Churches with an X-Factor?
Over the next weeks, we will be releasing two PodCast episodes developed in conjunction with the National Youth Ministry Convention (NYMC) that dives deeper into Fuller Youth Institute’s latest research on Churches that are Growing Young(er) rather than older. In this PodCast, we explore whether this research is pointing to an X-Factor that some churches just have that allows them to engage with a younger generation and helps their faith to grow.
To some extent, Fuller Youth Institute’s Growing Young research is a hunt for an ‘X-Factor’ – it is trying to get at a ‘something’ that makes all the difference, but that ‘something’ is hard to describe and difficult to nail down. The dynamics unpacked by Growing Young are subtle but powerful, hidden but right there in your face, simple but not simplistic.
In a previous post, we have already introduced you to the Growing Young research and the way it represents the next wave of research into faith amidst the younger generation – in particular churches that appear to be engaging the younger generation and helping them to grow resilient faith.
It goes without saying that this is not about the right program, the right style of worship, the right music. Churches who grow young don’t have a parallel universe for youth and young adults that is getting it right, while the rest of church is for adults. Churches who grow young make a whole-of-church commitment to growing the faith life of young people – because when churches focus on growing younger, everybody grows.
If you jump on to the Growing Young website, you can read a summary of their research and their 6 Core Commitments that are found in churches that grow young.
This is not what we are talking about on this podcast.
Here we take a helicopter view at the research and identify that there are two dynamics at play:
- Churches that grow younger relate to young people in very particular ways (Keychain Leadership, Empathising with Young People, Prioritising Young People, Warm); and
- Churches that grow younger relate to (youth) culture in very particular ways (Taking Jesus Message Seriously, Being the Best Neighbour)
Ultimately, if there is an X-Factor, it is found not in the programs of the church, but in the culture. It is found in the space that between older and young generations, it is found in the place that young people maintain in the way the community of church operates; it is laid bare by the way young people are seen (or not seen), heard (or not heard), witnessed (or not witnessed) in and around the routine ebb-and-flow or church life.
Ultimately, if a church is growing younger, you can see it in the eyes of the older and younger generations when they engage with one another. It is that simple, and that powerful.
In this first podcast, we focus on the church’s relationship to young people and speak directly to some of challenging insights found by growing young. These include:
- Growing Young takes Leadership – but this kind of leadership is not about being directive. Instead it is about a genuine handing over of authority to young people, allowing them to influence what happens around the church, encouraging their faith to shape the activities and ministries of the church. But …
- Discipleship is NOT about Institutional Incorporation. Churches who are focused upon young people ‘serving’ are too often coopted by their own need to have people involved to keep the wheels turning – and when this is spiritualised, it becomes manipulative. Instead, churches that grow young are places that are first of all places of belonging – and when young people feel like they belong, they will give their all (but don’t manipulate this either!).
- You DO NOT need a critical mass of young people to begin with. Growing Young is about older generations becoming interested and concerned in young people – so much so that they can empathise with their experience rather than judge it from a distance. (The book is filled with stories of churches that have come back from the brink, not because they had a critical mass, but because they chose to genuinely re-orient themselves around the faith of young people)
- It is about adults and young people together. Young people need a network of support – and the magic number is 5. Yup, when a young person has five adults who are ‘go to’ people when the going gets tough, and five ‘spiritual friendships’ with peers with whom the are ruggedly honest – this provides the kind of support that can span across the years, across major life transitions, and across changing pastors.
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