15 tips for every church to disciple young people

or ‘if you want to keep young people in church, value and trust them’

Its pretty obvious by now that churches are local, contextual beasts. There’s limited cultural shifting in any organisation thats over 25 years old, and so many churches fit into that category. So no amount of diocesan training, denomination conferences, inter denominational collectives, or summer worship at festivals, will enable dynamic shifting to take place. Maybe in some, no shifting is needed. However, the strategies for retaining young people through a meagre diet of Sunday school, summer camps and attending the regional city based youth orientated worship event are common,  But what might every church be capable of in terms of young peoples discipleship?  here a few ideas, tips or pointers.

  1. Cultivate a small group mentality from an early age  – spot the group of them at age 9-10-11, in existing provision ( sunday school, messy church, confirmation classes) and develop small groups – in houses, cultivate depth, social connections and spaces where discipleship can happen.
  2. Cultivate the gifts and abilities young people might have, or might not know they have yet. The leader 0r musical person might be easy, but how might the hospitable, the encourager, the reconciler find a space to have this gift encouraged in the church.
  3. Value the few young people, give them spaces to join in with other groups, with adults in small groups – dont assume young people just want to be seperate in their own groups, having them learn with adults in groups will help and challenge both age groups.
  4. Give young people responsibility and trust them if they fall, and trust them if they succeed – give them small jobs then larger ones, and from an early age. ie 9, 10 or 11.
  5. Dont put expectations on them to ‘bring friends’ to church things that a) they havent organised, b) they’re not involved in or c) that adults dont model the same behaviour.
  6. Create spaces where their voice is heard in decision making processes in the church, from members meetings, PCC, on youthworker interview panels, vision days, diocesan initiatives. Ask, how is the church actively excluding young people through its processes – and how might this change?
  7. Ditch relevency, for depth.
  8. Create mystery and spaces for enquiry and exploration
  9. Assign mentors to pray for specific young poeple ( make this anonymous)
  10. Dont force them to go to the latest christian ministry offering by ‘evangelical’ youth church initiative , valuing a young persons faith might not mean they have to support someone elses ministry. even if your church and the other church or ministry want to support each other, the young people in the church neednt be the pawns in what might be ministry game, if they say no to your pressure to go then recognise the strength of character, and their readiness to take responsibility for their faith, rather than conformity to their leaders.
  11. Find ways of developing discipleship with the few, and not bemoan the days of larger groups in the 60’s-70’s or 90’s. That isnt the young persons fault, if anything its yours.
  12. Let them be involved in deciding programmes, subjects, methods in their groups and group work from as early as possible. Give them ‘just’ space for conversations and see where this goes also. young people in churches might just be programmed to death..
  13. create a positive mindset about young people, as young adults – not youth/adolescence – but young adults whom you as a church are receivers of and responsible for – if the church doesnt think of young people positively, then the media who already doesnt has affected the church too much, that needs to be challenged.  If church is a family, or a body, or a city on a hill, then all play parts to contribute in its flourishing.
  14. Dont create a strategy for youth ministry – cultivate a culture that welcomes, encourages and disciples young people.
  15. Explain and talk through with young people the actual stuff in church – like liturgies, meetings, and ceremonies so that they can understand and find meaning in them.
  16. provide tools for exploring, for interpreting the world around them, and the scriptures- not just the answers that you want them to say, and they feel you want to hear.

Not all of these things are possible, though for many its a question of priorities, or changing existing ways of doing things, or employing the professional youthworker to ‘do it all’ . And culture within churches is hard to shift. Yet what if every church began to think about the ways it worked with young people- from programmes to people, from attendance to involvement, and activity to discipleship. It might be that even one of the above would represent a huge shift for your church – but maybe thats all it would take to think about the work with young people further and think about the young people differently and their faith development in the community of the church.




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