Mar 29

It’s not what you can’t do, it’s what you can!

I visited a local church recently to talk to them about the work of Thrive. After the service, I had several different conversations with individuals over coffee about what we do and about what they might do to work with young people. I noticed that a few of them referred to the bigger, ‘successful’ church up the road and how it was easier for that church to run an exciting youth work, but they were too small to ‘compete’. Is this true?

I found myself saying to one person, ‘you don’t want to spend time thinking about what you can’t do, but what you can!’ It seemed they had a fixed idea of what youth work must look like, perhaps a high energy, fast-paced youth club, with loud music, and indoor football, and a tuck shop. There is no chance that this small church, with a largely retired contingent, would be able to do such an event. And that’s true and it’s quite right that they shouldn’t.

I followed this up by saying that firstly, the church up the road probably isn’t doing it’s youth work at all how you might expect, and secondly that just because God wants that church to do youth ministry a particular way, doesn’t mean that your church should.

As I have reflected on this visit, I have come to realise just how disabling the mentality of competition for churches can be. How can they compete with a church with more members, more money, a bigger building and so on? But surely this removes us from understanding why we are a different church, what God might want for us to do and he must want us to serve our community in a different way to other churches, otherwise wouldn’t we meet as one church?

If you are part of a church where there is currently little or no provision for young people, here are four statements to discuss as a church to help you think through what God might want you to do to connect with young people:

1. You don’t have to do something every week

You don’t have to look to create yet another activity for the church to be involved with all the time and create yet another rota to be filled up. Most church members have had enough of rotas and the idea of one more brings deep fears! Maybe you would like to do a one-off thing? One church I know didn’t have any teenagers in it on a Sunday but they noticed a few started to hang out under their lych gate at the end of their church drive every Friday night.  They thought they could either just ask them to move on, they’re on church property after all, or they could do something different, something kinder, that might show God’s love. They decided to bake a cake and to take it to them the next Friday. They took the cake, left it with them and walked away. A few weeks later they did the same. Now there’s no ‘successful’ ending to this story. The young people didn’t all end up coming to church, but what we do know is that those young people experienced something of God’s love in those visits, and who knows how that might affect them in later life.

2. Young people look for safety, warmth and a sense of value

Young people don’t need to be entertained, there are many other places they can go for that, and who will do it much better than a church. What they seek for, and what churches can offer, is a place of safety, a place of warmth (both physically and emotionally) and a sense of value. Let’s work on coming up with an idea that we might be able to offer young people to meet these needs. What might this look like for your church? Remember, it doesn’t have to be a repeatable activity, a one-off is fine.

3. You are in connection with more young people than you realise

People often think that their church has no young people but the members of that church will be in connection with plenty. These might be children, grand-children, god-children, their neighbours may have children, and so on. If you gather as a church and plot all the different connections you have, you will be surprised by how many young people you do know of, even if you don’t know them yet yourselves. Once you’ve done this exercise, you can pray about how you might meet the needs of these teenagers.

4. What are you good at as a church?

Don’t think about what others do but consider what you are already good at. What makes you go to the church you attend? What draws you in? Don’t try and imitate a different one but use what God has given your particular fellowship. Then think about how you can use these strengths in a way that might bless young people in your area. It might be offering a safe space to meet, it might be offering drinks in the park in the early evening, it might be holding a BBQ and giving away free burgers. Use the skills and gifts you have and be creative and imaginative with what you could do.

It’s not what others do that God wants you to do. He has a unique plan for your church so seek him for what that might be to reach out to young people and then be bold and go with his leading. We want young people to experience something of God’s love for them, not to have just another option for filling their time. Relationship building is far more important than activity.