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Growing Young - A Cultural Shift to Reach Your Community

By: Dr. Dave Rueter


The very idea of “Growing Young” seems counterintuitive. Isn’t the natural order of life to grow older not younger? True, yet that does not have be the case for your congregation. For the majority of LCMS congregations, growing older seems to be inevitable. We all too often look around and see the same faces Sunday after Sunday, decade after decade, and draw the conclusion that this is all that can be expected. Our culture no longer shares the values of the church, making reaching younger generations more challenging.


What can we do?


In their Growing Young research, the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) built upon their previous research (Sticky Faith) which sought to understand why some young people remained a part of the ministry of a local congregation while other young people did not. In the Growing Young phase of their research, FYI sought to discover the key characteristics of congregations who were demographically Growing Young rather than growing old. Through their work with churches across denominations, including congregations that are a part of the LCMS, FYI was able to distill their findings into what they termed 6 Core Commitments. The following 6 Core Commitments were recognized by FYI as common characteristics of ministries that were Growing Young...


  1. Unlock keychain leadership: Instead of centralizing authority, empower others—especially young people.

  2. Empathize with today’s young people: Instead of judging or criticizing, step into the shoes of this generation.

  3. Take Jesus’ message seriously: Instead of asserting formulaic gospel claims, welcome young people into a Jesus-centered way of life.

  4. Fuel a warm community: Instead of focusing on cool worship or programs, aim for warm peer and intergenerational friendships.

  5. Prioritize young people (and families) everywhere: Instead of giving lip service to how much young people matter, look for creative ways to tangibly support, resource, and involve them in all facets of your congregation.

  6. Be the best neighbors: Instead of condemning the world outside your walls, enable young people to neighbor well locally and globally.


These Core Commitments are not new approaches to doing youth ministry or an outreach program, but rather culture commitments that the congregation as a whole makes a core part of the DNA of their church, which make attracting and ministering to young people more likely to take place.

In order to aid churches in exploring these Core Commitments a contextualizing them for their local ministry setting, FYI has been gathering cohorts of churches from around the country and across denominations for the past several years. In 2019, I was invited to train with FYI and become a licensed speaker for Growing Young for the LCMS.


In my more than 25 years of ministry experience, I have had the privilege to work with many congregation helping guide their Christian education and youth ministry efforts. As a speaker for Growing Young for the LCMS, it is my hope to be able to walk with congregations who desire to reverse the demographic aging of their membership and develop a culture primed to Grow Young.


If your circuit or groups a circuits would like to discuss forming a cohort, you can contact me at drueter@oslm.net. You can also learn more about myself and the Growing Young cohort process at https://www.teachingthefaithathome.org/#young.


Additionally, a series of articles on Growing Young and the LCMS Youth Ministry offices 7 Practices of Healthy Youth Ministry here: https://www.youthesource.com/2023/06/09/growing-youngs-6-core-commitments-and-lcms-youth-ministrys-7-practices-of-healthy-youth-ministry/


 

Dr. Dave Rueter is a rostered DCE and is certified by the Fuller Youth Institute as the official LCMS Growing Young speaker. Dr. Rueter is the author of Teaching the Faith at Home and Called to Serve (both CPH) and contributor to Relationships Count and Connected for Life (also both CPH). Since 1998 he has served as DCE for congregations in Huntington Beach, Rancho Cucamonga, and now Livermore, CA. Additionally, he has served on the faculty at Concordia University Irvine and the staff of the Pacific Southwest District. Dr. Rueter is married to Andrea and has two sons, James and Wesley.

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