Growing Young in Your Context
Context is critical. Never forget that while we may learn from the experiences of others, how what has been learned is lived out in your context will most likely look very different. A strength in one congregation’s experience with the “Growing Young Wheel” may be the commitment that is most challenging for your congregation. This isn’t about comparison with one another, nor is this about having the biggest youth group in town. This is about being church together. This is about focus on the one who called us to be church in the first place, Jesus. Continuous prayer and commitment to knowing Jesus and who Jesus is calling us to be is the driving force behind all of this.
It is easy to forget why we care about this stuff at all. Sometimes our fears overtake our faith and we begin to focus on our success, on how things look to other people. It is a spiritual practice of humility that can pull us back to the original calling. We really can’t do this on our own.
Chapter 8 is a helpful wrap up because it brings us back to focus on what’s really important. It shares a story of one congregation and how it embodied the six core commitments, three myths about growing young to watch out for, and provides a guide for creating your church’s plan for adaptive change.
I was struck by the story about St. John’s, at the beginning of the chapter. I wasn’t struck by how this “growing old” congregation changed their ways and became a “growing young” congregation. Instead, I was struck by the recollection shared by an older parishioner who shared how they felt about having younger people around in the congregation. She said, “It felt like they were scared of me, or like they didn’t want to talk to an older person.” I couldn’t help but wonder if she ever followed up this feeling and asked any of the young people if this thought was true? I wonder because this sounds like a something I’ve heard many times from older congregation members. They assume the younger people don’t want to talk to them because they are afraid to talk to them; yet, I see this is a projection of their own fear.
Unfortunately, many older people feel this way. They assume young people don’t want to talk to them or know them at all, when in fact the opposite is true. Of course, how this conversation looks may not be as they expect, but it doesn’t negate the fact that the young person needs this adult to notice them and speak to them. I know this can go both ways, that older people need to know they matter to younger people. However, in my work within the church for so many years, I’ve grown to believe that the instigation must be made by the adult. It is their experience that needs to be modeled here as they overcome their own fears and reach out to the youth. This is the value of their age and life experience. As they reach out more and more often, the young people will reciprocate and be forever changed. As these young people grow up, they will enact the same behavior that was modeled for them, thus the chain of intergenerational connection continues. I believe it is the job of leaders to encourage and support our older adults to accept this call and live it within their congregation.
Perhaps, as you read this book and consider ways to enact the core commitments shared, this might be one small call to action that you will challenge yourself to accept? How will it look for you as a leader to support your older adults to model relationship in this way? How will it look for you to model this behavior wherever you go? Remember, a commitment is not just something you try once and move on. Commitments take time, practice, reminders, teamwork, and support from others. This is not about you, this is not about us and them, this is about God’s church on earth.
At the end of the day, the decision to grow young is not rooted in statistics or strategies… It’s rooted in prayerfully seeking God’s call for your congregation… Take courage (278).