Prioritize Young People (and Families) Everywhere
This chapter is important because it cuts to the heart of it all. The idea of prioritizing young people and families remains just that in many churches, a nice idea that is an assumed reality without being followed up by intentional action.
As someone who has dedicated their lives to making this prioritization more than just a nice idea, it can be almost heartbreaking when I see this good intention go no further than rhetoric within a church community. Self-inflicted blinders, monetary stresses, pseudo-community, and more all distract from the real work it takes to make the prioritization of young people a reality.
When churches prioritize young people – and their families – everywhere, they take a step beyond both empathy and warmth. They allocate resources, energy, and attention to teenagers and young adults both inside and outside their walls (200).
When it comes to truly embracing and celebrating young people and families within your congregation, it takes going the extra steps necessary to make the connection. It takes an intentional focus “both inside and outside” church walls.
Unfortunately for many congregations, this priority comes out of a reaction to the fear of death. Young people and families are seen as a means to an end rather than full participants in the life of the church. Families offer unique perspectives, gifts, and vitality to the life of the church. They aren’t simply a way to fend off declining membership. Young people are ready to explore their gifts and need opportunities to have these gifts bloom; they are full of ideas; and have the energy to make them realities. They aren’t just cheap labor to include when in need of setting up or tearing down an annual event.
The explicate commitment to prioritizing young people and families cannot be restated enough, but this prioritization is not just found in programming.
When talking about their church’s effectiveness with young people, 2 out of 3 pastors named their church’s attitudes and attributes, not specific programs… In short, even a great leader can’t force priority if the church culture doesn’t support it (214).
Wondering about your church’s culture? A church’s culture can be discovered in the ways relationships, traditions, and rituals are lived out within the community. Does your relational culture thrive on parking lot conversations? How strictly does your congregation ascribe to “how things have always been done”? Answers to these questions will give you clues to the shape of your church culture.
This chapter closes with some practical ideas on how to make the priority of young people a reality in your congregation. My favorite ideas with very short summaries are:
- Assess Everywhere: Using a “red-light, yellow-light, green-light” metric, gather others and list current ministries of the church (be as inclusive as possible. Assign a color to each based on how much young people are prioritized in that area. (Not just present, but PRIORITIZED.)
- Revisit Who Fundraises – and for What: Evaluate the fundraisers at your church. Who leads them? Whom and what do they benefit? A question on this topic to ponder, “We don’t send out senior adults to raise funds for their own ministry or mission trip. Why do we do it with students?”
- Diversify to Meet 24- to 29-Year-Olds Where They Are: Gather a few of the young people in their mid to upper twenties in your church and ask them to share both what they appreciate about what your church does now to connect with them and ideas for better addressing the needs of their age group. Do not assume that they will want a programmatic response.
Closing take away from this chapter…
Theologically, we stand on solid ground when we prioritize young people everywhere in our congregation. Jesus led the way for us in his shocking attention to children and his reorientation of the community around them. It was a disproportionate prioritization. What would it look like if your church took the same approach to children, teenagers, and young adults today (221)?
If you would like to order your own copy, or would like to learn more about this book and research, please visit Churches Growing Young.