I recently attended a great Seminar with the Center for Congregations, called “Growing Young”, with Dr. Kara Powell of Fuller Theological Seminary, who is also the director of the Fuller Institute. Kara has been involved in a large research project funded by the Lilly Foundation to study churches that are engaged in effective ministry with young people ages 15 – 29. These churches are not only growing, but they are growing young. The statistics about church growth in the United States are not encouraging these days. The number of people who identify themselves as Christians has fallen from 78 – 71 percent recently. Kara says no major denomination is growing right now. So, Kara and her two colleagues embarked on a study of churches that are growing young.
After surveys, phone interviews and onsite visits they accumulated 10,000 pages of data and found 250 exemplary churches doing remarkable ministry with youth and young adults. One of those churches was in our great state of Indiana. 15 years ago, a Catholic church in Indianapolis was about to close because their numbers were so small. They decided together that they were not too old and too tired to reach out. Today they are 1500 strong and 1000 of their members are under the age of 30.
Some of what Kara and her colleagues discovered is very encouraging to churches like ours. They learned that churches that engage in effective ministry with young people do not offer a specific kind of worship service, they come in all sizes – small and large, they are old and new congregations. Theologically they come from a variety of denominations. What these 250-exemplary congregation did have in common was six core commitments that go to the heart of what it means to be the church. I’ll be sharing some of those in our newsletters to come! In the meantime, if you want to read Kara’s book about this surprising research, it is entitled, Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church.