No one sets out to exclude young people from their church but it can happen without us realising. Fortunately it is not too difficult to rectify these problems as long as we hold our hands up and realise what’s going on. Many of these issues may be values that the church has developed over a period of time so it may take a while to put them right. The important truth is that we do seek to put them right.
Read through these 7 mistakes and see how your church is doing:
1. No one is committed to young people
Ask most people in a church and they would say how they miss having young people there, or how they wish there were more, but ask who would be up for doing anything about it and the majority would look at you with horror. The simple reality is that most church members want young people in their church but not sufficiently to want to do anything about it. Put simply, no one is committed to seeing young people belong in their church.
2. Young people are an optional extra
It is nice to have young people in the church but church life will function quite nicely without them. This is a very common reality. We want young people but we are quite ok without them. We don’t feel like we are missing out by not having this missing generation. Instead we feel they are missing out. If we do have young people, we create a programme for them so that they are isolated from the rest of the church as much as possible. This doesn’t give the young people a real experience of church and communicates that we don’t want them near us, or that what we do is so boring they wouldn’t want to be a part of it. Young people are not an optional extra to church life. They should be part of the DNA of what makes us church, along with every other age group.
3. Young people are patronised
We can often patronise the young people we do have by treating them as older children rather than younger adults. Everywhere else in society they are being affirmed for their growing and maturing, but so often in churches they are looked down on. We may get them up the front of church. Is this because this is where they will feel they belong most or so that the adults feel better for seeing that we do have some young people? If it’s the former, surely we should get all new adults to the church up the front too? The language we use can patronise. Calling them ‘kids’ or ‘youngsters’ communicates that they don’t really know what they are doing, that they are naive or need our support. Talk to most teenagers and it is usually quite the opposite.
4. Rota’d not relational
A common mistake is to see our youth work in terms of a programme rota to be filled. Who will do next Sunday morning’s youth group? Can you commit to leading once per month? Whilst this can be a necessary function, if we only see our ministry to young people in terms of rota obligations, we will miss the whole purpose. Young people, like all people, desire relationships not programmes. They want to get to know people, to experience love and belonging. A rota cannot offer this. Don’t have a rota which allows minimum investment and commitment. Instead, raise the bar and ask leaders to think through how best they can get to know the teenagers and to walk alongside them.
5. Unwilling to change
This is a harsh reality. We want more young people in our church because we realise we will die out without them but when you talk about changing anything, that’s something quite different. Change is always difficult. If it wasn’t, we would have already made the change. But change is always necessary. No living thing stops changing, stops growing. The Church must be the same.
6. People don’t get to know them
This is a similar mistake to the rota’d one. Not enough members of the church see it as their responsibility to get to know the young people. So the teenagers feel that most people don’t want to know them, have no interest in them and so they keep to their peer group.
7. No money for it
The final mistake churches make is that they make no financial provision for youth ministry. Youth work doesn’t have to cost a fortune but if we cannot provide funds to be used for special events to attract young people, or to take them away for weekends, then we limit what potential there is. How we spend our money reflects what we value. Spending little or no money on youth ministry, reflects how we truly value young people.
All these mistakes may leave you feeling quite uncomfortable. It is, perhaps, easy to read through them and dismiss them as ‘not our problem’. But read through them again. Which ones are your church particularly susceptible to? Make it your commitment to improve in at least one area.
What one thing could you do to address these mistakes in your church? What other mistakes do you think there might be? Please leave a comment or question below.