What if the main thing isn't getting young people into our youth group?
How many of us find that young people who seemed very solid members of the youth group drop out as soon as they leave? When we see them next, they may talk about how hard it has been finding another Download / Hope / Life / Grace / Older Youth / CYFA [delete as appropriate]. You’re disappointed and you try perhaps not to blame other churches too much, because maybe they haven't got the resources to be as good as your youth group.
Since reading Krish Kandiah’s excellent article: ‘It takes a whole church to raise a child’, I’ve thought more about how young people engage with the wider church, but still, I was challenged recently.
Fiona Green (Director of Youth, Children and Family Ministry at All Saints, Woodford Wells) suggested a model that I thought deserved a wider audience. It’s worth a read because it looks again at what many of us hold dear, that the key thing is getting young people into the youth group.
In one church, we didn't have any other older youth provision on Sundays (other than mentoring breakfast once a month during all age worship). Older youth were invited to serve on Sunday mornings in various teams but had no group of their own.
My messaging was always: 'If you're going to do one thing this week, come to our evening service.' We prioritised Sunday evening church higher than midweek youth.
We sat together (those who wanted to) in the evening service. Youth team were 'on duty'. We did all the things we'd do in midweek youth. We greeted young people as they arrived, purposefully but informally; we sat with young people, watched out for young people who were on their own, tried to help them connect with each other etc. It’s all Youthwork 101 but we made sure the culture was the same around the church service as midweek.
As Youth Pastor, I was on the rota for leading (or preaching) in the service, usually twice a month. Youth leadership was reflected in who led the service, bringing consistency between youth group and church. I’d use one of those monthly opportunities to train a young person, intern or team member. This wasn’t a gimmick. It was simply about them being contributing members of the wider church family and growing in their gifts. Importantly, young people served not only in upfront rolls (band, leading, preaching) but also in other roles e.g. sound desk and they did this alongside adults.
One or two would end up spending more of the service on the sofas in our hall, so we streamed the service live into the hall. Depending on the dynamic, sometimes youth team joined them there.
We ran hardcore hospitality after the service. We deliberately kept young people in the same space as adults but we brought down our table tennis and pool tables, sofas, etc. Again, youth team were purposeful during this time. Every week, after the service, we served the whole congregation (not just the youth) with hotdogs and hot chocolates as well as the usual coffee and biscuits.
We regularly made up maybe 20 - 25% of the congregation, with about 30-40 young people (likely more) in church every week. A significant number of young people joined our youth community through first coming to church with friends on Sunday evenings.
Post-Lockdown is a time to rethink everything we’re doing. Should we be lowering the emphasis we place on our youth groups? If not, are we clear why not? What might we gain? What might we lose? It's certainly worth thinking about. Could it help young people bridge the gap to a Christian life after they are 18, when they no longer have a group tailored to their own age?
Thanks Fiona Green for helping us think about this.
Find out more about helping young people engage with the wider church in Dave's book: 'Raising the Bar: Nearly everything you need to know about Christian youth ministry'. Buy the book here.
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay.