Clergy: If you want to disciple young people, quit doing assemblies.

At the moment, the CofE are advertising for a national youth evangelism person to try and solve the young people leaving the church crisis which has befallen the CofE for the past couple of decades. They want an evangelist. What the church needs is wholesale discipleship, and they need it from the Vicar.

A national strategy for enabling young people to have a discipleship relationship with God lies squarely at the clergy.  It would take £1000’s to supply churches across the land with the adequate extra youthwork staffing to even start to make a difference. Given that the CofE is quick to appoint the national and regional leaders, and not be able to resource the local, then its not going to happen in the local context without the Clergy being at the forefront of it, and in the thick of the action.

So – whats the plan. Simple.

Follow Jesus.

No i mean it.

Find 12 disciples. 12 young people who are interested in spending time with you, or that you might be interested spending time with them.

And if not 12- try 6.

Where from,  you ask?

Well what happens in your parish that already involves young people – Messy church? , Boys brigade? , Scouts & Guides? Summer holiday clubs?

Or what about the jugular- the thing you might already run…. Confirmation classes?  Do you run them with young people? – well run them as if confirmation isnt the end.

If none of the above apply – then find other spaces where young people might be – school, the streets, friends of your children perhaps- this is going to be more difficult. but not impossible. (ill talk about this in my next blog)

Find ways of getting know these small groups of young people, who are already in groups because of pre existing activity ( dont set up something known as ‘the event’ for them to come to, after 50 years of trying… this doesnt work)

Especially with groups of young people already in churchy activities ( messy church, confirmation) ask them, giving then options/choices whether they would want to continue to meet, chat, or do a variety of activities especially like the ones they already do (but might be getting too old for) . If you’re worried about meeting them alone, then meet in their houses, or do things that involve a parent.

If there’s already young people in the vicinity of your church, and you have some kind of connection with them, then build on it with them. Actively spend time with these few young people, negotiating varieties of activities, exploring their thoughts on faith, their place in the world, their dreams, worries and gifts.

“But i dont have time…” – well carry on doing the same things and expect different results.

“that sounds like hard work..” It is. But if discipleship is a lifestyle, and a witness and sacrificial, then yes it will be hard work.

“Im too old for working with young people” – Stop making excuses. Young people don’t want a fun person, honestly. They want someone who is genuinely interested in spending real quality time with them. you have to earn that right, but that’s no by trying to be cool, that’s by being interested. Its not an age thing at all. Don’t believe a myth about young people.

Assemblies may give you profile, may give you the opportunity to tell a story, or be known as the vicar. But they aint changing the world for a group of discipled young people. If time is an issue and you’re doing assemblies, drop them. Though if time is an issue and you’re not, then drop something else, like meetings.

If building relationships with people over 3 years (and the rest ) is what Jesus did then maybe he was on to something.

How will young people know how to follow Jesus if you just tell them (in an assembly for example) , without them spending time with you so you can show them too.  Show them discipleship, take them on a journey and let them take you too. 

Nothing an national youth evangelist can tell you will be better than if every vicar in Britain actively involved themselves in developing small groups of young people on an ongoing basis. Its not a clever national strategy built on programmes, events or resources. Its about stopping to spend time with young people. Spending time with them, showing them discipleship, and learning together about following Jesus in the long haul.

 

 

As well as writing articles such as this, I work for a youthwork charity Durham YFC, if you like what you read and would like to contribute to helping DYFC to deliver youthwork to young people in County Durham, one of the poorest counties in the UK, please click the page above and make a donation, or start giving monthly. Your help to help us keep working with young people is gratefully appreciated.
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14 comments

  1. I don’t agree. Assemblies, when done well, make God real and church accessible. Vicars are rarely the right people to disciple young people, although some are; and it’s all about finding the right people to be in youth work. I agree that Discipleship is key, but that means different things for different people, this lumps all young people in the same box rather than thinking about their personalities. I can see what your getting at, but it’s far too simplistic.

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  2. I like where you’re going as far as discipling young people, though I don’t necessarily think that dropping assemblies is a) necessary or b) right.

    a) necessary: a well-practised person can plan an assembly in half an hour. Tops. And they take at most an hour to do.* (this is a generous estimate, based on a long distance to travel to the school and a technologically complicated setup – if you’re the vicar of the local parish school, you could cut that to half an hour). Let’s not forget, too, that most school assemblies take place in the morning, usually first thing in the school day – when the young people you’re looking to evangelise will also likely be in school. That said, team-based assemblies such as Open the Book (http://www.openthebook.net) work wonders as they i) allow for a higher standard of assembly ii) have a pre-set formula and set of stories iii) reduce the overall time commitment.

    b) right. The Church of England sets great store by its ministry of presence. While this may not always seem intentional or productive, it most certainly is. Schools are meeting places for staff, children and parents from all walks of life, many of whom may not be Christians. The more visible you are there, the better. Secondly, school assemblies provide an almost unparalleled opportunity to present the Christian story to children at a crucial age – as the Jesuit maxim goes, ‘Give me a boy until the age of seven and I will give you the man.’ And don’t neglect the possibility of pastoral encounter beyond the assembly hall. Many have been the times that I and others in school ministries have been asked to pray with and for staff members and others who are going trough difficult times, most dramatically of which was the sudden death from cancer of a reception-class child in a school with which I worked in 2014. Our presence there at the time was invaluable.

