My grandmother played a game with me every time I’d visit. She would hide a “surprise” for me somewhere and then tell me to try and find it. As I darted off she would shout, “Cold … colder!” So, I would retrace my steps until I heard, “Warm … warmer …”
Usually there was a Snickers bar waiting where it was “warmest.”
I’m talking about warmth metaphorically here. Real warmth and Snickers bars don’t tend to agree with one another.
The kind of warmth you can’t measure is the kind the authors have in mind in Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church. When it comes to reaching young people, they say:
“Warm is the new cool.”
While some churches expend their resources to create trendy spaces and hip worship services, and hire a minister with deep V-neck tee and leather pants—all in an effort to be “cool”—these authors think that warm beats cool every time.
Is cool unimportant? No. It’s just secondary to warmth.
Now remember, this is the metaphorical kind of warmth we are talking about. The kind you can’t really measure. In this case, it’s relational warmth. Does someone talk to them at church? Does someone invite them over for lunch? Send them a text on the day of their big interview? Remember their birthday?
Warmth makes churches grow, they conclude. Especially when it comes to young people.
But here is where we need to parse this metaphorical warmth a little more precisely. Because I have a hunch there is a difference between inter-warmth and intra-warmth that is playing out at your church.
Let me explain with a story.
Recently, I got to overhear a young adult focus group discuss their experiences at a local church. When asked about the relational warmth of the church, many from the group spoke up quickly. They gushed about the way elders prayed over their families during hard times, and about mentors who came to their ball games or let them swim in their backyard pool.
To them, there was no “warmer” place on earth than their church.
But then the facilitators noticed that each of those who spoke up had also grown up at that church. Their families were integral members of the church, deeply and widely connected to others there.
So, they asked the others if their experience of the church’s warmth was the same.
“No,” they said.
For them, as young adult visitors, the church was very hard to become part of. Sure, everyone was nice enough. But the existing relationships within the church were so tight-knit that the visitors felt they couldn’t break in.
It’s tempting to say that these two groups experienced different degrees of warmth. But in fact, the difference is not one of degree, but one of kind. The first respondents confirmed the church excels in intra-warmth—relational warmth between those inside the group already. The second respondents would love to experience that intra-warmth, but instead ran headlong into a shortage of inter-warmth—relational warmth toward outsiders.
Lastly, and most troubling, the second respondents confirmed the facilitators’ worst fear: the strength of the congregation’s intra-warmth is actually the cause of the congregation’s weak inter-warmth.
In other words, their greatest strength is the source of their greatest weakness.
Any church leader who has overseen a small group or Sunday School class ministry knows that these two types of warmth are often in conflict with one another. If you let a group grow old together they will happily do so. They will share life with one another. Raise babies together. Struggle together through divorce, death, and sin. Their immeasurable intra-warmth will be off the fictitious charts.
But if you try to add a new couple to their ranks … well, good luck to you and good luck to that poor couple.
So, here’s my assumption: both intra and inter-warmth are critical to the spiritual and numerical growth of a church.
But, here’s my question: How in the world do you have both? How do you get “warmer” all around?
Eric and his wife Lindsey have been at Highland Church in Memphis since 2012. You are likely to find them walking the local Greenline with their sons Noble, Foster, and dachshund Tucker. Eric cares deeply about preaching and social justice. He has a BA in Biblical Text and a Master of Divinity from Abilene Christian University. Eric is a board member for HopeWorks, an organization that provides hope and job training to the chronically unemployed and formerly incarcerated in Memphis.