Growing With | Book Review

Kara Powell and Steven Argue begin Growing With by pinpointing the dilemma our kids face in the crucial season between 13 and 29 years of age: “On the one hand, our kids’ sophistication has accelerated and it seems like they are getting older earlier; but on the other hand, they feel less mature as the typical markers of adulthood are now delayed.” In other words, the transition to adulthood begins earlier and lasts longer in this generation than in previous generations.

How we parent our children changes as they age. Powell and Argue define “Growing With parenting” as “a mutual journey of intentional growth for both ourselves and our children that trusts God to transform us all.” Growing With helps Christian parents navigate those changes by describing three stages of development our kids go through.

In the “learner” stage (ages 13–18), our kids enter “a season of rapid physical, emotional, relational, intellectual, and spiritual growth and change.” As parents, our primary role in this stage is as “teachers,” not in the sense of telling them what to do, but in the sense of “learner-centered teaching.”

In the “explorer” stage (ages 18–23), our kids “often venture for the first time away from home or home-oriented routines to pursue their goals, relationships, and beliefs.” During this stage, parents’ primary role is as “guides,” shifting “our parenting focus away from setting goals for our kids and toward guiding them on the journey of setting their own goals.”

Finally, in the “focusers” stage (ages 23–29), our kids “begin to gain a clearer sense of who they are and have likely made educational, vocational, and relational choices that set them on particular trajectories.” Our primary role is as “resourcers.” Our kids come to us for advice because “we have lived through the life events they now anticipate, including career advancement, marriage, parenthood, renting or buying a home, and financial investments.”

As these changes occur, Powell and Argue urge parents to pay “special attention to three keys areas of our child’s exploration: family, faith, and freedom” [emphasis in original]. Parents who do so engage in what the authors call the three “dynamic verbs” of “withing,” “faithing,” and “adulting.”

      • Withing: “a family’s growth in supporting each other as children grow more independent”
      • Faithing: “a child’s growth in owning and embodying their own journey with God as they encounter new experiences and information”
      • Adulting: “a child’s growth in agency as they embrace opportunities to shape the world around them”

The unique contribution Growing With  makes to the literature of Christian parenting is its detailed advice about what shapes withing, faithing, and adulting take in the learner, explorer, and focuser stages of our kids’ lives, and how we should parent as a result. This advice takes up the bulk of the book (chapters 3–8). In this review, I’m only focusing on the organizing framework. You’ll have to read the book to get Powell and Argue’s detailed advice.

Growing With is a valuable read for parents of adolescents and young adults. It describes the changes our kids are going through, and what kinds of major life choices they are beginning to make using a memorable vocabulary to describe both the changes and the choices. Throughout, the authors urge parents to keep the lines of relationship with our kids open, even when — perhaps especially when — they begin to make choices we disagree with. In that vein, I wish the authors had provided clearer direction to Christian parents about kids and LGBT issues, which are a much bigger deal today than when most of us were growing up.

I close by quoting three mantras the authors encourage parents to tell themselves:

      1. “Today I will attempt to be in the right place at the right time.” This means knowing what stage your kids are in and what role your parenting should take as a result.
      2. “Today I will allow grace to give me courage to take a next faithful step.”
      3. “Today I have what it takes to be the best parent for my kid.”

It’s never too late to be a better parent, and Growing With offers valuable advice for better parenting our kids as they emerge into young adulthood.

Book Reviewed
Kara Powell and Steven Argue, Growing With: Every Parent’s Guide to Helping Teenagers and Young Adults Thrive in Their Faith, Family, and Future (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2019).

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P.P.S. This review is cross-posted from with permission.


Review of ‘Growing Young’ by Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin

growing-youngKara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin, Growing Young: 6 Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2016).

“Multiple studies highlight that 40 to 50 percent of youth group seniors—like the young people in your church—drift from God and the faith community after they graduate from high school.”

Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin cite this statistic at the outset of their new book, Growing Young. The statistic alarmed me both because I am a minister concerned about trends that affect the church and also because I am a father concerned about the faith journeys of my own children. If you share my concerns, I encourage you to read this book, which outlines “6 essential strategies to help young people discover and love your church,” as the book’s subtitle puts it.

Those strategies emerged out of an intensive four-year research project led by Powell, Mulder, and Griffin under the auspices of the Fuller Youth Institute in Pasadena, California. The authors all work for FYI. If you’re interested in research methodology, make sure to read the Appendix.

What the research did not reveal was as interesting to me as what it did reveal. In the first chapter, the authors briefly outline “10 Qualities Your Church Doesn’t Need in Order to Grow Young.” That list includes:

  1. A precise size
  2. A trendy location or region
  3. An exact age
  4. A popular denomination…or lack of denomination
  5. An off-the-charts cool quotient
  6. A big, modern building
  7. A big budget
  8. A “contemporary” worship service
  9. A watered-down teaching style
  10. A hyper-entertaining ministry program

Some churches effectively engaging young people had these ten qualities, others didn’t. In other words, they weren’t necessary or sufficient for engaging young people.

So, what did the research reveal? It showed that churches that are “growing young” make six “core commitments”:

  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.

As a middle-aged man with three young children at home, I felt especially challenged by the second and third commitments.

Empathize with today’s young people. All people—me included—struggle with questions of identity (“Who am I?”), belonging (“Where do I fit?”), and purpose (“What difference do I make?”). But for a variety of reasons, today’s young people wrestle with these questions earlier, longer, and more intensely than previous generations. Churches who effectively engage today’s young people don’t make fun of or get exasperated with their struggles. Neither do they alleviate the wrestling with fluff or entertainment. Instead, they empathetically listen and respond with “grace, love, and mission.”

Take Jesus’ message seriously. The authors note that sociologists of religion have “identified the de facto religious belief system of teenagers today as moralistic therapeutic deism.” Basically, many of today’s young people think that God exists (deism) and wants people to be nice (moralistic) and happy (therapeutic). Beyond that, God isn’t much involved with or concerned about people. Unfortunately, many churches reinforce moralistic therapeutic deism by reducing Christianity to a behavioral code.

By contrast, churches that are growing young are making three key shifts:

  1. Less talk about abstract beliefs and more talk about Jesus.
  2. Less tied to formulas and more focused on a redemptive narrative.
  3. Less about heaven later and more about life here and now.

This doesn’t mean that growing-young churches have ditched abstractions, formulas, or heaven, by the way. However, their emphasis is on who Christ is, what He has done for us, and how He wants us to act now in light of that. This is a biblically rooted, orthodox, and active faith.

As I read these chapters in particular, I kept asking myself: Do I empathize with young people in my church? With my own kids? Am I taking Jesus’ message seriously myself? Is this reflected in how I interact with young people in my church? With my own kids? When you read Growing Young, you may be challenged by a different set of the core commitments. I have highlighted the two that challenged me in order to give you a taste of how the details the authors provide for each commitment.

So, who should read Growing Young? Frankly, whoever cares about young people—clergy or laity, paid staff or volunteer, young or old. I’d especially encourage senior pastors to read it, however. They’re a church’s primary vision caster, mission bearer, and values leader. Engaging young people today can’t be delegated (or relegated) to the junior high, high school, college, and young adults ministries. Growing young must become part of the church’s culture.

P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my review page.

P.P.S. You might also want to check out my Influence Podcast with Kara Powell. We talk in greater depth about the book.