Growing Young Takes on Encouraging Meaning for Pastors

Posted on Jul 27 2017

Over 180 pastors gathered at the Garden Grove church for a pastors meeting on May 16. The focus of the day was to share ideas on how to empower youth and young adults in churches. The meeting was planned by Jonathan Park, executive secretary, and Eric Penick, associate youth director for senior youth and young adults, and comes on the heels of the release of Southeastern California Conference’s strategic initiative, which was shared in the June issue of the Recorder.

The pastors meeting lined up with the first of the four conference’s strategic initiatives; engage, which emphasizes the need to engage our youth and young adults to develop them into the next leaders. The focus of the meeting was to give pastors resources and ideas on how to involve a group in their church that might have been neglected in the past. The meeting featured guest speaker Jake Mulder, director of strategic initiatives at Fuller Youth Institute and one of the three authors of the book, Growing Young.

“Pastors and leaders can position their churches to retain teenagers and young adults and help them grow spiritually, emotionally, missionally, and numerically,” Mulder said. “This is a way that breathes vitality, life, and energy into a whole church.”


The meeting allowed pastors to understand that the biggest roadblocks—such as not having a youth coordinator or youth pastor—does not inhibit young people from engaging in their church.

“Christian churches are not calibrated to reach youth and young adults. We need to recalibrate,” Mulder said.

During his presentation, Mulder shared the exhaustive research process he and his colleagues undertook, which led them to discover six core common commitments of congregations that were successful in growing young:

  1. They exhibit keychain leadership, where a church leader passes responsibility onto a young person.
  2. They empathize with young people.
  3. They take Jesus’ message seriously.
  4. They fuel a warm community.
  5. They prioritize young people and families everywhere.
  6. They are good neighbors to their communities.

 “The research Mulder shared was impressive, helpful, and will help refocus us on young people’s passion and need for conversations,” said Sara-May Colón, youth pastor at Garden Grove church.

Pastors sat in small groups and reflected on the key points of what Mulder mentioned and put them in the context of their churches. Ron Pickell, NAD secular campus ministry director, and Scott Ward, NAD public high school ministries coordinator of Living It, delivered messages encouraging pastors to reach out to the masses of youth and young adults in our public school systems.

“There are so many young people that are not connecting with our church that we need to use proven methods to reach out to them—and that does not eliminate any of our doctrinal distinctions,” said Penick.

Jeffrey Harper, youth pastor at Fallbrook church, reflected, “In my church there is a perception of what youth ministry looks like. What was new to me was that when the church focuses on involving and empowering youth, it not only benefits them, but the entire church.”

Stories of how these principles are being applied in our churches will be shared in upcoming issues.

By Enno Müller