Most church websites, when talking about young people say something like this:
We have lots for our young people to get involved with. From mid week groups to mentoring we’re passionate about walking alongside the youth to help equip them in their personal lives.
Our Connect Groups meet in _______ for all aged 10-17yrs old. Great fun, with food and talking about what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
or, now and again, the section on youth and children may even include aspects of policies:
______welcomes children and young people into the church. At our 10:15 service on a Sunday morning we have a range of groups catering for all ages from 0 to 18 years. We also have a range of mid-week groups.
See more about the groups and events we have for chilren (under 10s) and youth (10s and over) by browsing the tabs on the left. All our groups work within social service guidelines for adult:child ratios and our volunteers are regulated through the Diocesan Child Protection Scheme.
_____Protection of children and vulnerable adults policy is linked with the Diocese of Durham Safeguarding document available here. (and then a link is provided)
And though these three examples arent completely representative, two were large anglican churches and one a charismatic church in the north east, they are three of the larger churches that might be able to put more resources into keeping a website updated. If I was a young person, what i would hear from these website is that my only access to be included in a church is though being part of groups or services. Activity and being busy is the connection with faith and the church. And in the main, it is good to know what is on offer. Thats what the website is all about.
Some churches want to let everyone know what they think about young people, often saying that ‘here at _____ church we think youth are amazing’ , or that ‘we believe young people are a chosen generation and ready to be raised up to win hearts for Jesus’, though i am not sure that this jargon isnt going to put some young people off, less make them curious.
One of the things that the Fuller Youth Institute identified about a church that was able to keep young people, in their research of over 1500 churches over 4 years, that had 15 year olds in them, was that church was a healthy place, that took young persons intelligence and critical thinking seriously and where faith became meaningful for them. (The link to the research is here on this post of mine in this site: https://wp.me/p2Az40-NP )
So, in thinking about creating and being a healthy place for young people – i wonder what does the church website communicate about young people- and how the church is a healthy place for them? (and yes a website isnt everything, but it can be an entrance point)
As someone who is meeting young people on the streets with all kind of questions, and concerns about their life, faith, identity and sexuality, through being involved in detached youthwork projects – I guess I would want to be able to know – and so that young people could see from the church website whether they might be accepted or welcome into the church if
- They were struggling with mental health or depression
- They had a disability
- They were diagnosed with ADHD (as an example)
- They were LGBT and identified as being part of the LGBT community and also wanted to explore faith.
- They didnt like being part of groups
as a few examples, there are others.
And if a church is active in sharing its inclusiveness- especially via its website- then its going to be easier for a young person, or a young persons friend to feel as though the church is thinking and ready to accept them within it, regardless. And if theres something said on the website, it also communicates to a young person that the church has discussed and thought through the specific ‘issue’ (if LGBT is seen as an issue). It communicates confidence, as well as inclusion.
A church might say it welcomes all, but for young people especially, this might need to be more specific, and should be.
Moving on to other matters; What else might a church website communicate about young people? And communicate about its community and attitude that it might be practically for young people? could it include things like:
- Come along and be challenged to try a radical lifestyle of self denial and a faith that is controversial?
- In this church we welcome young people who have tons of questions!
- If you’re here longer than 6 weeks be prepared to get involved and serve (we want you to be part of what we do)
- We love to give you new space to try new things – especially that help you show Gods love to the local community
- Dont worry if you have doubts – we all do – just come along and join in finding out more together
- Oh and we all fail, so just give things a go – thats what we’re all about
again, i would think that there might be more things that could be added- but what might be the kind of messages that could be communicated to young people on the church website – to say that church is a healthy place – a place for curiosity, participation, questions and doubt and connectedness.
At the very least, as one church did do, mentioning something about how the church is making steps to ensure that those who work with children and young people are adequately disclosure /dbs checked is a good thing. It should be a bare minimum – but what about other policies that a church could communicate about how it works with young people – such as confidentiality, inclusion of aspects said above, or even a complaints policy/whistle blowing policy for children, and young people and parents to be able to make complaints should they need to. All part of a transparency to a point, and creating a healthy space for young people.
Then, how else might church be a healthy space?
- how or who decides that groups change or end – that affect young people
- might young people be avoided of embarrassment factor – being asked to do services from the age of 12 unless they want to
- where peer groups can stay together – regardless of age
- where young people can develop their gifts – not just pigeon holed into what the church needs doing
- and they were not pressurised to do the thing that the leaders want them to do, because its what the lleaders feel is how faith is/was expressed – ie the worship youth event, or the summer festival – when there are other alternatives to being together and connecting spiritually.
And again, i would think there were other things, for churches to think about in terms of how they might be healthy (and challenging, meaningful) places for and with young people to participate and be disciples of Jesus in. The fuller research also identified other examples take a look at the report.
What do you think – how else might a church communicate, that it is trying to create a healthy space for young people? And let young people know more than just the activities on offer in a church.
Some of the inspiration of this post is from the book ‘4 views on pastoring LGBT teens’ , a copy of which can be ordered here: http://www.gemmadunning.com/p/4-views-on-pastoring-lgbtq-teenagers.html