Is Sunday church attendance still the great expectation of youth ministry?

Youth Ministers and youth workers are some of the most creative, determined and passionate people i know, especially when it comes to doing all they can to help young people to think about faith. but doesnt any of it matter, if the young people dont go to their local church on a Sunday morning? 

 Over the last few months, may be a bit longer, I have begun to realise the extraordinary amount of work and time that goes into holding sunday morning services in churches up and down the land; from heating, flowers, coffee, preaching, PA, lighting, readings, themes, wardens, communion, song choices, keys, welcome team. And then there is the effort financially, so heating, equipment, musical repairs (organs!). The sheer amount of effort that goes into sunday morning church, that everyone from the PCC. clergy, and countless volunteers across the country put effort into. Its no wonder then, with this level of investment, this level of personal identity and commitment to it, why the congregation might be at first affronted if young people dont turn up, or maybe more the the point, have an expectations that due to making one or two significant changes ( a kids song, or ‘getting a trendy pastor’ ) that young people will suddenly become part of it and attend. It is understandable with such investment why congregations value sunday mornings, and why, despite everything else at times, young people attending can be the implicit or explicit expectation.

None of this is particularly new, but neither has it really gone away.

So, for the youthworker, it doesnt matter if all the young people in a village use the church in a youthgroup on a friday evening and have moments of ‘faith’ – if none of them turn up on Sundays

Or if there are young people who are met on the streets and use a candle to pray for their family situation – if none of them end up going to a church

when the young people and youthworkers create the best late night Saturday church in the town, and many young people turn up and experience faith – because if it means something, theyll turn up on a Sunday

Or if the young people have started to form their own church, doing discipleship and Mission, sharing gifts and spending time in worship – if they can do this on sunday afternoon – why not sunday morning? 

Or if once a month they all leave the church to do a church service elsewhere – if its real faith, they can show it by being here on a sunday. 

Its not just current youth ministry – and there are countless creative youth workers providing a huge range of spaces and alternative churches, faith conversations for struggling or excluded young people- most well outside the church, but there are so many examples where mid week, special, welcoming open spaces that churches and their youthworkers and volunteers already provide, and these occur often in the local church. But viewed through the prism of ‘but people arent coming on sunday’ they can feel a disappointment. From toddler groups, to lunch clubs, alpha (yes even alpha) to Rock Solid clubs, Food banks to Street Pastors (though i think both of these have survived the expectations to an extent), open youth clubs, to messy church. Churches are more and more offering spaces of contact, engagement and activity, even at times on a Thursday evening or Tuesday morning where people feel a sense of community, of conversation and acceptance. Yet at times at the moment, it can feel as if the only thing that might matter after 52 weeks of toddlers, or 12 months of a mens group, is whether anyone from them ‘came to church on a sunday’ 

What if instead we suggested that people could be discipled without going to church on a sunday? (not a new suggestion)  – So what might discipleship at toddlers, or messy church or after school clubs look like if sunday was put to one side- at least until the person even suggested it? And moving further, discipleship at the youth club, the foodbank, or on the streets… And what if this was also communicated to the Sunday congregation… We know the Sunday service is important, for, and far more than just the practical and emotional reasons I suggested above. But without a different way of discipleship – one ‘through’, during and developed from the activities and welcome spaces – then the well intentioned activities carry too much hope and expectation, and ultimately it is a strategy deemed to failure. Reasons being – its not worked for 50 years.

Yet it can also be that a huge amount of effort, creativity and energy is belittled by this one phrase, ‘did any of them come to church?’ or ‘how can we get some of them to….’  The youthworker can be in a tension point, they might know and care deeply about the faith of the young people and also have to care about the local church (often it is the local church who finances the youthworker) – yet they might also know that the young people cant stand church on a sunday- or that their emerging, new faith might struggle with it- though fundamentally, it can be a struggle – because it highlights that churches dont value the effort on friday night, tuesday in school or monday doing admin – if it doesnt translate to sunday mornings. 

At the moment it can feel like nothing is important except Sunday mornings. And as the church shrinks in some areas this can be heightened. Actually nothing matters except that young people, all people have an encounter with and respond to a call of God on their lives.  Of course – how might we tell people that they need to let go of sundays – when its been their social and emotional life for 20+ years? – that’d be difficult. Or might there be freedom in re educating congregations to ‘let go’ of it as ritual/duty and it being the focus of the church activity week- and see it as a rehearsal for the churches real performances on Sunday night to the following Saturday. It is Mondays toddler group, and Fridays after school club that deserve more attention. A Healthy church, might have a healthier view of God being present and active in all of its activities, like creation, God might actually be resting on a sunday….We might love Sunday Church, but causing it to be the implicit destination of the churchs social groups and clubs misunderstands discipleship, mission and the opportunities of faith within the welcoming spaces outside of it.

One thought on “Is Sunday church attendance still the great expectation of youth ministry?

  1. I sometimes wonder if it is all to do with the input of time and money is supposed to translate into the expectation that we (the congregation that paid) have to get to see the person come to christ, rather than allowing them to journey in faith and come to christ in christ`s time. We may have watered the seed or tended to it in some way but perhaps we do not get to see them come to faith, perhaps they don`t but have a better understanding of what it means to be a christian and can witness to that in the wider world rather than adopting the usual secular ideas of church etc?

    Thanks again for your thoughts James

    Liked by 1 person

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