Growing Young

            On October 16th this year I was the guest preacher for the Allentown Presbyterian Church in Allentown, New Jersey. Earlier that same weekend, I led a retreat for thirty men from that congregation. The Senior Pastor, my close friend Stephen Henziel-Nelson decided that the men would pack their bags on leave Avalon, New Jersey that morning and return in Allentown in time for the 11:00 a.m. service. I told Stephen I was happy to preach for him that morning; and he was happy to let me have the pulpit. So I preached at both morning worship services.

            A staff member opened each worship service with these exact words, “We believe our children and youth are not only the future of the church: They are vital to the church of today.” The first thing said Sunday morning after Sunday morning after, “Good Morning” is the above sentence. I can report to you that APC has kids, teenagers and young adults are everywhere.

We believe our children are . . . vital to the church of today.

            Like us, this congregation offers educational opportunities for every age between their two Sunday morning services. I sat in on an Adult class for a while and wandered through the building—children, youth and young adults everywhere you looked. The air was full of tangible energy and a vitality you could touch. The place was alive; alive with the joy and gladness of the Holy Spirit.

            I drove home early in the afternoon buzzing with happiness. I had a great time with the people of the Allentown Presbyterian Church. But also I thought this to myself as I drove my care: I want Thompson Church to grow a little younger.

            About a week later, I received the quarterly magazine from Fuller Theological Seminary. The theme for the Fall issue was Young People; and among the articles was one entitled, “Growing Young” written by Kara Powell, Jake Mulder and Brad Griffin. The article summarized a newly published book by the same authors with the same title.  Like many churches across our nation, TMPC has seen a decline in attendance and participation among our children, youth, young adults and their families. The book Growing Young: 6 Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church is the result of a massive study conducted by the Fuller Youth Institute where they looked closely at churches who are reaching young people and their families. They studied churches in a variety of settings and sizes, including denominational churches like ours. The book is in many ways a review of “best practices” of these churches. The journal, the article and the book all had the spine-tingling feeling of an answer to a prayer that I hadn’t been praying for very long. Some answers to prayer come way faster than others.

            I have almost completed reading Growing Young. I have highlighted sentences and paragraphs and made notes on almost every page. I am thinking about the learnings and suggestions of this research. I’d like to invite you to join me, members of our staff and our session in learning about growing younger.

            While I think that many of us will be interested and excited to learn about growing young, I also know that some will raise this concern: What about our senior members? Shouldn’t we be doing more for them? I think we can and should provide more care and support for our beloved older members, but I also believe that everyone benefits when lots of young people are around. In the book, a pastor with forty years of ministry says, “Everyone rises when you focus on children and teens.” An adult from another church said this, “Young people are like salt. When they’re included, they make everything taste better.” Here’s another way to think about it: Our ministry to children, youth and young adults together form the engine of the church. It’s great to have a roaring engine with lots of power to go.

            It’s often said that youth are the future of our church. No, they are the present of our church. They are the engine.

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For more information

 Here is a link to the article from Fuller Seminary: https://fullerstudio.fuller.edu/growing-young/

Here is a link to the website for Growing Young: http://churchesgrowingyoung.com/

 Copies of the book Growing Young: 6 Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church are available for purchase at $14. Copies can be found on the table across from the Table of Well Wishing.

 ADULT FORUM ON GROWING YOUNG – Beginning on Sunday, January 8th and continuing to Sunday, February 26th, the Adult Forum will explore the concepts of the book Growing Young. Pastors Spencer and Heckman, along with Seminary Interns Kelly LePenske and Jean Wilkinson present a biblical background for ministry to young people along with opportunities to discuss the concepts from the book. Sunday School teachers are invited to read the book. Bailey Heckman has plans for the teachers to gather for a discussion.