6 Core Characteristics of Youth Friendly Churches

It’s not about music or programs.

That’s what the research is telling us. After a study of 250 growing churches that attract youth and young adults, Fuller Youth Institute is sure that younger church members are looking for something else. Here are 6 core characteristics to develop to become  a youth friendly church…

1. Celebrate Youth and Diversity

Teens have grown up in a multicultural pluralistic environment. Whether they like it or not they are used to different races and different viewpoints. Churches that get excited that youth are involved and that they come from all kinds of back grounds give teens the impression that this is a welcoming place.

For youth, tolerance is the new golden rule. Live and let live. “Don’t be a hater” is really important. Too often teens get the impression that the preacher is angry at people, condemning, less loving than their non-Christian friends.

2. Involve youth and young adults in meaningful ways

“This would be a great job for the youth group!” I was sometime volun-told. The jobs were in the category of cleaning up the church property before landscaping or doing an interpretive dance during the Christmas presentation. Week to week there was nothing to do –nothing of any significance that is. Churches that allow students to be involved in worship on Sunday mornings work as greeters, ushers. Young adults can also be involved on boards, and important church committees.

3. Empower youth instead of restricting them

I am always stunned when I see that in the past 200 years 6 of the 9 great revivals were led by young adults and youth!  Churches that perpetuate low expectations of this important demographic are missing the mark. Many of them will open and close at their place of work but at church they cannot have keys to rooms even if they volunteer more than 10 hours a week!

Youth and Young Adults often have innovative ideas that would help the church grown or meet a significant need in the community. Restricting them only makes them vote with their feet.

4. Pursue a compelling vision to be the best neighbors possible

Kara Powell and her team at FYI target this as a core characteristic of churches that are growing younger. These churches “offer integrated discipleship to teenagers and young adults that enables them to thrive and serve in our complex world.” And what do they want to work at? –being better neighbors!

What this meant in own downtown area was, “the formation of an immigration resource center, which today serves hundreds of neighbors each year with free and low-cost services.” Powell points out “All of this work is motivated by one church’s response to the question, “What does it mean to love our neighbors?”

5. Nurture Meaningful relationships with adults

When Burt visits his home church for the other side of the country he is mobbed by people who want to talk to him. Oddly, they are not his peers. One of his adult friends is a doctor. His elderly Sunday school teacher wants to grad a coffee with him. Auntie Jen (his mom’s friend) wants to steal him away for Sunday lunch if she wins a coin toss with his old youth leader. This young professional is loved by about 8 older adults in the church. They genuinely look forward to spending time with him.

I’d be lying if I said that every youth and young adult enjoys this kind of loving network but that is the goal of the church that every youth has a network of at least 5 adults who not only show an interest but find ways to spend time with their students. (you can read more about the 5-1 ratio here.)

6. Have more conversations and less closed doors.

Powell and her team found that interviewees were eight times more likely to mention the diversity of beliefs in their church than the similarities.  They found that in these churches “Emphasis is placed on essential shared beliefs rather than exaggerating differences. In this way, those both inside and outside the church feel welcome to join the conversation without condemnation. They found that

“Rather than make decisions in a leadership vacuum, they recognize the tensions that swirl around cultural issues, especially for young people who may interact every day with those who believe—and live—differently. Leaders in churches growing young are creating both on ramps and road trips that make space for safe and honest dialogue. These churches figure that if we’re all created in God’s image, that’s a good enough starting point for valuing one another.”

A Starting Place

There’s no guarantee that churches that do these things will keep all of their young people but there is a good chance that churches that do not move in these directions will continue to observe the millennial exodus. It is difficult to move on each of these at the same time. Which of these can you act upon this year?

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Ron Powell


Ron Powell is the Adviser to the Director of the Youth Ministry Institute at Vanguard College. He has been involved in youth ministry for over 30 years. He continues to volunteer, write, teach, and speak to parents, leaders and teens. If you would like to contact him you can email ron.powell@vanguardcollege.com


  1. Ron, I am so enjoying your posts. This one in particular has caught me. I spent six years researching youth (over 300—12 – 20 year olds) on the street asking them what would it take for you to come to church. I also followed the research that talked about youth leaving the church. Then I published this work in a book called: “What Would It Take For Youth To Come To Church?” This book is profoundly simple in what the “Youth” are recommending. They need a “voice” in the church. This statement is simple; however, it has far reaching implications. It would require a “Social Innovation Within The Church.” We would need people who have ‘higher developed mentor skills’ in how to listen to one another. People are talking; however few are listening. Youth need a place and people who are safe and willing to listen. Youth need an opportunity to speak to others, to express their views safely, to hear other youth speak freely about difficult topics, to have opportunities to reason morally in order to develop their perspectives and faith practices. Even as I say this, few are truly listening to the breadth and depth of what youth have asking. Setting up mentor training skills development within churches would certainly help the more experienced leaders within the church to learn how to listen more “effectively and affectively.” It would also set up the potential for youth to use a process called “reverse mentoring” (see Peer Resources, http://www.peer.ca) where the youth help the more experienced within the church to develop these same “listening skills.” Social Innovation can happen and youth will return to the church as a body of support in faith. Thanks again, Ron, for your work and posts. Your suggestions are truly helpful. Wayne Townsend http://www.intelligentleaders.ca

    • This is incredible Wayne! Thanks for sharing the link and letting me know about your book!

    • Tim Craigsays:

      Hey Wayne, Just wondering where would i get your book if i wanted to purchase it? right now i am in the place of structuring Youth Council, My desire is to see youth lead each other and feel that the ministry is theirs not the churches or the pastors… if you know what I mean.

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