In 2012, a team of researchers from the Fuller Youth Institute at Fuller Theological Seminary launched a project to understand why some churches are exemplary when it comes to engaging young adults 15 to 29 years of age in their ministries.
What they learned over the next three years they put into a 2016 book, Growing Young, and eventually developed into a training program and assessment for churches to help them avoid shrinking, aging and seeing young people walk away. The assessment helps a church define where it is before defining where it wants to be.
The researchers discovered hundreds of churches with six core commitments in common that kept teenagers and young adults coming back: leadership, warmth, empathy, priority, neighbor and gospel.
The team consists of Pastor Bobby; Chris Spruiell, LOGOS Dinner Dean; Sarah Crenshaw, parent volunteer; Theresa McKenna, Education and Nurture elder; Youth Director Kelly Seaman; and Ann Kaiser, Compassionate Care deacon.
The nine-month digital experience is designed to help a church’s congregation apply the six Growing Young core commitments to today’s realities, including adapting to a changing ministry and walking with young people struggling with anxiety.
Bobby said he and Kelly both came across this Fuller program separately a few months ago, without each other knowing about it. Bobby explained, “I think it came to me as an email from Fuller, and I sent it to Kelly saying, ‘This could be interesting!’ And she responded almost immediately saying she had seen the very same thing only the day before and wondered if we would want to do the program. I think the Lord was up to something!”
He added, “We brainstormed the idea with a few others who we thought would be interested, particularly those with significant connection to FPC’s education and nurture ministry in general and to our youth and children specifically.”
Over the past five years, the Fuller Youth Institute has worked with more than 500 congregations in reaching and engaging teenagers and young adults in their communities.
Things will kick off for FPC’s team on September 14 with an hour and a half webinar, followed by webinars every one to two months and three “digital summits” (in October, February and May) lasting five hours.
The Fuller Youth Institute study in 2012 was preceded by one starting in 2004 that studied what characteristics of high school youth ministries/churches relate to how students make spiritual and religious transitions to life after high school. This research resulted in a collection of resources and training materials known as “Sticky Faith.” (FPC had a Sticky Faith class a few years back.)
The research shed light on many questions related to the faith of young people, but it raised further questions about the systemic implications for the whole church. So that project’s research team began to explore the possibility of studying whole church systems to learn why some succeed in their ministry to young people and others seem to struggle.
Involving 10,000 hours, 1,300 individual interviews, 40 states and 80,000 miles traveled, the Churches Engaging Young People project is one of the most comprehensive and collaborative studies ever done on this topic: What can churches do to become more effective with young people?
A church identified as one effective with young people is one involving and retaining young people in the congregational community, as well as helping them develop a vibrant faith in Jesus Christ.
For the study, 259 churches chose to participate, representing 21 major church traditions as well as those claiming no denomination.
Churches ranged in size from under 100 participants to more than 10,000. Just over half of the congregations were predominantly white, one-third were multiracial, and the others were predominantly African American, Hispanic/Latino or Asian.
The study included newer churches that were less than five years old as well as historic congregations with more than 140 years of history.