Recent research showed that 86% of those who become Christians in the UK do so under the age of twenty-five (Evangelical Alliance, Time for Discipleship?, 7). This shows the huge need for evangelistic youth ministry and the incredible potential it possesses. The difficult and disengaging teenagers in your community right now could, with the right investment, go on to be tomorrow’s Christian heroes.
It’s interesting to look through the pages of church history and see the ages at which many of our leaders came to faith: Charles Spurgeon (15 years old), George Whitefield (16), William Booth (15), C.T. Studd (16), James Hudson Taylor (15), D.L. Moody (18), Amy Carmichael (15) and Billy Graham (17) (Calver, Disappointed, 16). Anything could be possible in the youth ministry we’re involved in. We simply have to make sure we’re doing things well with young people and praying loads.
I served at Youth for Christ for fourteen years but now that I’m settled in to life at the Evangelical Alliance I didn’t want to assume I was entirely in touch. So I asked a number of youth specialists what they thought were the best ways for the church to reach young people. Christine Blair, a long-serving volunteer youth worker at the Church of the Good Shepherd on the Wirral said:
“young people are clearly the best tool to reach young people. So the one thing we need to do to make our youth work more impactful is to equip, empower and motivate our Christian young people to share the Good News of Jesus with their friends. Teaching in our midweek groups on why and how to share faith; drawing young people into groups to pray for their friends; and supporting outreach work in our schools.”
She is far from alone in the idea that empowering teens is the most important thing. Ebenezer Ademisoye, a youth worker at Woolwich Central Baptist, said:
“it’s my duty to equip my youth group to better share their faith. I have found nothing as helpful as practising, in groups of peers, how to initiate conversation in a loving but effective way. With sufficient practice and equipping, young people will see sharing their blessing as the norm.”
Clearly we need to be empowering young people to reach their peers in order to make a real difference but perhaps some of this starts with us too. Jason and Rachel Gardner, who amongst other things are the curate at St Peter’s Harrow and the Relationships Theme Lead at Youthscape respectively, said:
“leaders need to model active evangelism. Full time Church staff – Vicars, Pastors, Youth Workers, Children Workers need to be doing regular ‘out there’ evangelism. The more evangelism you do as a team and as individuals, the more stories you’ll have to tell to encourage the rest of your church to join you!” We must empower our young people to reach their friends but let’s make sure we’re doing the same too.
The style challenge
Whether we like it or not, young people are going to struggle within the confines of church. As teenagers they are often going to want to discover new things for themselves, or rebel against the youth group they’ve joined. The problem is not in the struggle, but in how the church chooses to respond. We need to create an environment that is youth friendly, so when young people kick against the system we still welcome them in with open arms. This can be achieved in numerous ways like inviting them to participate in church, playing sport together, or simply having a conversation over a coffee. Lottie Jones, youth worker at St. George’s Leeds, says we need to:
“find ways that make young people feel comfortable inviting their friends. They are the ones with the social capital so we want to equip our young people who are followers of Jesus to be confident evangelists. As youth workers we can support them by releasing young people into leadership opportunities and then they invite their friends to see what they are doing, or creating safe spaces for young people to invite their friends to places they and their friends want to be.”
Laura Hancock, Head of Church Resources at Youth for Christ and a volunteer youth worker at her church in Halesowen, goes further, we need to:
“work really hard on intentionally making our youth work as accessible as possible to the young people in our community. This might mean plotting out an ‘ideal journey’ that you would expect a young person to take from first point of contact to discipleship and peer evangelism. It could be that you need to change the location, time, content, structure, culture and even language of your groups, that everything you run should be as accessible as possible for every young person in your community setting.”
Perhaps the simplest thing for many of us would be to try something new. Ali Campbell, from The Resource says:
“I have met lots of churches that do great kids work and then stop. They can have a rising group of 10/11 year olds, on the cusp of joining secondary school and starting adolescence with all that goes with that . . . but, for whatever reason, the church ‘doesn’t do youth work’. Don’t stop – you know these kids, you’ve built relationship with them – carry on, create a space for them, this can develop into offering a youth group. Evangelistic youth work begins with starting something.”
I love teenagers and the church and I long to see the two brought together. Let’s create an environment that can live up to the mandate of being the Bride of Christ, where young people are loved, reached, empowered and blessed.