Authentic participation & How will young people in your church stay?

If there is a difference between youth ministry, and missional youthwork, maybe it could be summed up by the thought that youth ministry attempts to stop young people who are in the church from leaving, like plugging the gaps in a colander, where missional youthwork begins with the premise that young people are no-where in relation to the church but to give them opportunities to opt in to faith, and hoping that in their discipleship they are welcomed by a church, and not them fall through the same colander.

But if Youth ministrys task- and expectation is to help young people not fall through the cracks (and university of cardiff figures indicate that the church is only keeping 1/3 of its teenagers through to adult life) then the question has to be asked;

How will the young people in your church stay?

Is this not the appropriate question that should be asked of youth ministry, or any ministry in a local church. One one hand it the pessimist question, should a better question be – how can young people flourish in their discipleship in this church

How can young people flourish in their discipleship in this church?

because it might be that letting them leave might in the long run be a good thing, especially if church is all they have known. However, thats not the point, what would be good things your church could do to help young people stay in the faith community you as a parent, as a pastor, as a youth worker are also part of? These might be useful considerations.

  1. Identify & Cultivate the use of their gifts from an early age
  2. Ask young people what they would like to do every year to help them develop in their faith? – dont assume you know what they want, or that they are happy with the existing.
  3. Challenge them with questions to explore from the front, and not told answers to unspoken questions
  4. Give them broad experiences of mission- and not just events to bring their friends to as the only way. Give them ways they can be involved in the common good in a local community.
  5. Allow them to opt in to things that might be good for them, at their choosing.

Recently i was helping a church with doing interviews for a new youthworker, whilst it was great that during the process a small group of them gave feedback after an activity. What was even better was to have one young person in the decision making panel and contribute to the lengthy discussion. During the day though, all the young people raised their game, because they were given the opportunity to- the congregation had only ever (not) seen them in groups before. It’s not about tokenism, but providing genuine opportunities for young people to participate in decision making processes that actually affect them, and some that might not. And if young people are valued in the kingdom of God as participants, then it would be the least of the local church to encourage participation. After all how else might they be involved?

Participation isnt the only thing thats going to keep young people in a church, its the right kind of participation. One that is suitable for them, their gifts, with the right kind of attitude, that respects and cultivates them. That pushes them in safe spaces, and encourages in the risky ones too. But fundamentally if they have no reason to stay, and being entertained is not a reason, then why would they? After all, they’re used to changing channels when entertainment doesnt suffice – church has to mean more than this, and not just say it does. It has to be real with them, understand them and enable them to flourish in their faith community, and not just those with leadership potential – because then we’ve judged them, and judged others too.



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