What can churches do to become more effective with young people?
Who and where are the most innovative congregations in the country when it comes to engaging young people well?
How might we learn more about them?
Defining an effective church
Identifying outstanding churches like these began with a simple definition. In conversation with a team of nearly 30 scholars, pastors, and thought leaders, we nailed down the following description: A church that is effective with young people is one that is involving and retaining young people in the congregational community, as well as helping them develop a vibrant faith in Jesus Christ.
Simply put, we now describe these as churches growing young because: They are engaging young people ages 15-29, and They are growing—spiritually, emotionally, missionally, and sometimes also numerically.
How we identified churches for our study
Working largely through Fuller Seminary’s vast network, we solicited names of vibrant congregations from over 35 nominators who fell into three categories:
- - National denominational leaders from 13 Protestant denominations as well as the Roman Catholic Church and Greek Orthodox Church.
- - Respected scholars from seven educational institutions: Fuller Theological Seminary, Princeton Theological Seminary, Wheaton College, North Park University, Gordon College, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and Luther Seminary.
- - Other experts in ministry to young people outside of specific denominational channels including the Willow Creek Association, Orange, the Youth Cartel, Catalyst, and our own Fuller Youth Institute team.
We asked these nominators to identify congregations that have ministries with young people that are numerically growing, are engaging a large number of young people relative to the size of their congregation, or have something “exciting or missional” going on with young people.
The diversity of churches growing young
Wondering whether any of these churches are similar to yours? Almost certainly.
Since the launch of the project, we have been pleased by the rich diversity of churches who graciously accepted our invitation, responded to online surveys, answered questions by phone, and opened their doors (literally!) to us.
Here’s a snapshot of how the 259 churches that chose to participate in the research describe themselves.
21 major church traditions were represented, including: Anglican, Assemblies of God or Pentecostal, Baptist, Christian & Missionary Alliance, Church of Christ, Church of God in Christ, Disciples of Christ, Episcopal, Evangelical Covenant, Evangelical Lutheran, Greek Orthodox, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Nazarene, Presbyterian, Reformed or Christian Reformed, Roman Catholic, United Methodist, and those claiming no denominational affiliation.
Churches ranged in size from under 100 participants to over 10,000 participants. The largest three categories were 1,001-3,000 (28 percent), 501-1,000 (24 percent), and 251-500 (15 percent).
Just over half of the congregations were predominantly white, one-third were multiracial, and the others were predominantly African American, Hispanic/Latino, or Asian.
Region of the US
Geographic location included all census regions of the country, with representations from the Midwest (33 percent), West (31 percent), South (25 percent), and Northeast (11 percent).
The study included newer church plants that were less than five years old as well as historic congregations with over 140 years of history.
Type of community
In terms of where the congregation was located, 56 percent reported being suburban, 33 percent urban, 3 percent rural, and 8 percent a mix of urban, suburban, and rural that was difficult to distinguish.
Want more? Read our research appendix from Growing Young.
Download Research Overview