Authors of New Book on Church Growth say Young People Aren’t Looking for ‘Cool, Flashy’ Services, but ‘Real Warmth’

Young people sing and pray at Together 2016, a Christian revival in July on the Mall in Washington. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)
Young people sing and pray at Together 2016, a Christian revival in July on the Mall in Washington. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

So many churches pour money and energy into flashy worship services meant to make teenagers and young adults think that church is cool.

But it turns out cool isn’t what young people want. Forget the rock-band vibe and the flashing lights. Warm is the new cool.

For our book “Growing Young,” we researched more than 250 congregations. When we spoke to more than 1,300 young churchgoers, ages 15 to 29, they told us what they want: authenticity and connection.

In a word: warmth.

When we analyzed the terms that young adults used to describe the churches or parishes that they chose, we noticed repeated words: welcoming, accepting, belonging, authentic, hospitable and caring. We began to call this the “warmth cluster.”

Across the board in statistical analyses, this warmth cluster emerged as a stronger variable than any ministry program. Ironically, it is possible that your church might be working against warmth by offering myriad programs. Busyness doesn’t equal warmth.

By suggesting that churches need to grow warmer, we don’t mean adults should be nice to young people. Nice does not cut it. And warmth is more than superficial community. It’s “like family” — as young people told us again and again during our interviews and field visits.

Here are some ideas to help your church become a warmer community:

  • Redirect your budget to facilitate warmth whenever you can. At one multiethnic church, we were struck when volunteer leaders told us that they all have meal budgets. Every small group leader in the youth ministry is encouraged to take students out for meals or treats regularly as part of their formation process. The students trumpeted the value of this investment, as you’d expect from teenagers who are getting fed. But it wasn’t just about food; when describing their meal conversations, students used many of the phrases common to warm communities that emerged in our research.
  • Encourage intergenerational worship. Intergenerational relationships grow everyone young by breaking the silos of age- and stage-based ministry. Consider setting up mentorship pairings so teens and parent- or grandparent-aged people can learn from each other. Make sure that young people have plenty of opportunities to worship not just in youth groups but side by side with older generations, so youth can learn from their elders’ dedication and older people can be inspired by youthful enthusiasm.

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SOURCE: Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin 
The Washington Post

The authors’ book “Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church” comes out this month from Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group