I 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.