Joys and Fears as we Apply “Growing Young” in our Backyard

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Everywhere I go lately I mention the book Growing Young by Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin.
It is my new favourite book.
I sincerely hope we pay it ample attention and work at applying it in Atlantic Canada.
It is a great tool to help us bridge generation gaps and engage all ages in joining God in our neighbourhoods.

Here is the background.
The Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) found 259 bright spot churches across denominations in the United States.  These bright spot churches are engaging young people age 15 to 29 and they are growing – spiritually, emotionally, missionally, and sometimes also numerically. FYI conducted surveys, interviews and visits to discover any common denominators between these bright spot churches. As they looked at the research they slowly came up with the six essential strategies to help young people discover and love your church.

As I have read the book and had conversation with churches and leaders in Atlantic Canada, here are my joys and fears as we apply Growing Young here in Atlantic Canada.

JOYS
Here are my joys as we seek to apply Growing Young here:

1. No excuses – I have been pleased to see that although the research is American it clearly can apply to our churches here. It is clear in the research that these “bright spot” churches that are reaching youth and young adults are not a precise size, not all in a certain location (urban or rural), they are not all new or old churches, they have various budget sizes, and cross denomination and non-denominational lines. The joy is, this research takes away our excuses in Atlantic Canada. We cannot say we don’t have enough money, aren’t in the right spot or aren’t big enough. We can grow our churches younger here.

2. We can do this – As you read Growing Young you, like me, will realize it is doable. It is not rocket science, there are practical things churches can do to commit to connecting or reconnecting with younger generations. There are steps your church can take to beginning moving in a growing younger direction now. Each chapter contains ideas for action and strategic questions to help your church unlock each of the six essential strategies.

3. We don’t need to be cool – This was a real joy and relief for me! You’ll see it pop up again and again in the book that reaching the younger generations does not take an off the charts cool quotient, watered-down teaching or a super entertaining program. In fact, the younger generations most value authenticity and transparency.  Good news, I do not have to be cool, in fact it is better if I’m just myself.

FEARS
Here are my concerns as we look to apply Growing Young here:

1.       We’ll only make tweaks – My fear is churches will just make a small tweak, and say “There, we tried.” It is clear that the bright spot churches that are growing young had a cultural shift that permeated the whole church. Many our churches need a cultural shift towards their neighbourhoods, towards the younger generations. It starts with one step but it cannot end there.

2.       Senior Pastor/Solo Pastors will pass the buck – My fear is Senior Pastor or Solo Pastors will not pay attention to this important research and its implications, instead they will assume “That’s just for Youth and Children Pastors.” All levels of leadership need to own the responsibility to reach and engage younger generations with the Gospel. We are not going to turn this ship around if we don’t work together. The solution cannot work if it just involves children, youth and young adults, the solution needs to involved the whole church and Christian community.

3.       Older generations will say “Not my problem” – My fear is older generations will feel they cannot do anything or that their church is too “old” so they will not even try to get started. The truth is older congregation really can do a lot to reach and embrace younger generations, discovering a new vibrancy for their whole church along the way.

4.       We are too afraid to experiment – As I’ve been talking to churches about reaching younger generations, they start telling me the things they have done in the past or the little things they are doing now. How do I say this politely? – “It is not working.” If you look around and it is all white hairs it is essential to do something new to reach younger generations. I’m so thankful for these churches that are having the conversation, asking the right questions and inviting the Youth and Family team in to stir up ideas and discussion. However, talk is just beginning, we have to be willing to experiment in our churches. Please try some new things, go further in some of the ideas. It is going to take some trial and error, a willingness to stick some experiments out for a while, and a desire to change some things up for the sake of younger generation responding to the Gospel, growing in the faith and engaging in your community together.

Need help?
I highly recommend all our churches read Growing Young and discuss what it looks like to become a bright spot church in Atlantic Canada that is reaching 15 to 29 year olds.
If any of us on the CBAC Youth and Family team can help facilitate these conversations, we would be happy to help. We are gathering examples of where we see each of these six essential strategies happening in churches in Atlantic Canada. We are praying for a renewed commitment to grow young together.
Fuller Youth Institute has a number of helpful resource to help you apply Growing Young to your context at http://churchesgrowingyoung.com/

Here is a sneak peek at the 6 Core Commitments Your Church Needs to Grow Young

  1. Unlock keychain leadership
  2. Empathize with today’s young people
  3. Take Jesus’ message seriously
  4. Fuel a warm community
  5. Prioritize young people (and families) everywhere
  6. Be the best neighbours

We are here to help. Together, let’s grow younger!
-Renée @r_embree
@cbacyf
#1neighbourhood 

Renee Embree