In late 2016, a team from Fuller Youth Institute published Growing Young: 6 Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church. That book is accompanied by several free resources that can be accessed here.
Through their research, Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin identified six things that churches who engage in meaningful ministry with young people do well. This series will briefly identify each of the six strategies and share a story of a place in the United Methodist connection doing that strategy well.
In Growing Young, one of the key strategies is to “Fuel a Warm Community." In this chapter they say that young people are not looking for the coolest program or even worship. They long for church and its community to be deep in genuine relationships and connections . . . "A place to belong."
This is further emphasized and backed up by the research done by the Search Institute that identifies 40 assets (of which involvement in weekly religious activity is one), and states the more assets young people possess, the higher their self-esteem and the lower involvement in risk taking behavior. “Places of faith have great potential to provide experiences, relationships, opportunities, skills and qualities that help young people thrive and make responsible, healthy choices.”
As I further explored the suggestions in this chapter, I thought of a young person who I recently accompanied to a meeting with their pastor. This young person described church as “home, the place where he felt grounded and cared for.”
This statement was the core of what this strategy was all about. Some of the ideas for action strategies that they suggest (but they emphasize not trying all at once) that I felt were particularly helpful were the following:
- Honest Relationship Builds Belonging - Showing up for young people at their activities and events, inviting them for meals and being “real” in their conversations which included honesty, listening and creating trust around their struggles and shortcomings.
- Warm Intergenerational Relationships Grow Everyone Young - Less time for isolated programming, more time for open truly shared experiences in worship, small group and fellowship, all learning and growing together.
- 5:1 Ratio of ADULTS and Young People – 5 adults committing to nurturing and supporting one youth through prayer, encouragement and honest connections.
- Pray Warmly --- (I love this!) One approach to this was every Sunday all generations write down prayer requests on sticky notes and they are posted on the wall. Later, others take a sticky note and commit to pray for the requests.
- Rethinking Small Groups - No long term commitment, instead brought together for an interest, a particular sermon series for example, with no expectation of regular attendance. Intentional “on ramp activities” such as an all church retreat that allows people to get to know each other and feel comfortable with joining, and then changing their small group attendance.
- Long term nurturing of the relationships - This can be done with a single team of leaders staying with the same group of young people through each grade until graduation, keeping in touch and showing care to graduates when they head to college as to know they continue to be loved, and an important part of the church.
- Finally, my own thoughts as a United Methodist to this shift in becoming “Cool” would be to recognize those young people for which church has become “family” and “home” and realizing they need help during those times of transition of youth pastors, senior pastors and sometimes programs and practices that often occur during the appointment process. This is just like someone from their family moving away and leaving them (sometimes yet again) and they don’t always have the skills, the family support to navigate the “new” that is happening in their life of faith and in their church. Be intentional in helping young people process and move forward.
Growing Young: 6 Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church by Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin. CHAPTER 5: Fueling a Warm Community
Sticky Faith: Kara Powell & Chap Clark
Intergrating Assets into Congregations James Conway, M.Div, in cooperation with The Search Institute Practical Research Benefiting Children and Youth