How can we see everything we do through the lens of young people and ensure they are fully part of the church?
For years we’ve followed a model of separation of our congregations by age; it’s what the rest of the world does, especially schools and we’ve somehow ended up doing the same. Yet it’s not the biblical pattern.
The difficulty then is that we need ‘specialists’ to run groups for children and young people and the more we do that, the more the rest of us feel disempowered and lose confidence in our ability to minister to the whole people of God.
Many of us have children and young people in our families or other relationships and in no other context would most of us back away and say I can’t talk to you, I’m not a youth worker so why do we do it at church?
How we see c&yp will determine how we respond to them.
In deficit – we see young people as a problem, children in need, or at risk, so they need a specialist to fix them much as we’d call a plumber to fix a leak.
Or if we don’t see them as a problem, we see them as in development, needing to be educated until they reach a level of knowledge and maturity so they can join in with the grown-ups.
However if instead, we view children and young people as disciples of Jesus, then we can journey together with them on the same road as people of all ages. We just have to see them through a theological lens rather than the lens of culture. Our job as ministers, whether youth or lay or ordained, is to bring youth and adults together to wrestle with faith and learn together.
So how can we bring children and young people back to the centre of the church community?
- Services – give them real roles and responsibilities – on welcome team, as servers, sidespeople, reading the Bible, saying prayers, as wardens, serving refreshments. You may need to find someone to do it with them, and help them to learn how to do it well but do it!
- Welcome – how do you welcome children or do your welcome team only speak to the adults, do you have a children’s area in church or not, if you do, how well looked after is it. Fuel a warm community – yp stay because of relationship not the programme!
- Preaching to the choir – those in choral traditions will have many children & young people in choirs, how are you using that opportunity to disciple them, helping them to understand the words they sing and the experience of worship that engages them.
- Eucharist/communion – including children in communion is one of key issues for children staying in church; if you exclude them they feel they don’t belong, they’re 2nd Baptism is full rite of membership not confirmation. No reason theologically for excluding them. Only reason I’ve been given is confirmation – so let’s re-invent confirmation. We really need a rite of passage for older teens/yg adults so let’s make more of confirmation, if we free it from being all about communion then we can reclaim it within the process of catechesis. Make it into a 9 or 12-month discipleship training programme with a sponsor /mentor who can help then to grow in faith and find their place in the church.
And while we’re at it, let’s use children and young people as chalice assistants!
- Whole church activities – include them in home groups, in Men’s and women’s ministry groups, in everything – But also give them space to be on their own with people who will invest in them and mentor them. Clergy – Visit them in their groups
- As we involve c&yp more, we can listen to their views and opinions – we can help them to find a voice & a vote in the church. We might be able to do that formally by involving them in PCC meetings. Now I’m not sure I’d want to wish some PCC’s on any young person, but having them there might mean we’re a bit more creative about how we run the meeting and it’s been known to make the adults behave better!
Give them a role – make them co-chair, co-treasurer, co-secretary alongside an adult. Not all yp will want to do this but you won’t know until you ask.
If you can’t do that, let’s find other ways to give them a ‘say’ – let’s be creative and consult them so that they feel like equals and fully part of the family of God, a family of all ages.