The statistics on youth ministry are out and they are sober reading. It can lead us to thinking that the future has no hope, that it is inevitable that a whole generation will mature having no understanding of how much God loves them. But it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, it gives the Church a unique opportunity to support young people more.
We need to stop thinking about youth groups and think more about individuals. There is no ‘group’ only individual young people who come together, so let’s keep our eyes on the individual, not the group.
This is where having only a few young people in a church context can be an advantage. You have less young people to take care of, so your level of investment and support can be higher.
In previous blog posts I have referred to the need to have the whole church investing in the next generation, not just the few youth leaders that you have. There is a role for every adult. I want to suggest five ways that we need to give support to each young person in our church, so that they feel loved, valued and safe to mature within God’s people.
1. Prayer partner
Pair up one adult to pray for one young person. The great thing about prayer is that God knows what we need to pray about, so it is not necessary to provide reams of information in order for someone to pray, but we do need people to pray.
I heard of one church recently who got all their children and young people (with the co-operation of parents) to make fridge magnets with their name on, and attached a luggage tag with a current prayer request on. These were then distributed amongst the adults at a morning service. It is a great way to build links between the adults and the young people, and to get more prayer coverage for them.
Of course, anything you do needs to be careful with regard to child protection, so make sure anything you set up involves your church leader and the child protection officer, but we must not allow these fears to prevent us from building intergenerational relationships.
Ask an adult to intentionally invest in one young person, meeting for an hour once per month at a mutually convenient time. This is such a gift to give to anyone. It may take time initially for it to settle and feel natural, but give it a few months and the benefits start to shine through.
Having a mentor provides the young person with someone safe to talk to, to set goals with and to support them as they face the challenges of teenage life as well as having someone to discus faith issues with.
Make sure to provide training for your mentors. CPAS have created a great resource, Mentoring Matters.
Get the young people into triplets and encourage them to meet up in their own time once a month. This builds friendships, honesty and love for one another. You can sometimes make use of these triplets during your youth group meetings, whether it is to pray together or to challenge each other in a team game. Triplets provide peer support, and are small enough that they can keep in touch during the course of the week, encourage each other with exam pressures and look out for each other if they can’t make a youth group session.
4. God parents
Some children have appointed God parents when they are born, some don’t. Whether they are official or not, encourage parents to invite one or two other adults to become God parents to their child. In this context, a God parent is a Christian adult who will intentionally invest in their son or daughter, taking them out socially, praying for them, sending encouraging messages from time to time, and celebrating life’s victories along the way. It is so important for each church to have someone they can turn to with their life questions, who is not their parent and is not their youth leader (who they feel has to be there for them).
God parenting is a great way to include young adults or single people in your church and to help them feel more part of the church family.
5. Family pairing
Look to join families together so that there is a wider support. The parents can support each other in the adventure of raising healthy children, the children build close friendships across the families, and you can celebrate and commiserate together whenever someone in the family faces a victory or trial. It can become a natural way to share faith as we get to know each other, talk about what God is doing in our lives and also gives the young people a chance to see what difference Jesus makes on other adults.
Ideally, every young person in our churches should have all five of these supports but the reality is that most probably don’t have any. Make it your priority today to start to change that. Perhaps choose one which stands out to you and could be done relatively easily. If you have a good number of young people, don’t feel like you have to find support for them all straight away, maybe choose just a few to start. Remember, we need to stop thinking in terms of ‘youth group’, and start thinking in terms of individuals.