Monday, February 27, 2017

Growing Young

This past week I attended a seminar on Growing Young led by Kara Powell, one of the authors of the book by the same name. The seminar was hosted by the Center for Congregations, an organization that is a real blessing to the churches here in Indiana.

I had actually purchased and read the book last fall but was quite excited to learn that Kara would be here to lead a day-long seminar on the material in the book. The book is the result of extensive research with over 250 congregations that are successfully reaching teens and young adults. In that research they identified six things that these churches are doing that allows them to effectively reach these young people.

My reason for reading this book and attending the seminar is probably the same as the other attendees. The vast majority of churches are not effectively reaching young people. At a recent Church Council meeting we heard about declining Sunday school attendance, especially in the children's and young adult classes. Teens and young adults ages 18-29 make up a small minority of our congregation. I wanted to know what churches that are reaching these young people are doing.

I did not want a three-step approach guaranteed to reach young people (OK, I would have taken that even though I know it's not going to be that simple.), and that's not what we were given. We were taught important ways our church's culture needs to be changed that will make it more appealing to young people.

One example of this was called unlocking keychain leadership. We all remember the first time we were given the keys to the family car. We felt empowered and trusted. We felt the responsibility that went along with that trust. The same is true when we give keys to the young people in the church. The authors write, "When we refer to keys, we mean the capabilities, power, and access of leaders that carry the potential to empower young people." They later write, "If you are willing to entrust your keys to young people, they will trust you with their hearts, their energy, their creativity, and even their friends."

When I first read this in the book I made a note in the margin. As a young man in my late 20s our family became very involved in a local church. The pastor asked me one day if I had ever felt called to become a minister. I admitted I had, and we talked about that. Sometime later he handed me the key to his study. He knew I enjoyed reading, and he wanted to make his library available to me. I was free to use it any time I wanted.

That key opened up a whole new world to me. There were shelves filled with theology books, books on ministry, commentaries, and more, and I had access to them. But that key meant more to me that just the accessibility of the books. It meant that I had a relationship with the pastor who entrusted me with a valuable possession, his library. As a young man, and a relatively new Christian, my pastor invested himself in me, and a couple of years later I accepted God's call on my life to become a minister.

Who are the young people in your church you can trust with leadership responsibilities? What keys can you turn over to them, and what is the likely impact of you doing that? Is that even possible in your church, or does the culture in your church need to change?

If you are interested in seeing your congregation reach more teens and young adults I would recommend you to read Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church. If Kara Powell is in your area leading the seminar on this book I would highly recommend you attend it as well, and be sure to take others from the church with you. It will make interesting conversation on the way home!

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