Have you ever experienced Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon?
If Baader-Meinhof isn’t in your daily vocabulary, it’s also called “frequency illusion.”
Frequency illusion is the feeling you get when you learn about something then cannot help seeing it everywhere. Since I began research at the Fuller Youth Institute several years ago, this phenomenon hasn’t let up for me. When your work requires you to explore the unique perspectives young people bring to churches, you cannot help but notice the unique perspectives they bring to every aspect of life.
The last time I got Baader-Meinhof-ed I was caught up in my morning routine, making coffee while listening to a daily news podcast by a publication with something like 127 Pulitzers to date. On this particular morning, they did something profound. One of their reporters (owner of two of those prizes) sat down with an eight-year-old to hear his take on current events. You read that right, an eight-year-old.
Their logic was this: In the midst of political turmoil, adults have so many questions that we’re often too afraid to ask for fear of sounding silly or stupid or, well, childish. Kids haven’t developed these hang ups yet, and that’s an asset.
Empowering honest questions
That thoughtful logic doesn’t just apply to politics. Throughout history we can find stories where fresh eyes and young perspectives have challenged approaches to innovation, science, and the arts—in large part because young people were unafraid to ask honest questions.
Kara Powell and the FYI team write about this in Growing Young:
Churches that grow young are brimming with staff, volunteers, and parents who demonstrate keychain leadership. Whoever holds the keys has the power to let people in or to keep people out. Keys provide access to physical rooms, as well as to strategic meetings, significant decisions, and central roles or places of authority. The more power you have, the more keys you tend to possess.
So, the podcast handed over a few keys. As the eight-year-old proceeded to frame the conversation, he made crayon drawings of current political happenings, and at one point even made animal noises.
As I listened, I learned something about the geopolitical situation underlying current issues. My learning was prompted by a question from this eight-year-old I would have felt too embarrassed to ask (I have a graduate degree, after all). But because of the curiosity of this small guest host, I developed understanding in a way that my embarrassment would’ve prevented.
And as I listened to the podcast, I realized that kids will be kids—kids draw with crayons. Kids make silly sounds. But what if these childlike features are also assets? What if they’re ways we can learn from curiosity and unique perspectives?
I wonder if sometimes complex problems need to be outlined in crayon for new insight?
I wonder if making silly sounds is exactly the childlike play we need as a respite from all this stress?
Likewise, honest questions and young perspectives have been known to transform and revitalize churches from the first century to today.
Young perspectives help the church grow young
I’m challenged by the Apostle Paul’s wisdom that “the parts of the body that people think are the weakest are the most necessary” (1 Corinthians 12:22, CEB). And I wonder what we are missing out on when we don’t hand over keys of leadership to our young people?
This wisdom didn’t come easy for Paul. Remember his argument with Barnabas concerning John Mark in Acts 15? Paul couldn’t see John Mark’s youthful perspective as an asset at the time, but Barnabas could. This caused a disagreement between them so they chose to go their separate ways. However, elsewhere in the New Testament we see Paul asking Timothy to “Get (John) Mark, and bring him with you. He has been a big help to me in the ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11, CEB).
John Mark’s age is irrelevant when Paul makes this request. What matters is that in his youth, someone handed him the keys.
It’s tempting to think that only big, trendy, new church plants with huge budgets and “cool,” hyper-entertaining ministries have this ability. However, our Growing Young research dispels these myths. So does my personal experience.
The best Sundays in my home church are those during which I get to sit next to our oldest member and one of my best friends, Miss Lorraine—a woman who frequently wears fancy hats and just celebrated her 100th birthday. The Sunday morning I preached my inaugural sermon she leaned over to whisper, “I loved it. So modern.” Not long after, Miss Lorraine and I watched together as the congregation’s youngest member received communion and waddled over to a pastor for prayer with eyes closed, hands folded, and mother in-tow. Miss Lorraine leaned over again to whisper, “Would you look at that? So cute.”
Youth is relative, after all—or as Powell and the FYI Team put it in Growing Young:
Cross-generational discipleship is beneficial not only for young people but also for older generations who need the vitality of the young to inspire their faith just as much as the young need wise elders to ground theirs. Faith, after all, is not just passed down. It’s passed around.
I sometimes wonder if I appear to Miss Lorraine as little Lisa appears to me–a small saint practicing the faith. And I’m grateful she hands me the keys of leadership anyway. It reminds me to keep passing around the faith by handing the keys the children, adolescents, and young adults I share the pews with as well.
Train and connect with leaders who want to make the church a better place for young people to grow.
“Growing Young is not about throwing a lot of money at youth ministry or creating a new ‘program.’ It is about a deep, heart transformation in us as people and as a community.”
— 2019-20 Cohort Participant
Our Growing Young Cohort is a unique training opportunity that walks hand-in-hand with your team, as FYI's research helps inform and transform your ministry. Register your team TODAY!
 Pacific Standard Staff, “There’s a Name for That: The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon,” Pacific Standard, June 14, 2017, https://psmag.com/social-justice/theres-a-name-for-that-the-baader-meinhof-phenomenon-59670.
 Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin, Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016), 34.
 Powell, Mulder, and Griffin, 102.
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