When a church shows empathy, here's what happens.

Kara Powell | Sep 13, 2016

Photo by Micah H.


I’ve taken enough counseling courses to know it’s important, but our four years of studying 250 congregations nationwide that are growing young has shown me just how vital it is to young people today.

Bennett and Vera

At one of the churches we visited, we met Bennett and his single mom, Vera. Six years ago, as the pair was looking for a church home, Vera had one major criterion: that the congregation be a safe place for her son (then age 9) with special needs.

When she asked the children’s ministry leaders at one of the churches in our study, “Will you take care of my unusual child?” their response was, “Absolutely. You tell us what we need to know and do. Please give us feedback on how we’re doing.” Vera and Bennett were hooked and have been active members of the congregation ever since.

Vera recounted a memory of picking up nine-year-old Bennett from the children’s ministry at the end of a worship service six years ago: “I was picking up my son, and I see an adult bent down on his level, focused on what my son is saying. He puts his hand on my son’s shoulder, nods his head, and says something that I can’t hear. Both smile, and my son nods his head back. At school, Bennett never feels that understood and secure.

Bennett models empathy.

In a world that often doesn’t take the time to talk to Bennett, such empathy was a magnet for both Bennett and his mom. But Vera continued, “Now my son is 15. This church is his home, and he’s been invited to help serve in the kindergarten class—something I never thought possible. A few months ago, as I again picked him up after worship, he was bent over, listening to a seven-year-old boy. Bennett was nodding his head. I moved close enough to hear what Bennett said as he put his hand on this boy’s shoulder: ‘I understand. I’ve felt that way before, too.’ Bennett never could have said that if he hadn’t felt like this church had understood him. He is modeling the empathy that he had experienced.

In an era in which Bennett and so many young people feel misunderstood, labeled, and unappreciated, churches that are growing young step into their shoes. They feel their pain. They bear their burdens. And they walk forward together. I want that for my church, and I want that for yours.

These stories are everywhere.

I’m eager for you to hear Bennett’s story as well as a host of other stories we discovered while visiting thriving churches.

In fact, you can get immediate access to some of my favorite stories from our research by ordering Growing Young now. Our book is packed with stories like Bennett's that are sure to inspire you in your ministry. We don’t want you to miss these moving tales of extraordinary churches making an impact in the lives of young people.

I love how my ministry vision and philosophy has been shaped by stories like Bennett’s. I can’t wait to learn your story of how your church is taking steps to grow young.

More stories from our research

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Kara Powell

Dr. Kara Powell is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Fuller's Chief of Leadership Formation. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women You Should Know,” Kara serves as a Youth and Family Strategist for Orange, and also speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara is the author or coauthor of a number of books, including Growing Young, Growing With, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, Sticky Faith Curriculum, Can I Ask That?, Deep Justice Journeys, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum. Kara lives with her husband Dave and their three children, Nathan, Krista, and Jessica, in Southern California.

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