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.


Sociology as a Handmaiden to Evangelism? A Review of ‘Got Religion?’ by Naomi Schaefer Riley

Got_Religion_0 Naomi Schaefer Riley, Got Religion? How Churches, Mosques and Synagogues Can Bring Young People Back (West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press, 2014). Hardcover / Kindle

“All young people, newly come into an urban environment, and living for the first time outside of the family group and the association of old acquaintances, constitute an element of gravest spiritual and moral dangers as well as one of untold possibilities.”

Is this the latest warning from the Barna Group about the problem of young people leaving the Church? No, these are the words of University of Chicago sociologist H. Paul Douglass in The St. Louis Church Survey published in 1924. Anxiety about the spiritual fate of young adults is evergreen.

And so, it seems, is the solution to the problem: “It is urged that all religious forces keep steadily in sympathetic touch with all these groups,” Douglass went on to write, “and that agencies particularly designed to serve them receive united support.”

Naomi Schaefer Riley concludes Got Religion? with these words in order to remind readers that passing on the faith to the next generation has always been a challenge, even if the contemporary age adds unique twists to that challenge. Her book outlines the strategies some American evangelicals, Muslims, Catholics, Jews, historically black churches, and parachurch organizations are utilizing to attract and retain young people—defined as people born after 1980—within their respective religious communities.

In the Introduction, Riley identifies three reasons why the intergenerational transmission of faith is especially difficult at the present moment: “the trends of family formation, the cultural acceptability of not belonging to a religious institution, and the steady decline of attendance” at religious services. In other words, young adults marry later, if at all, identify themselves as religious nones, and are standoffish to religious institutions—indeed, institutions more generally. Since family, religious identity, and religious participation are crucial to each of the religious groups Riley surveys, a decline in those three factors spells trouble for all of them.

Obviously, there are theological differences between these various religious groups that will color how they reach out to young adults. There are also sociological differences. Historically, the Church has played a much larger role in the African American community than in the Anglo American community, for example. Jews have a unique attachment to the State of Israel. Muslims come to America as immigrants from many countries. And Mormons are concentrated in certain regions of America.

Nonetheless, how these various religious groups reach out to young adults shares much in common too, sociologically speaking. After profiling some of these outreach efforts, Riley concludes her book with this statement:

Religious leaders who are successfully connecting with young adults realize that sleek advertising is not going to bring people into the pews. The barriers to entry are not matters for public relations firms to tackle. Young adults want community. They want a neighborhood. They want a critical mass of people their age. But they want to see older people and younger people in their religious institutions, too. They want a way to serve, and many of them want a way to serve sacrificially for longer periods of time. They want the racial and ethnic diversity of the country reflected in their religious community. They want a message (in English) that resonates and helps them tackle the practical challenges they face, of which there are many. They want to feel welcome whether they are single or married. And while they may appear to be experiencing an extended adolescence, when they are given responsibility, they are often inclined to take it.

Multigenerational community, service opportunities, ethnic diversity, relevant religious instruction, hospitality regardless of marital status, and leadership responsibilities: Religious groups that offer these things to young adults are more likely to attract and retain them than those who don’t. Frankly, as an “older” American, such a church would be more likely to attract and retain me too.

From the standpoint of Christian theology—or Muslim or Jewish theology, for that matter—Riley’s sociological account of young adults’ participation raises questions she neither asks nor answers. As a Christian minister, I want to ask questions such as: What is the role of the Holy Spirit in drawing people into the Church? Are a religious group’s doctrinal claims true or false? Is Jesus Christ the way of salvation? Were I writing a book about Christians attracting and retaining young adults in the faith, I would explore those theological questions alongside Riley’s sociological ones.

Regardless, Riley’s book is a valuable one. Sociology, it turns out, can be a handmaiden to evangelism. A church that preaches the gospel but ignores what attracts and retains young is not likely to accomplish its mission very well.

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