By Alex Hardt, Youth and Young Adult Pastor
We live in a world of tech gadgets and new “cool” stuff popping up all the time. Each week some new trend begins or something “bigger,” “better,” or “cooler” appears on the market. Remember when MySpace was the “coolest” thing then Facebook then Instagram and now Snapchat? Our young people are inundated with “cool” things all the time. One might say they are overwhelmed by the “cool” OR too cool for cool.
When it comes to churches and young people, it’s not about having a cool leader. Or a cool facility. Or cool programs. All of those can be good, but they aren’t essential. Fuller Youth Institute interviewed over 1,300 young people and discovered that WARMTH is crucial when it comes to young people. “Warm is the new cool.” They want to know that they are welcomed, they are loved, and that their community cares for them. They are longing to be part of something, something that matters, and something that cares about them. As “connected” as we are as a society with social media, phones, computers, and technology; people are longing now more than ever for real connections. Young people long for warmth.
WE NEED TO WELCOME YOUNG PEOPLE THE WAY JESUS DID
In Luke 9, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John to a mountain to pray. We can imagine that this stirred up jealously among the disciples. They begin arguing who is the greatest among them. In verse 48, Jesus takes a child and places the child next to him and then responds to their arguments by saying, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. The Greek word for welcome here is dechomai which often meant showing the hospitality to guests. In this society, children were often taken care of by women and servants thus Jesus was asking the disciples to show utmost humility by embracing the kids/young people in their midst. According to Jesus, greatness emerges as adults welcome children.
WHAT DOES WARMTH LOOK LIKE
Warmth looks like greeting young people as they walk in the door on Sunday mornings. Listening to what they have to say and celebrating the amazing things going on in their life. Inviting them to serve alongside you – notice I didn’t say give them a random task. Young people are looking for people to invest in them, to notice them, to communicate with them, and to serve alongside them. In the book, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, Kara Powell describes one student’s experience.
One youth group graduate said that at her church, the adults seem to “see us as kind of scary because we’re the people on the news who are dealing with drugs, alcohol, and other life decisions. They keep us separate and treat us like we are a hazard.”
Fuller Youth Institute found that 2/3 of young people interviewed were never reached out to by an adult other than their youth leader or parent. Warmth is about helping students feel like they are welcomed in the same way adults are. If a young person is next to you, try stopping your conversation and asking the young person what their thoughts are on the subject or how their day is going. If you’re gathering around the food table try asking a student about which food is their favorite. Simple things like learning their names makes a huge difference in the lives of our young people. Simple things can grow warmth in the church or kill it.
On the Fuller Youth Institute Blog they offer up this challenge:
Stay mindful to the bigger lessons God’s trying to teach you. Richard Rohr calls this the “task within the task.” As you try to increase your own church family’s warmth, what is God trying to show you about His warm love for you? What keeps you from resting in that love? What hinders you from being a tunnel that shares that love with others?