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    • Thank you for your comments, im not doubting any of these things at all, its how it goes beyond meeting & telling. Assemblies can be good, there is no doubt and every context is different in terms of time and travel. Young people i meet do know their vicar from the odd assembly so it does have its merits – but its how can this be built upon with young people and young people explore/embody the story – especially if the demands from the school will be to increase assemblies. Its not a simple issue with a simple answer, and clergy in some places are already doing this and proving that it works.

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  3. This is thought-provoking, and I think your emphasis on discipleship is right. Assemblies can be a good way into schools and getting to know young people, but on its own it doesn’t count for much. School Christian Unions are a better thing to support, if there’s no chaplain or worker on the ground to do it.

    I’m also assuming that you’re thinking of churches that don’t have youth workers…or are you? Between a youth worker and a Vicar, who’s best placed to do the discipling?

    Also – what do you think about the recent studies that showed high rates of dropout for ‘detached’ Christian youth work as opposed to young people who have one or both parents attending church? Is the whole thing doomed to failure anyway? (I’m asking this slightly tongue in cheek, but also sincerely, as pastors of a church that has pretty much no youth work in it because we have no parents. Schools work is going on – but statistics say that it’s parents bringing their kids to church that have the highest chance of lasting the course.)

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    • There a whole load of paid and extra youthworkers for the young people who have no contact with churches, but where clergy have a way in or young people are already connected it needs to be built on. Most churches dont have the choice, there is no youthworker and no prospect of having one. thanks Tanya, very welcome thoughts and encouragement!

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  4. “Or what about the jugular- the thing you might already run…. Confirmation classes? Do you run them with young people? – well run them as if confirmation isnt the end.”

    This. We had a confirmation class of 10. Usually somewhat fewer than 10 attended the classes (a couple of which I led). After confirmation that seemed to be it. Confirmation unfortunately became the end. Out of 10, only 2 still regularly attend. There are various reasons for that of course, including family circumstances or the fact that they didn’t really attend before confirmation (?!), but still. It’s sad really.

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  5. Really interesting discussion on my FB feed on the post.

    Let’s be honest, the Assemblies thing is a bit Click Baity. Many of us have to fight to get a foothold in schools. Others of us with Church Schools see those schools as congregations (especially when children are supernaturally meeting with God in the eucharist). Plenty of us have seen young people come to faith and be baptised or confirmed as believers through that engagement with schools.

    But apart from the Bait, I agree.

    As a vicar I have the same responsibility towards our young people as to adults. If Mrs Miggins (68) stops coming to church then there are questions to be answered (not all the Vicar’s fault mind) The same if Jake (13) stops coming then I should respond the same way. Do I? Well I am working on it.

    Equally in terms of discipleship, pastoral care, conversation, walking through life decisions. Doesn’t matter if someone is doing SATs, choosing a career, getting married, starting a family, selling the family home, suffering an illness, losing a life partner, preparing for death, whatever stage in life the Vicar should be available and willing.

    As it is I share all that ministry. But in my context there are more folks available to minister to older people than younger people. So I run the youth cell (and learn so much from them), I help with the ‘Sunday School’ (although the children are very much involved in leading worship too and I follow the line that children are better in church than being taken out). I visit young people when they have major life or faith events, baptism, communion, choosing a school, college, GCSE’s, A-levels, university etc. just as I would for the adults.

    That means more time invested in a smaller group of people, and then equipping them to reach out to others – whilst modeling the work of an evangelist myself. It means we don’t have 100’s at Messy Church, but we do have people who are learning what it really means to follow Jesus.

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    • HI Edward, yes, it might be a little, the temptation with assemblies is to put us into ‘telling’ mode where showing and journeying with is also a space to be inhabited. Thanks for your comments and the encouragement that your ministry has involved in young people and their families is.

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  6. I might venture that “doing assemblies” if it means modelling proclaiming Jesus in the public domain is very much a part of discipling and if a vicar thinks they can model disciplining t younger people by excluding modelling proclamation of christ in their public domain then that is a mistake.. They’d just better do it with conviction – there IS a place for “withdrawn” discipling and sometimes Jesus took his disciples apart but they also witnessed his public proclamation of the kingdom- and he seems to have done most of his recorded discipling in the public arenas .

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  7. As a kids worker I used to do assemblies in 11 primary schools. It was a great way to meet kids and teachers and get known in communities, but I wasn’t seeing much return from it. So I gave up doing that and started to work with one school. A few assemblies, yes, but Open the Book each week, helping with events, fundraising, moving other events that we ran to take place in the school… I eventually became chair of the Friends of the school and was able to build real relationships with so many more people and see lives changed because of it. Assemblies can make a difference, if part of something bigger, but if those couple of hours spent on an assembly each week were focused on small group of committed Christian kids on the same school, would they not make the same impact, or more? The trouble is though that assemblies are clean-cut. Prep, do the talk, 20min later you can forget about it and move on to the next thing. Discipleship is messy, hard work and time-consuming… Thanks for a great conversation starting article.

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