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.

4 Things that I never would have thought of if I made up God

Atheists who argue that God doesn’t exist assume that a human being could have made up the God of the Bible.

I disagree.

I have heard many arguments for the existence of God. However, I have never heard the argument I would make. My argument is that we NEVER could have made up the brilliant complexity that is our God . . . . NEVER!

How do I know God exists? Because He is infinitely more complex and brilliant than I or anyone could have imagined. Our finite, human minds could not have even close to dreamed up a God like ours.


If I made up God, there are 4 things that I would never have thought of.

1. I would not have made up a God whose glory is directly tied to our satisfaction

A god who is indifferent to the satisfaction of his creation seems more likely than a God who goes above and beyond for us. Why shouldn’t God require us to obey him in order to receive love and blessings? After all, humans are cause and effect beings. It makes more sense to us.

However, our God requires very little and gives abundantly. He is good, and He desires good for us. Because God is good, we can be satisfied in Him.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”   Jeremiah 29:11

Our God is good, wholly and completely, and He wants good things for us. He wants us to be filled . . . to the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:29).

How wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ   Ephesians 3:19

I could never have made up a God in which . . . .

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.  Psalm 23:5

My cup overflows?! Nope, I would never have made up a God like that! We have a God that goes above and way beyond for us. Why is it necessary for Him to do this? It isn’t.

While everything that He does is for His own glory, according to John Piper in his book, Desiring God,

“God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

We want God to be glorified and He wants us to be satisfied. It’s mutually beneficial. The way He designed everything is perfect. He goes on to say,

“We get the mercy; He gets the glory. We get the happiness in Him; He gets the honor from us.”

He is so good! And when we live to glorify Him, our lives are transformed. No one would have ever made up a God that was so good.

The more I walk with God, the more I realize that everything he says and does works. Everything that He commands us to do brings Him glory, and in turn brings us the most good.

2. I could not have made up the story of Jesus

Earning our way to heaven seems logical. You get what you work for. The Big Man Upstairs doesn’t need to concern Himself with the tiny inhabitants of this insignificant planet.

We know that grace is freely given through Christ. However, earning our way to heaven seems much more logical.

Christianity is the only religion where God is really God. Because it’s the only one where God saves the people instead of the people saving themselves
~ Why So Many Gods, Tim Baker & Kate Etue

Even if I included a savior in the story of my made up God, it wouldn’t have been one like Jesus.

Jesus Walks On WaterI would not have made up a savior who was a servant of all. Before Christ, the idea of a servant king would have been absurd. Jesus was not who the Jews were expecting.

The Gospel writers never would have made up a savior that washed the feet of his disciples; or, a savior that during most of his ministry didn’t have any possessions or a place to call home; or, a savior that was born to an unwed mother in the midst of barn animals!

Who would make up a savior like that?! Especially if you want people to worship Him!

Even if I had made up a God who sent a savior that was a servant king, I could never have thought up the crucifixion story. No one could have. It’s unimaginable.

Jesus needed to die to save the world. Blood needed to be shed, the blood of a lamb. The horror and miraculous power of the events of Jesus death and resurrection is incomprehensible. No human being could have ever made it up.

The story of Jesus is perfect; it is divine. A finite mind would never have come up with a story of redemption so perfect as the story of Jesus.

3. I could not have made up the concept of Church

Who would ever make up the idea of a group of followers that make up a ‘body’ with the savior as the head? Uh . . . not me! It’s kind of a crazy concept!

As the church, we are part of Him, and part of each other as He is part of us. There is a divine connectedness between us all and our God.

 

 

4. I would not have made up a God who uses suffering to annoint us

I definitely would not have added this on the list if I made up God! I would never have made up a God that would require me to walk through the fire; to face the trial head on; or, to walk through the storm. The fire is hot and it burns. Storms beat us up. Trials push us to our limit and are exhausting.Untitled design (11)

I would make up a religion that included avoiding pain and suffering because that is consistent with human nature. Our instincts tells us to avoid pain at all costs.

When everything in me says ‘go around’, God says, ‘I will get you through’.

Our God perfectly designed us so that we gain when we lose. Through suffering, we receive that which we could not without it.

The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it. ~C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

God knows the human condition. He knows that most humans will not surrender their will in the midst of comfort. And, God does not require that we do in order to follow him. He has made a way. It is called suffering.

