book review: Growing Young
Updated: Jan 24
I'm doing something new on my blog today! I am reviewing a book that I recently received and read. Thank you so much to Pastor Allan Martin over at YG Church in Arlington TX for your generous gift! I hope you don't mind if I continue to pass the book on by giving the book to one lucky interested reader. If you would like to enter my Giveaway for the book I am about to review, here is what you must do:
1. Follow me on Instagram
2. Like and comment on my most recent Instagram post (the photo of the book) sharing why you are interested in the book.
3. The winner will be chosen on February 18, 2020!
If you would like to purchase the book, it is for sale here:
Alright, with all those details out of the way, let's take a look at this interesting and informative book.
First things first, Growing Young is in many ways more of a research project than anything else. The entire piece of literature is based on research involving over 250 church congregations here in the United States. The purpose of the study was essentially to see why church attendance among younger generations is declining, and what churches can do about it. The researchers analyzed churches who were doing things well and experiencing positive growth and feedback from the youth in order to gather tips and methods for struggling congregations. The study was carried out by the Fuller Youth Institute and the book was written by three individuals; Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin (though many scholars, pastors, and other people were involved in the process).
The layout of the book is very straightforward, presenting lots of data and statistics as well as discussing 6 essential strategies that churches can use to help young people "discover and love" their church.
The book has eight chapters, an appendix explaining research methods & procedures, and lastly, a notes section.
What I liked
My first impression of this book was very good. Instead of just sitting around and complaining that young people "aren't religious" anymore, here was a group of people willing to take action and do something about it. I was excited to see the issue of "young adult church attendance" being analyzed and discussed from such a logical and meticulous viewpoint. Often it seems that people working in ministry are afraid to get into the facts and numbers of certain issues that arise, but this book was not like that. It was well structured and supplied ample data to back up all of its points and recommendations.
Another thing I appreciated about this book was its wide range of denominations included in the study. It is always important when doing research, to try and have as unbiased of a sample as possible. I was very pleased to see this book acknowledged that. I also appreciated the authors' sensitivity to different denominational cultures. The book is able to give practical information that can be altered or tailored to fit the specific needs of a denomination or church body.
Nearly every, if not all chapters included real-life stories and experiences of what young adults have gone through in their local church congregations. As a young person myself, that may have been my favorite aspect of the book. It was good to know this study wasn't just a bunch of old people (no offense!) coming up with their own ideas about what young people think and feel.
The second chapter of the book introduced the term "Keychain Leadership". Although that catchphrase seemed kind of cheesy and unnecessary to me, I liked the emphasis on leaders/pastors choosing to delegate members and young people in various leadership roles of a congregation. I was happy to see that the chapter was balanced in it's approach to getting young people involved by pointing out the necessity of maturity- either manifesting itself in the young person or in a mentor for that individual.
Chapter 3 was a much-needed reality check I feel for many people, both young and old. Society often jokes about "adulting" or the change we see in generations and their level of responsibility and autonomy. Yet with all jokes aside do we truly understand what's going on. I felt this chapter did a fantastic job of painting a realistic and clear image of what young people are going through in this modern age. Throughout the book, there are diagrams to help readers better grasp various concepts. This is a chapter that made those diagrams especially useful. The focus and explanation of a need for more Empathy in our churches today was a real thought provoker for me and reminded me of my college days when I was taking Developmental Psychology (a great class by the way!).
As I neared the half-way mark of the book, I was very happy to see that the lifestyle of Jesus was included in the recommendations for "growing young". In my opinion, any good Christian or Spiritual Life book must include mention of Jesus who was our perfect and ultimate example for how to "do" life. Chapter four reminded church congregations to keep Christ the center of their message and all I wanted to do was get off my couch and yell, "AAAAAMMMMMEEEENNNN!". Jesus knew how to draw people in and make them want to stay around. There is no better life to analyze in regards to church growth and ministry impact, than Christ's.
The remaining four chapters of the book were useful, although for me the advice and suggestions began to feel repetitive. Maybe that was just me, but it started to feel like what was being said was common sense. Some of the statements included telling readers to be warm and inviting and to pay attention to families with young children. Those are obviously not new, groundbreaking suggestions. I am glad the authors didn't leave readers forced to rely on assumptions, but honestly, how do you follow up a chapter about Jesus' message and ministry? Like what is left to say at that point?
Lastly, as a teacher, I loved the study guide/short answer questions following each chapter. I didn't write in my book (because I knew I would want to pass it on to one of you!) But the guiding questions did help me go deeper with processing the info I was given.
What I wasn't so sure about
Okay well first off, let's get my Adventist bias out of the way. I was so disappointed to see that the study didn't appear to include any insight or participants from the SDA community (perhaps I am wrong about that.. I hope I am!). That really disheartened me- not because this wasn't a beneficial or accurate study... but because... well honestly what are the SDA people doing? Why didn't we get in on this amazing and necessary research project!? I realize we are a pretty small protestant denomination and all that jazz, but come on. Our lack of involvement outside of our own bubble is really making me uncomfortable.
Secondly, I think in many ways this book could've simply been called "Growing". I know that the topic of young adults leaving the church is trendy and in the spotlight, but quite frankly people of all ages are struggling with church involvement and/or attendance. The suggestions and advice these authors and researchers provided are not simply for the 29 and below, they are for everyone. Just in the short time that I myself have written and addressed some of the "growing young" issues in the SDA community, I have had readers reach out stating that although they are in their 40's or higher, they too feel the things I feel. I would hope that regardless of how old the people in your community are you would still be implementing acceptance, warmth, mentorship, and the lifestyle of Jesus in your church.
Lastly, as much as I loved the info and data shared in this book, I felt sad. I felt sad that many of the things in this book aren't common sense to me or fellow Christians like myself. Perhaps I am too idealistic (I'll blame it on my age haha), but if Christians were reading God's word and seeking out an intimate relationship with Jesus as we should be, many of these issues would not be so severe. How sad that we needed a study of over 250 churches to teach us to act warmly towards the people in our community. How sad that we needed an entire book aside from the Bible to point out the benefits of Jesus's lifestyle and actions. I can't help but think that if we were even just a little bit more intentional about our actions and our spiritual journey, we might not need so many supplemental materials to teach us how to be decent humans and effective Christians.
There was a phrase at the beginning of the book that I think was my favorite quote out of the entire piece of writing. I am going to re-word it, but the message is the same:
Pastors come and go, but church members stay.
What do those words mean to you? What do they help you decide about your involvement at your local congregation? I thought that statement was really powerful. We don't need a bunch of fancy new policies or suave new leaders to change our situation. We just need average, regular people to start giving their best effort to love others like Christ.
Did you enjoy this book review? I certainly enjoyed writing it! If you would like to send or suggest a book for me to review, please shoot me an email at:
I kept this post fairly vague because I think you should read Growing Young for yourself! Don't forget to enter my Instagram contest to win this book!