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.
Copywriters are some of the most creative people. They simplify a message so it sticks. Long after we have viewed or heard the commercial, we remember it. For example, State Farm’s mantra is “Like a Good Neighbor, State Farm is there.”
Growing Young reminds the church that its goal needs to be to “Neighbor Well.” But it is not an easy task because it requires us to raise question after question after question. Questions are difficult for the church and its leadership at times. But to “Neighbor Well” is to ask the questions.
With a trifecta of Scripture – Leviticus 19, Matthew 22 and Luke 10 – the authors insist that churches who are growing young dig deeper to find the answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” It is not a rhetorical question, but a conversation starter as individuals seek to know their communities in an authentic and transformative manner. It requires moving beyond the surface to listening to those you encounter, observing the ritual of the community life and most importantly, moving outside the church’s walls.
When one knows his or her neighbor, it is a little easier to respond with authenticity to the question, “How can I serve?” Most churches practice some form of acts of mercy -- doing good works, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination, and addressing the needs of the poor, but when you know your neighbor, you can respond to specific needs rather than general needs.
For example, Church of the Resurrection discovered that many of its neighbors did not have food to sustain them throughout the weekend. This led to their backpack ministry, which provides families with groceries for the weekend. A church in Alabama found that many residents in their neighborhood had no access to laundry facilities. Their response was to open a laundromat in the church’s basement. Recently, Columbia Drive United Methodist Church provided meals to the basketball teams when they made it to the playoffs and there was not money in the school budgets for meals. These acts of mercy grew out of churches knowing their neighboring community.
But there is another question, you must ask yourself if you are going to “Neighbor Well.” How will deal you with difficult issues?
Researchers suggest to “Neighbor Well” requires congregations to create space for diversity and “Holy Conversation.” Churches are not afraid to tackle tough issues, but foster a spirit of healthy dialogue among its members and community. These congregations shift the focus from the result to the process, which fosters a healthy atmosphere where growth and learning occurs.
“Churches that grow young recognize the careful dance that values both fidelity to scripture’s commands for holiness and knowing and graciously loving their neighbor,” the authors said. “This doesn’t imply wholehearted acceptance, or that your church should pretend real differences do not exist. However, hospitable neighbors maintain both dialogue and relationship, especially when they disagree.”