It is through suffering that the scales come off our eyes and we begin to really see and know God intimately. Who knew?!


God’s story is beautiful. It’s perfect in every way. It’s divine. It’s brilliant beyond what the greatest storyteller could ever write.

 

Church, we have to get this right

“We should be astonished at the goodness of God, stunned that he should bother to call us by name, our mouths wide open at his love, bewildered that at this very moment we are standing on holy ground.” ~Brennan Manning, Ragamuffin Gospel

I have some thoughts that have been nagging me for a few years. I find it so hard to know when to speak what I believe to be truth to brothers and sisters in Christ, and when to stay silent. Many have spoken out about the issue of church in this country. God has placed the state of the American church on my heart as well. My goal is not to simply add to the noise, not just to complain or criticize it, but to fight for it.

I am pained by the direction that I see American churches going. I fear that in such subtle ways, our eyes and focus may be moving away from Christ and His teachings, and toward getting the masses to come in our doors. Are we, as the church, staying true to God’s Word and furthering His Kingdom? Or, as so many megachurches emerge, is it a numbers game?

The church of today is very polished and attractive from the outside. No wonder people are flocking to it. But, we must look at what is going on inside. Is the Word of God preached unapologetically in truth and love?

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. ”  Matthew 23:27

Church is more than a building. It is not this church or that church. It is not this address or that website. It is the body of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is beyond the physical.

“What the church –the disciples gathered –really needs is not more people, more money, better buildings or programs, more education, or more prestige. Christ’s gathered people, the church, has always been at its best when it had little or none of these.”  -Dallas Willard, The Great Omission

We must not be married to our ‘church plans’. Christ is the head of church. How can a church be Christ-led if it is bound to a plan that we created?  If God tells us to move, and it conflicts with our plan, then what? Can having a long term plan breed arrogance and independence instead of DEPENDENCE on God?

Church has been on my mind lately. Oh, my soul is troubled. I just can’t shake this feeling that something is off. I can’t shake the feeling that maybe we can do church better.

I am troubled that our mission as the body of Christ might be compromised by our culture. I see how much like our society American churches have become. I would say that if we resemble the world too much in our churches or ourselves, we are on dangerous ground.

“Something is wrong when our lives make sense to unbelievers.”  Francis Chan, Crazy Love

Where is the tension with the culture that Jesus and the apostles experienced? Where is the upside down teaching of Christ that led crowds of people to cry out for His death? Where is the anguish that caused Jesus to sweat blood that night on the Mount of Olives?

He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. Luke 22:41-44

I mostly see comfort in our churches. I don’t see people crying out to God; I don’t see people so broken by the sin of the world that they can’t speak; and I don’t see people groaning in prayer for the lost. Where is our anguish and sorrow for a world that doesn’t know Jesus?

We have to ask ourselves, ‘are we lukewarm?’

Becoming lukewarm needs be always on our minds as ‘the church’, just as pride must always be on our minds because we are human. God knows our tendencies as individuals and as the church. He laid it out in scripture. We must acknowledge our sinful tendencies so that we can fight against them.

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.  Revelation 3:15-16

Most sermon topics revolve around being a better Christian, a better spouse, a better parent, a better citizen, a better neighbor or a better employee. These are all topics we need to be challenged on. However, I feel as though we neglect to preach on being a better church. We need to be examining ourselves to be ready as the body of Christ, just as a bride-to-be prepares for her wedding day.

We focus and teach on these things:

  • Are we seeking His Kingdom first (Matthew 6:33)?
  • Do we take care of the poor and oppressed (Matthew 25:35-40)?
  • Do we feed His sheep (John 21:15–16)?
  • Are we fishers of men (Matthew 4:19)?
  • Are we loving our neighbors (Matthew 22:39–40)?

Many sermons on these topics have been given over the years. And they are vital if we are going to be faithful disciples. However, I believe that there are crucial areas that we neglect to address.

I feel strongly that we must be looking at what is going on within the walls of our churches. The church will never be perfect, but we need to be continually asking God how to make it better; how we can be better prepared for the wedding of the Lamb.

“Hallelujah!
   For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad
   and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
   and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean,
   was given her to wear.”  Revelations 16:6-9

  • Do we love each other within the church as the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 13)?

Love is what it’s all about. If people can’t walk into our church and be blown away by the love that we have for each other, than we have work to do. People need to come into our sanctuaries and say, ‘No way! I’ve never seen a group of people love each other like that!’

