Is one of the oft cries of the Clergy and Congregations. Its also the key outcome of Youth Ministry. Trying not to lose young people. Thats what all the resources, festivals, cultural icons, activities are all for. not to lose young people.
We have great childrens work, messy church, Sunday schools until they get to 11, but when they get to secondary school we struggle to keep them.
At its at this point when the conversation turns one of two ways.
- Give up
- Appoint a youthworker
- Hope that the young people go to church or CU in a school/ or a different church.
There possibly is no magic cure to this one as every young person, in every family and in every church is different. But what might be the questions to ask ourselves before a young person, or group of them get to that ‘tricky age’..
- Are they in a settled peer group in that group – ie of 9-10 yr olds? how might we develop group work with their established group (not our predestined age demarkation)
- What do we expect them to do at age 11 – at the same time school demands the same change? even schools dont make an 11 year olds sit in a group with a 15 year olds- from the age of 11. no wonder some 11 year olds might struggle in that kind of environment – and that’s on the assumption that there is some kind of youth group to ‘move up’ to.
- Who are the people that these 9-10 year olds have connected with at ages 9-10? can these leaders stay being the leaders of this group as it moves up. So that they all continue this connection & relationship – instead of moving groups.
- What about opportunities for the 9-10 yr olds to also have responsibility and leadership roles in the church.
The other thing is it depends on who the 9-10 year olds are. If they are the traditional ‘church’ sunday school young people then yes they might drift away from a point of being ‘in’ the culture.
If the 9-10 year olds have only recently arrived through more community work type approaches such as messy church, and maybe dont have ‘christian’ influence at home (yes both of these categories are generalisations) – then maybe the space of belonging for them such as messy church is also the space thatthey find faith, belonging and continued responsibility as church through their teens. Or youthwork approaches used with them to develop their faith as they continue. referring them to a different group, time, event – will almost certainly lose them. or make it harder for them.
I guess the key is relationship over activity. Investing in young people through the long haul, and being consistent in discipling them from what-ever start point. If you do lose them, then dont think of as lost. Think of it as a process of having begun, and find ways of staying in contact with them, but not expect attendance but conversation instead.
We need to build on what we have, and if that is actual relationships with young people though 8,9,10 then we need to be wise as to how we keep them. leave the school to do difficult transitions.
What is your churchs pathway for children and young people from 0-18? and where are the most challenging jumps that they as young people have to make?
And what kind of faith do you want them to have at certain points?
What kind of disciples do you want them to be – world changers? faith challengers? and leaders equipped to minister to others?
And no, there are no easy answers, and there are no right answers either because the situations are all different, but treating young people as disciples and young adults who are important in the faith community is a good place to start. It might involve culture change within the church.