Over the last decade, a lot has been written about the “graying” of the local churches across the country. The Center for Creative Ministry coined the phrase “the graying of Adventism” in observing the rising median age of the membership in many Seventh-day Adventist churches.* Having pastored a local church for more than 40 years, this shifting is alarming to me, for it indicates the inability of the local church to attract or keep youth and young adults. Without addressing the inclusion of younger generations, the local church’s own existence is doomed sooner or later.
I have absorbed a lot of information about why this loss of younger generations is happening and what to do about it. I found some of the advice valuable. But sometimes the suggestions seemed to take on a quick, “stop-gap” type of solution rather than a well-thought-out plan. Growing Young, a Fuller Youth Institute resource, appears to contain just such a matured plan.
Powell, Mulder, and Griffin used the resources available to them at Fuller Theological Seminary to understand what was really happening to those aged 15 to 29. In reviewing more than 80 books and interviewing the staffs of 363 churches, they were able to recognize six linked factors which churches that were growing young have.
What the book focuses on are six core commitments the local church needs to grow young. Here is their brief summary of those six core commitments:
1. Unlock keychain leadership. Instead of centralizing authority, empower others—especially young people.
2. Empathize with today’s young person. Instead of judging or criticizing, step into the shoes of this generation.
3. Take Jesus’ message seriously. Instead of asserting formulaic gospel claims, welcome young people into a Jesus-centered way of life.
4. Fuel a warm community. Instead of focusing on cool worship or programs, aim for warm peer and intergenerational friendships.
5. Prioritize young people (and families) everywhere. Instead of giving lip service to how much young people matter, look for creative ways to tangibly support, resource, and involve them in all facets of your congregation.
6. Be the best neighbors. Instead of condemning the world outside your walls, enable young people to neighbor well locally and globally.
Although none of those factors listed were of surprise to me, it was how the authors pulled each of those core commitments into a revolving wheel where each core commitment fed into the next that did. Churches that were growing young had incorporated into their church DNA those core commitments. Their research also showed that before any one of those core commitments, opportunity for the local church to opt out, and head back towards growing old, could and does happen.
After a chapter devoted to each of those six core commitments, the authors devote a chapter to how to implement all six into the local context of my church. I found their process of change important and of great value to me. I have asked my main leadership team to read the book, and then we will meet to discuss how we can establish these six core commitments into our church missional ministry.
—Reviewed by Bill Bossert, DMin, pastor of the Naples Seventh-day Adventist Church, Naples, Florida, United States.
* Monte Sahlin and Paul Richardson, Seventh-day Adventists in North America: A Demographic Profile (Milton Freewater, OR: Center for Creative Ministry, 2008), 5, accessed March 7, 2017, circle.adventist .org/files/icm/nadresearch/NADDemographic.pdf.