Growing young: How to save our church

Young adult leader at the Youth Empowerment Summit. Credit: Murray Hunter

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I was privileged to attend Australia’s most important meetings recently. There were presidents and doctors and leading experts present. There was even a delegation from New Zealand! Although I had no particular expertise in the area being discussed, I did have a special interest and I was glad to be invited to report on the event.

What were these meetings, you ask? I was at the Youth Engagement Summit for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Australia (AUC).

Were they really the most important meetings in the country on that Sabbath morning? They were, according to Pastor Murray Hunter, special media officer for the AUC. And I tend to agree with him. We were discussing the very survival of the Adventist Church.

Our commission to make disciples and share the unique message of our faith is still as necessary as ever but our churches are growing older. Many young people are leaving the Church once they reach independence.

Don’t despair though, there is good news. The issue is being tackled—there is agreement and unity of purpose across the Church in Australia and there are practical things we can do (corporately/locally) to help the Church grow young.

According to the Churches Engaging Young People study, there are six core commitments common in churches that are “growing young”: empowering/giving responsibility to young people, empathising with them, making sure the church’s message is centred on Jesus, having a warm, loving community, prioritising young people and families, and allowing young people opportunities to “neighbour” well (service in the local and global community).

If your church doesn’t look like this, there may be something wrong.

The strategies common to churches that grow young do not negatively affect other generations, but improve the health and growth of the church in all areas. The reality is that churches who grow young reach all generations more effectively. “In a kingdom win/win, stronger ministry to young people bulks up the ministry muscles of the entire congregation” (Powell, Mulder and Griffin, Growing Youth, p 42). Maybe you can’t change the culture of your conference or even your local church, but there are simple things you can do. Some of these things your church may be doing already. Some you may be personally doing. That’s OK. It’s always good to be affirmed and reminded.

Parents, it starts with you. According to youth and family ministry expert Chap Clark, parents are the “single greatest influence on a child’s faith”. Have family worship at home as often as possible. But involve the children, don’t just speak at them. Let them read, ask questions or lead out. [pullquote]

And if you’re a man, especially a father, the onus is on you. It’s not popular to tell men to stand up and lead these days, but faith transfer has proven to be more effective when fathers demonstrate faith for their children. So men, in your homes you need to take an active interest or role in faith building. Talk about your faith in front of and with your children. You may not have kids, or your children are adults and have moved away or left the church. You still have an important role to play. Mentoring and looking out for children are crucial. Let the children at church know they matter and you have their back. Identify children in your church who attend without their father or don’t have a father and invest in them, providing them with male role models.

Be strategic. Speak to other men at church and see who is interested in investing in young people this way so that no-one is left out.

Speak to a young person (or three) in your church (find out their name) and ask them what they would like you to pray for in their lives. Commit to praying for them every day and when you see them at church again, tell them you’ve been praying for them and ask if there is anything else they’d like prayer for.

Do these things on a regular basis and our children will feel like valued members of our church community. They are not the future, they are the present.

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