Growing Young: Not Just a Fantasy

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Remember the 2008 film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button? Brad Pitt plays a man who is born old and who ages in reverse. At the time I remember basically liking the film, but being bothered by how hard it was to truly believe in a character that was growing young. I remember constantly asking myself how could this actually work. I wonder if this might be the same conundrum that congregations discover themselves in. Whether finding themselves on an overall aging trajectory or noticing a slow leak in their young adult population—they feel that there is no going back. Growing old is the way of the world. Can we really reverse the aging process?  

Growing Young: 6 essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church by Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin (2016, Baker Books) and the next installment from the folks who gave us the Sticky Faith books, says YES! There are ways to address the leak and change the trajectory. But rather than pulling a Benjamin Button, which in fact is not realistic, Growing Young reminds us that we serve a God who continues to make all things new. He is a God who restores and renews. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, the church can reverse the process.

Here are 5 reasons that I believe Growing Young is an important book for the whole church community (not just pastoral staff or council members or education committees) to read and reflect upon:

This book does not address the challenge of aging with a cosmetic approach. Rather than advising more and flashier technology or younger and hipper staff, Growing Young helps churches address some cross-cultural barriers that will produce deeper, more lasting change in their engagement with today’s youth and young adults. Further, unlike a quick nip and tuck approach to stave off the aging process, the authors of this book encourage us to dig deep into relationships, be generous in sharing leadership and most importantly, to continue to take Jesus’ message seriously.  

The book focuses on asset based development. It will help readers identify what they are already doing right and where there are places of energy and synergy to give lift to some of the strategies.

Most CRCs will be able to identify themselves in this discussion. Whether large or small, rural or urban, quickly or more slowly graying, the strategies offered here are applicable to most of the congregations I have been working with in my role with Faith Formation Ministries. This book will speak to most of our congregations.

While addressing the aging of a church’s cultural mindset, the book does not ask churches to abandon their seniors. There is no either/or, no win/lose. The process of growing young benefits the entire body. Furthermore, it engages the entire body which is a blessing to everyone.

The strategies are practical and “doable.” There can be great power in small steps. Just think about how the addition of 7 new leaders in Acts 6 impacted both the strength of that early Church community as well as its witness in the broader community. The strategies in this book range from small steps to challenging attitudinal and cultural shifts.  There is a strategy for your church.  

Like the Sticky Faith series, Growing Young is researched based. The research supports and the anecdotal evidence illuminates while being written in an accessible manner which makes it a good read for everyone who loves the Church and loves young people and wants to see them engage each other.

If you are interested in continuing this conversation or are looking for other tools to support your church’s engagement with youth and young adults look for the Inter-generational Church toolkit coming soon or contact me at lvanmilligen@crcna.org

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