Tips for incorporating the next generation into your church community
A few years ago, researchers at the Fuller Youth Institute published, “Growing Young,” a book that studied why some churches attracted young people despite the trend of young people disengaging with their faith. They researched over 250 churches diverse in size, denomination, and ethnicity, and unearthed six core commitments of churches growing young. As churches remain online or begin to cautiously reopen, how can the church continue to reach youth? While the approaches may need to adjust, these six commitments can help us thoughtfully consider ways to support, include, and empower young people during these times.
Unlock keychain leadership
Instead of centralizing authority, empower others––especially young people.
What are some ways you can include and empower the young people in your church? Try asking young people to help enhance the technology used during your online service or research different platforms the church can use to meet the needs of your varying members. If you’re returning to in-person services, invite young people to be a part of the reopening team, both as a part of the planning stage and in volunteering the day of.
Empathize with today’s young people
Instead of judging or criticizing, step into the shoes of this generation.
A Pew research study showed that “one quarter of workers ages 16 to 24 have lost their jobs during the coronavirus downturn.” In the same study, they noted that adults 18-29 were more than twice as likely to report high levels of emotional distress than those 65 and older. Seemingly now more than ever, young people need members of the church to see and hear them. Send a text message or call a young person to check-in. It could make a world of difference.
Take Jesus’ message seriously
Instead of asserting formulaic gospel claims, welcome young people into a Jesus-centered way of life.
As we face two pandemics, COVID-19 and racism, young people are trying to make sense of how it all fits with their faith. Young people need members of their church family to engage with them in the wrestle. Give them a call or meet up for a socially distanced coffee. Don’t shy away from hard conversations, but lean in together, with Jesus Christ at the center (not denominational politics). Odds are, you’ll learn something, too.
Fuel a warm community
Instead of focusing on cool worship or programs, aim for warm peer and intergenerational friendships
Maybe your church can’t afford the multi-camera, high production online service experience. But that’s alright—it’s not the most important. The research for the book revealed that young people ranked community as more important than a cool worship experience. Whether you’re continuing online services or beginning to resume in-person, think of ways to foster community between generations. You could try inviting young people to be a part of your ministry to elders or particularly vulnerable populations. Or go online long-term. Pew research also shows that 62% of adults under 30 said the internet has been essential during the outbreak, so consider continuing to use online gatherings as you navigate reopening (you can use online games like these on Jackbox.TV).
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.
Don’t just say you care, show it. Invite young people to be a part of your service, whether online or in-person. Pay attention to their strengths and find opportunities for them to put their strengths to use during this time. Listen to what they need in this season and show support in that way. Maybe that means creating a job board or organizing online or socially distanced hangouts.
Be the best neighbors
Instead of condemning the world outside your walls, enable young people to neighbor well locally and globally.
There’s a lot of hurt happening in our communities due to COVID-19 and the persistent racism in our society. Brainstorm with your young people on how your church can be a better neighbor. Study a book together on anti-racism. Ask how both pandemics are impacting your community and find ways to help. Look beyond your walls (both physical and virtual) and encourage young people to take their faith into their community.
As plans for reopening develop, remember the youth.
As plans for reopening develop, remember the youth. They are an important part of the church body. Include plans to serve them, but also to let them serve others. Yes, crisis brings extra challenges and adjustments need to be made. But it can also cause us, including youth, to unite and move forward together. These commitments can help us remember youth, whether online or in-person.