Every church longs to have more young people in it. I have yet to meet a church leader who is happy that they have no teenagers in their church. The question this raises is why is it that some churches seem better able to attract young people than others? What is your church like when it comes to youth work? Are you flourishing, struggling or somewhere in between?
Having spent the last six years working alongside different churches, I have asked myself this question many times. My conclusion is this: there are 10 characteristics that can be found in every church which is doing well in investing in the next generation. The stronger a church is in displaying these characteristics, the better their youth ministry. A youth-friendly church may not be excelling in all 10 characteristics but they will be aspiring to grow in all ten. These characteristics are wrapped in the understanding and reliance on God, his leading and his providence.
There are 10 characteristics that can be found in every church which is doing well in investing in the next generation.
1. Clarity of vision and purpose
Do you have a clear, shared understanding of what you are doing with young people, how you are reaching out, sharing the gospel and growing them in faith? Do you know what you are trying to do?
2. Agreed discipleship strategy
Is there a plan in place for making sure that the vision for youth in your church is reached? How best are you going to disciple young people? What’s the plan? Who’s going to be involved? We need to be proactive in discipleship as it doesn’t ‘just happen’.
3. Well planned programmes
The temptation is often to be too programme-based rather than seeing youth ministry as primarily about relationship building. However, we mustn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater – well planned programmes are essential if we are going to offer a life-giving, exciting and relevant youth experience. Do you have a plan for the term ahead? Do the leaders know what’s expected of them?
4. Committed leadership
This is both a committed youth leadership team and church leadership. The church leaders must see youth ministry as an essential element to church life. The youth leaders must be committed to getting alongside the young people, growing in their leadership skills and working together in a united way.
5. Authentic worship
One of the main reasons why young people leave church is that they don’t experience ‘authentic worship’, i.e. seeing people worshipping God in a genuine way and lives being transformed as a result. In other words, the worship they see in the church service must make a difference to people’s lives in the coffee room, the home and elsewhere.
6. Intergenerational relationships
Relationships across the ages are essential for a young person to feel loved, valued and wanted in a church family. It helps them to feel a sense of belonging and that the church really wants them to be a part of their fellowship. How well does your church know the different generations?
7. Youth contribution
How well do the young people get opportunities to contribute to the wider life of the church? This is vital for them to feel a part of the church. Not only should they be given opportunities to be involved, but this is where they can grow in their gifts and skills and to see how they have a contribution to make to benefit the whole church.
8. External outlook
The church must have a focus on reaching out to the community and not merely a focus on keeping those they already have. Looking outwards is an essential characteristic of a growing church.
9. Engaged prayer support
Everything that the church does needs to be brought before God in prayer and so there needs to be a clear way of enabling the church to pray for the youth work. This requires good communication and an openness to God changing what is planned.
10. Funding for youth ministry
Ideally this should be a clearly defined budget for each year. This ensures that there is a clear expectation that the church will invest in young people. As the old saying goes, ‘if you want to know what someone values, look at how they spend their money’.
This is not an exhaustive list but it seems to me to be a useful checklist for a church to assess itself in how serious it is in reaching out to young people. A church that wants to genuinely attract young people must aspire to growing in all of these characteristics. If it can’t, it might as well not even try.
Take some time to score your church on each of the characteristics, 1 being low, 10 being high. What needs the most work on? What is your greatest strength? Do these findings surprise you? Please leave a question or comment below.