  • Do we deal with relationships within these walls in a way pleasing to Him (Matthew 5:23–25)?

What does a church-goer do when they disagree with something the church is doing or have conflict with someone in leadership? What is the protocol?

What I believe most often happens is that person or couple will be agitated or have an offense with someone within the church, but they say nothing. As time goes on, they get more and more agitated, and their frustration snowballs. Eventually, they are so extremely disgruntled that they leave. They disappear from the church and are seen no more. A few months later, we ask each other, what ever happened to the so and so’s?

This is how it works at every church that I have ever known. If you have a problem with the church, you leave. And, you find another church that temporarily pleases you. Until conflict arises, that is, and the cycle continues.

People leaving their church when they are frustrated poses 4 problems:

  1. That person loses the opportunity to be refined by God (Zechariah 13:9) by walking through the painful process of facing that difficult relationship or situation
  2. The church loses the opportunity to be refined by God through that difficult situation
  3. God calls us, the church, to be unified (John 17:20-23)
  4. We are all ‘the church’, and if one of us has a problem, the whole body has a problem (1 Corinthians 12:26).

Our growth and maturity as a church is stunted if we settle for this way of handling conflict. It doesn’t matter who is right or wrong.

  • Are we in this church dealing with pride among the body AND the leaders (Jeremiah 49:16, 1 Corinthians 8:2)?

I often thought what a challenge pride would be for those in a place of power or popularity. The enemy will gladly use a stage to throw his arrows of temptation. I truly believe that pride is the enemy of ministry. And, I hope and pray that you, as the leaders, have a plan in place to always keep this on your radar.

  • Are we making disciples (Matthew 28:19)?

The business of the church is to make disciples, and to make disciple-makers. We must ask ourselves these questions. Are the people in our church disciples? Are we, ourselves, disciples? Are we all making disciples? Are we all repenting? Are we all baptizing?

Let’s not just teach what Jesus commanded, let’s teach people to OBEY what Jesus commanded.

“Most problems in contemporary churches can be explained by the fact that members have never decided to follow Christ.”   -Dallas Willard, The Great Omission

  • Are we caring for the weak and lowly within our walls as well as outside them (Ezekiel 34:3-4)?
  • Who do we most highly esteem in the church, the poor widows or the rich fools (Mark 12:41-44 & Luke 21:1-4)?

Jesus Christ didn’t look like a king. He was different than any leader of His day. He took nothing for Himself, He was not loud and aggressive. Do we as the church, put leaders in front of the people and on our stages that most resemble Christ? Or, do we put the most impressive, the most learned, the most credentialed, and the most attractive above others? Does the church choose its leaders any differently than secular society?

  • Are we speaking truth to each other (Ephesians 4:15)?
  • Are we rebuking each other when we fall into sin (galatians 6:1)?
  • Are we searching for the lost (Luke 15:1-7)?
  • Are we choosing the narrow path (Matthew 7:13–14)?
  • Are we guarding against false prophets (Matthew 7:15)?
  • Are we denying ourselves (Luke 9:23–25)?
  • Are we servants of all, including servants to each other (Matthew 20:26–28)?
  • Are we focused on storing up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19–21)?
  • Are we preparing ourselves for Christ’s return (Matthew 24:42–44)?
  • Are we unified? Are we one? (John 17:20-23)

God has burdened me for the church. It is so often on my heart and mind. I fight so hard not to do or say the wrong things, that most times I do or say nothing. The tug-of-war within me is between the fear of being prideful or wrong on one side, and the fear of spending my life standing for nothing on the other.

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. John 17:20-23

Don’t get me wrong, I love the church. It is this love for the body of Christ that fuels my passion. We don’t know the hour our Master will return, therefore, we must always be ready. I desire for the church to always be holy and blameless.

He made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.  Ephesians 1:9-10

The truth is that each one of us is the church. It is up to all of us to fight to keep the body of Christ alive with the fire of the Holy Spirit. I know that I will always have things to repent of and work on until that glorious day the Lord Jesus takes me home. So it is with the church. We must be vigilant about keeping it pure and beautiful as the bride of Christ.

It’s time for revival in our churches! It’s time for an awakening! As church members, are we fresh with the fire of the living God in our bellies?  Or, is it ‘business as usual?” Church is a big deal, brothers and sisters. We have to get this right!