.   ~Growing Young

As I ponder the welcoming and inviting qualities of warmth, I think about church greeters.

I guess it is nice to have someone shake your hand when you walk in a church building, but do the greeters really care about who they are greeting? My guess would be probably not. And if I were a greeter at my church, I probably wouldn’t either. There’s too many people.

Greeting people verses warmth is the difference between shaking someone’s hand and looking into a person’s eyes and seeing their brokenness.

Going through the motions to check ‘served the church’ off of our list doesn’t count as warmth.

Could the lack of warmth in our churches be repelling young people? Warmth radiates out of authentic community. It can’t be faked.

One pastor said, “We can hire and buy cool, but we can’t hire—or fake—warmth.”   ~Growing Young

Warmth provides a fertile atmosphere in which love and relationships can grow.

Warmth is really caring about the answer when we ask, ‘how are you?’ Warmth says, “I see you” and “I want to know you.”

Warmth says “you are welcome here and you belong.” Warmth says “you don’t have to have it all together to be loved and accepted.”

Come As You Are

“Come as you are” is a popular catch phrase in churches today. Many of us claim this platitude. But do we really mean it?  Is “come as you are” the feeling that people get when they walk through the doors of our churches?

If we say “come as you are,” we had better mean it. Because if young people “come as they are,” but everything around them screams, “not good enough,” we will lose them. It’s that simple.

Young people won’t tolerate judgement. The church instead needs to offer them acceptance. The church needs to offer them a family.

Warmth is more than superficial community. It’s like family.   ~Growing Young

It’s Not About Being Nice

I don’t think anyone in the church would characterize Christ as nice. I certainly wouldn’t.

By suggesting that churches need to grow warmer, we don’t mean adults should be nice to young people. Nice does not cut it.  ~Growing Young

Jesus went far above and beyond nice. Jesus was all about love and relationships. He was about truth. And warmth radiated from His spirit. Maybe that is why so many people were drawn to Him.

If we want to get young people back in our churches, warmth and connection in relationships are key.

Today’s teenagers desire real relationships that are characterized by depth, vulnerability, openness, listening, and love—connectedness in their disconnected, confusing, and alienated world.   ~Walt Mueller, Youth Culture 101

Young people today are starved for authentic relationships. And they don’t have the time or relational energy for nice.

Teenagers and young people matter. Church matters. And teenagers and young people matter in the church.

Are teenagers and young people a priority at your church?
Is your church welcoming and warm to young people?
Does your church have a good number of teenagers and emerging adults?

These are great questions to ponder within the context of your church and of mine.

Thanks to Kara Powell, Jack Mulder, and Brad Griffin and the Fuller Youth Institute for bringing us Growing Young. This book could revolutionize the American church as we know it.

9 Ways you can be brave in everyday life

The Avengers is one of my favorite movies. In fact, I love all of the comic book hero movies; Spiderman, Ironman, Captian America, X-Men, etc. Who doesn’t love a story where the hero saves the day?!

Even greater are movies about real life heroes (those without the cape!).

Movies like Hotel Rwanda and Schindler’s List touch the very core of humanity. Military movies such as American Sniper, Hurt Locker, Unbroken and so many more inspire us to do more and be all we can be.

Than there are movies about real life heroes that fought for social justice like Erin Brochovich. Or movies like Pursuit of Happyness in which a man overcomes poverty despite the nay-sayers, and goes on to do great things.

These are TRUE stories of ordinary people doing impossible things.

If you believe that you can’t be brave right where you are, I have got news for you. YOU can be brave, and you can be a hero. With the power and authority of Jesus Christ, you can do great things. Believe it!

Here are 9 ways to be brave in your everyday life.

1. Fight for your church

I am about as far from a ‘yes man’ as one can get. Even though I refuse to call myself a ‘devil’s advocate’, that is exactly what I am. I challenge and I question everything.

If you feel tension in your church, be brave and stand up and fight for it. There is nothing loving about standing by while the train goes off the tracks. You and I are the church, we must fight to protect it.

That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. . . . . Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.   John 17:20-23

We must fight for unity. We must fight for love. We must fight for the church.

  • confront people about questionable doctrine
  • ask to be part of the ‘vision setting’ meetings
  • don’t let ‘tension’ keep you from teaching classes or leading Bible studies
  • be a prayer warrior for your church and its leaders

2. Follow Christ with everything you’ve got

True heroes are people that faithfully follow Christ everyday. Going against the flow to follow Jesus is about as brave as you get.

Mother Theresa is one such hero. She really did ‘for the least of these.’ I can’t wait to see her riches in heaven!

3. Get involved in people’s business

We need to get in each other’s business. That is what the church is all about—living life together.

Our pride keeps us from letting others see our messiness. Yet, we are all messy. So, why do we hide? God never tells us to keep secrets from each other.

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2

4. Walk through suffering

Walking through suffering instead of escaping out of it is one of the greatest forms of bravery there is.

  • give up alcohol and feel the pain
  • stay in a marriage that doesn’t feel good and feel the pain
  • let go and feel the pain

Give up things that you use to anesthetize yourself with and walk with God through the pain. Be willing to wrestle with a God who can restore and heal.

5. Be different in your community

We have been set apart as holy because Jesus Christ did what God wanted him to do by sacrificing his body once and for all.  Hebrews 10:10

How can we be different right where we live?

  • put God above family
  • don’t be ‘over busy’- give God your firstfruits
  • live modestly and give generously
  • spend more time teaching your kids about Christ—more than academics or sports

6. Be a mentor to a young person

There is nothing greater than pouring into the life of a young person. Get involved with the youth at your church. Take the time to spark conversations that show care and concern.

  • offer to buy a young person Starbucks, and then LISTEN to them
  • reach out to a young person experiencing trauma that you can relate to, and then LISTEN to them
  • go to a game or other event that a kid you know will be participating in
  • be involved in your grandchildren or neices and nephews lives

It takes a village to raise kids! And that village is the church.

7. Be willing to fail

Is it OK if failure is in God’s will for your life or for mine?

Obviously we won’t fail spiritually if we are following Christ. And we won’t fail when it comes to our eternal inheritance through salvation in Christ. But, what if it is not in His plan for me to be successful in this world? Ever? Would I be OK with that?

As I ponder this question part of me wants to jump up and appear holy and righteous by saying, “whatever thou willeth I will doeth with joyeth”. But, is that real? Could I really rejoice in that?

How brave am I willing to be? Am I willing to fail for my God? As the line from the movie, The Stand by Stephen King goes, “My life for you!”

8. Create a new family legacy

Does your family have a legacy of alcoholism, neglect or abuse? Does your family have a legacy of avoiding conflict, or being passive aggressive or manipulative?

Make it your mission to stop the cycle right now and create a new legacy. The buck stops with you . . . oh, brave one!

9. Fight for your kids

  • stay home with your kids even though you have a promising career
  • homeschool your kids if God is leading you to it, even if you think ‘you could never do that!’
  • keep your family together even though ‘that loving feeling’ is gone

If you are doing any of the above and you don’t think you are brave, you are wrong! You don’t have to have superpowers to be brave. And although it would be nice, you don’t have to be seen or acknowledged to be brave either.

You don’t even have to feel brave to BE brave!

Believe that you can when the world tells you ‘you can’t.’ Believe that you are when everyone tells you ‘you aren’t.’ Choose to believe God and believe in yourself. And BE BRAVE!

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  Phillipians 4:13