Kara Powell, Jake Mulder and Brad Griffin
Baker Books, 336 pages
Reviewed by Emily Chudy
“We want a pastor that can bring in young people.” This mantra often echoes through meetings of pastor nominating committees across our denomination.
While new pastors are called and initiatives to draw in younger demographics begin, the mystery of the missing youth and young adults is a continuing conversation. As a younger pastor who has spent my entire adolescence on the fringes of these conversations in the communities where I worshipped, I always felt like JoJo-the-Who from Dr. Seuss’s story shouting, “We are here! We are here!” to be heard only by those with attentive ears.
“Growing Young,” written by Fuller Youth Institute senior staff Kara Powell, Jake Mulder and Brad Griffin (the “Sticky Faith” team), offers a fresh approach on the subject. Instead of focusing on where young people are not, they shine a reflective light on the youth and young adults that are present in churches and the congregations that nurture them well. By studying 15- to 29-year-olds in congregations identified by multi-denominational leadership, practical theology scholars and expert practitioners in the fields of youth and young adult ministry, this book goes beyond statistics to capture what is working and why. It’s realistic, contextually aware, practical and, ultimately, full of hope.
Presented in eight chapters, “Growing Young” weaves 15 years of research on adolescence and emerging adulthood throughout its stories and substance. Key points are visually represented on a wheel that shows a cyclical process the team has seen in congregations that welcome and nurture genuine young disciples. This cycle not only impacts the youth and young adults; it changes the congregation alongside them. These core commitments include empathy, Jesus’ message, warm relationships and prioritization of youth and families.
Building on an idea they call “keychain leadership” (the handing over of the “keys” of skills, power and access from the adult leaders to the young people in their midst), churches that trust youth to enter into leadership themselves and are authentic about the invitation to do so stand out. This process is about opening doors for and empowering youth in ministry and illuminates the remarkable things that the Spirit does when we get out of the way. The authors shine a new light on everything from looking at relationships differently to a new definition of mission and engagement.
Here, what seminary students study for entire semesters is synthesized and interpreted into concrete and understandable concepts accessible not only to pastors and Christian educators, but to faith formation teams, parents and all who have a heart for Jesus and young people. The end of each chapter offers an easily digestible summary of the key points with important questions for readers to ask in light of their own context and how to begin making changes there. What makes this work so remarkable is the emphasis that there is not a one-size-fits-all model for youth and young adult ministry, but that readers are left empowered, invited to listen to their own context and filled with ideas that can be implemented and adapted anywhere.
“Growing Young” is a sparkling read for anyone with attentive ears to listen, drawn to the hope young people offer the future of Christ’s church.
Emily Chudy serves as co-pastor of Central Presbyterian Church in Downingtown, Pennsylvania.