Fuller Theological Seminary is on the cutting edge of research on churches that are effectively engaging young people. I have looked into having one of the authors / researchers speak at THE GATHERING next year, but until I am able to work that out, let me share some of their findings that are reported in their book, Growing Young: 6 Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church (Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin). Here are a few interesting take-a-ways:
- The highest response of what kept young people in church was not programing but personal relationships – relationships with seasoned leaders, as well with other youth. Learn to understand your young people: Emphasize with them. “In other words, it’s siting on the curb of a young person’s life, celebrating their dreams and grieving over their despair.”
- US teens are not hostile towards religion, but they do not care much about it either.
- Effective youth-focused churches help young people take Jesus’ message seriously and guide them in to a Jesus-centered way of life. In so doing, they are not afraid to let young people voice their questions about the Bible and wrestle with doubt.
- The authors of Growing Young emphasize that churches that effectively reach young people are open to dialogue with outsiders and don’t treat culture as the enemy. Having said that, one of the biggest challenges is knowing how to deal with such cultural influences as sexual identity and gay marriage. “Churches that grow young recognize the careful dance that values both fidelity to Scripture’s commands for holiness and knowing and graciously loving their neighbors.”
- Rather than merely inviting students to attend and volunteer, effective youth-focused churches entrust and empower students to make a difference in the life of the church.
- Churches that are effectively growing young disciples go beyond rhetoric about loving the youth and that they are the key to the future. These churches genuinely prioritize young people and their interests in programs, budget, and participation.