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Building a Young Church: Part Two Validation

As we continue to talk through some of the essential building blocks for building a young church, or a church of young adults, we next turn to the key element of validation.

Validation is an organizational priority of authentic engagement. This is often accomplished by the investment of capital (monetary, leadership, and facilities) to give more specific attention and placement of an emphasis on the ministry for that group.

If a church desires to grow their young adult base, a key step in evaluating whether or not they are validating, or willing to validate, effective environments for young adults. This isn’t about creating plastic rooms that meet a specific ratio for hipster style low lighting, but it is about having appropriate textures and spaces that facilitate ministry connection for a young adult crowd. The same environments and methods used to reach and keep senior adults are not as effective for young adults.

For many young adults in their 20s and 30s, a key to workplace happiness is the intentional validation of their efforts and roles. While this certainly is a universal rule, it is often the case that this age group will work at jobs longer where they are given appropriate validation and recognition by their leadership. Articles which have mentioned this kind of managerial insight have appeared in business publications including Forbes Magazine. Now, if you’re knee-jerk reaction to that statement is to roll your eyes and gripe about entitlement then perhaps that is part of the problem.

This isn’t about some kind of psychologically programmed post-adolescent coddling, but it is instead the result of a desire to know where, in a world of hurts, harms, and hang-ups, that a person belongs and contributes. Validation for a young adult ministry isn’t about being the full time focus and effort of a church onto that group, but is, instead, about being mindful of their presence.

While an institutional building, metal folding chairs, bad coffee, and mint green walls are a non-issue for other generations, for young adults highly validated spaces for their group gatherings, fellowship times, and service represent a kind of mindfulness about their presence that they appreciate. For so many young adults the aesthetic of their experience is as important as the script of a video, the Bible passage being considered, and the conversation that takes place.

This means that churches which are appropriately providing validated young adult environments have a strong tendency to attract and keep young adults.

As a result, when we think strategically about these environments we should keep in mind that mixing in a reinforcement of the church culture will be as important to motivating young adults to service and missions as making an announcement.

Just like how a comfortable coffee shop makes a more conducive environment for conversation, reflection, and work, appropriately validated young adult ministries tend to allow for greater movement and growth (specifically relational and spiritual) for strategically minded churches.

Some key questions for evaluation might include:

  • In our current facility, how much space is specifically designed for young adults and their children?
  • When we talk about events or activities in our publications and on Sundays, what percent of space is given to young adult activities?
  • How often are young adults featured in roles of service and missions?
  • As it relates to our children’s spaces, are they conducive to easy check-in and provide a sense of security?
  • Are the sermons we preach using illustrations and examples from media in the 70s and 80s or from the last five years?
  • Is there a prioritized space for young adults to connect that isn’t a classroom?
  • How much of our programming dollars and hours go to creating events and activities that meet the priority needs of young adults in our church and community?
  • Do young adults have ways of providing feedback and generating new ministry ideas as much as established generations in our church?

 

This certainly isn’t a deal breaker for a community, but it is an important step. As we turn to our next part of this discussion let’s consider what it looks like to provide effective programming and ministry models for young adult ministries.

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Does VBS Still Work?

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How many of us, while growing up, attended a Vacation Bible School? Probably a great many of us.

The practice of doing VBS in the summers between school years has been going on for as long as any of us can remember. In fact, the earliest VBS in the modern era was likely started in 1894 by a public school teacher, D.T. Miles, who created a 4-week summer program in Hopedale, Illinois to train and engage with children in the summer. Though much of the arrangements and execution of a VBS look different today than back in 1894, the concept is essentially similar.

Some church leaders have asked good questions about the use of VBS in their specific cultures over the past several years. In these conversations there have been good questions asked about the role of VBS in churches of all models. One of my favorite questions to ask in these discussions is: how many of you attended VBS as a kid? Usually almost every hand goes up.

So, does VBS work in our churches?

Over the past week, the church where I serve hosted our annual Vacation Bible School. We had about 2500 involved in our VBS which last from Monday through Thursday. Our VBS runs in the morning, from 9:00-12:30. If we were to look at the programming side, the children involved have all the traditional bells and whistles of a VBS: crafts, music, Bible lessons, activities, and dramas that play out over the week. This is a model shared by many churches across the US.

I can honestly say that I think VBS is one of the best things churches can do to reach their communities and members and it leverages multiple cultural access points to allow a local church to do ministry beyond what it normally might provide during the rest of the year.

Does VBS work? Absolutely.

The next statement is: if it is validated and led appropriately. I’ve been involved in VBS weeks in small churches to mega-churches and many sizes in between. Each one has several shared keys to success that aid in producing an effective VBS.

A chief key to success is the appropriate validation and support for a VBS. This means high visibility in the church calendar, multiple mentions from the platform, the key church leader(s) encouraging people to attend, and appropriate budgeting support. For many churches, regardless of size, a great VBS begins with how well the leadership of the church plans for VBS and provides the means to accomplish a goal for producing a successful one. One of the great things that many churches do in bringing together a wonderful VBS experience is have an “all hands on deck” mentality for their staff. This provides an infrastructure of support from our key ministry leaders and helps distribute the burden of ministry across all levels.

Second, the leadership of VBS is crucial. Whether it is lay people or paid staff, the leaders of VBS are critical to raising up great volunteers, setting the mark for excellence, working behind the scenes to produce great environments, and leading the training of volunteers for the VBS. Everything rises and falls on leadership, says John Maxwell, and when it comes to VBS he is certainly on point. A great VBS can carry the energy and focus of changing lives in these young hearts like no one else.

Another key is outstanding environments. From the first moment a child walks in to the last day when they walk out, outstanding environments will have a lasting impact.¬†As you can see from the photos above, the environment created in the worship center, sanctuary, or meeting room is key for getting kids involved and wanting to come back. Lazy efforts or high barriers to changing rooms and venues will have a resounding impact on your VBS experience. Children today are being brought up in a heavy media saturated time, and while we don’t play to that, we can leverage it to have fun.

Finally, VBS needs to be fun, fun, fun. This is the street front window for so many of our churches with those people on the fringes and margins of Christianity in our different towns and cities. One of the rules I’ve seen for the last 15 year in ministry is when you get the kids excited the parents will bring them back. Some of the best VBS experiences (from small church to big churches) have been when the kids are engaged with great teaching, fun worship, and terrific activities to bring everything together. We love getting kids on their feet, moving, and singing. Its amazing to watch a worship center full of kids singing, moving, and enjoying their time. In the drama you have a moment to speak to them in tremendous ways while also allowing them to hear the Gospel at an important age.

VBS works as well as we allow it to work. If it occupies a central part of your overall strategy there need to be intentional next steps in following up, providing other programmatic and connecting event strategies, and seeing that every new family is seen as a valued connection. Then, celebrate the win. Talk about it and praise the leaders. A properly praised VBS can be a great change agent for a church that desires to connect the Gospel with families and people in their community. It still works.

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