REACHING YOUTH – KEEPING YOUTH

 

For the third year the Missionary Church in Jamaica has been focusing on

youth, who the National Youth Ministries identifies as comprising persons up to age 35.

 

It is hoped that the following ideas will assist:

·        Pastors

·        M.Y.F. Presidents

·        Sunday School Superintendents

·        Missionary Cadets Directors

·        Children’s Ministries

 

WHY SHOULD THE CHURCH TARGET YOUTH?

 

In a study carried out on twenty-four successful churches in the United States, by

George Barna, he found that in each church the leaders believed that

ministering to young people was a key to having a growing and healthy

church, and made the following points:

 

1.    Ministering to children is one way of attracting adults to church.

       Parents are moved if a church is genuinely interested in, accepts and helps

       to instill certain values in their children.

 

2.    A child represents the highest potential for conversion.

           In the United States, statistics suggest that two out of every three   

          adults who are Christians made the decision of accepting Christ as

          Saviour before they reached the age of 18. Therefore, ministering to

          young people was viewed as a means of efficient evangelism.

 

3.   Children have a way of impacting the church environment dynamically.                                                                               
Children can breathe new life into a stale environment, allow for a livelier

     atmosphere. Adults have the tendency to get into routines, and at times

     remove the spontaneity and enthusiasm from the activity.  Barna found

     that remaining sensitive to the interests and reaction of young people

     enabled the healthy, growing church to maintain a sense of life and adventure.

 

4.   Children serve as a creative testing ground for new ministry ideas.                                                                                               

      New ideas from progammes were tested and tried with the young
people who provided honest feedback, thus enabling the church
leaders to either sharpen or forget about the programme.

 

5.  Today’s youth are the leaders of tomorrow.

          A church which does not prepare and groom youths will be a church    

          lacking capable leadership in the future. Barna found that healthy

          churches were proud to list the names of adults who had grown up

          through the church youth programmes, and were now either leaders in

          that church or had moved on to significant ministries in other areas

          and places. The churches had invested heavily in building a

          spiritual foundation in those young people, targeting them as a primary

          route to assuring spiritual reproduction. These congregations felt they

          had received a substantial return on the spiritual investment and that

          this in itself, made the emphasis on ministry to children and

          adolescents worthwhile.

 

6.  Children frequently have a more profound effect than pastors

     on the spiritual development of their parents.                                   

          Many examples were cited of children playing an important role in the

          lives of their parents either through direct testimony or through the

          impact on the parents of the change that had taken place in the life of  

          their child as a result of their spiritual experience.

 

Barna, from his research has made a few suggestions.

 

    (i)  The leaders of the healthy churches acknowledge that for their ministry to

          be complete, it must identify and address the needs of children and youth.

          This is not easy to do, but the church must remain relevant. In doing this,

          it means that churches must understand the needs of different age groups,

          the sub-cultures within these groups, and try to meet these needs.

 

Therefore, each church has to have its own youth ministry strategy and ways of dealing with children and youth.

 

(ii) A common characteristic among the youth programmes of successful

      churches is that they encourage creativity on the part of teachers and leaders.  Along with this, they acknowledge that these are children, not adults, and it is important to permit them to have ample time to behave their age.

 

(iii) More often than not, the youth programmes featured games and competitive activities during the beginning of the group meeting. In such competitions, winning was acknowledged as being important, but not as important as building a cohesive team and being supportive of each other’s efforts. Communication  was a key goal in these exercises. Therefore, games are used to promote the types of skills that the church believes to be important for the development of  functional human beings and church leaders.

 

(iv) The ministry and teaching to adolescents placed a greater emphasis   on

      social issues and on facilitating relationships than was found in most churches.    Also, regardless of the age of the children involved, the activities and teaching tend to be contemporary and full of energy. Teachers and leaders were coached to avoid boring bookish lessons that communicated the idea that church is not fun.

 

Most of these churches went out of their way to incorporate technology whenever  feasible. Using video tapes (self produced or pre-recorded), contemporary  music and computer designed graphics to communicate ideas, the leaders  were constantly on the look out for ways to communicate, making their materials  easy to understand and yet culturally relevant to the age group being addressed.

 

(v)        Successful churches had along with a youth and children’s programme, a baby-sitting service where necessary. A successful youth ministry is: investing in tomorrow’s leaders.

 

 (vi)      The healthy, growing churches involved as many adults from the church body as possible, to be youth leaders. By incorporating the energy and creativity of young adults along with  the wisdom and experience of the older adults, the activities and insights related to the youth and ministry were broadened.

 

The involvement of all age groups helped the congregation to feel ownership of the church’s youth ministry and to capture a sense of excitement and hope for the future.  The congregation  was also kept well informed of what was happening and was willing to become supportive through  time, money, prayer or other means. The pastor also had to put his full weight behind the youth ministry, while preparing children to interact with their parents about spiritual matters.

 

(vii) Another key distinctive of growing churches is that, where there was a youth pastor, he/she  was not viewed as simply a junior staff person who was underpaid because of the low value of  his work in the eyes of the church. Neither was he seen as a person seeking to get the  experience that would enable him to move up the hierarchy of responsibility within the church,  with his job being seen as a stepping stone to real ministry.

 

In successful churches, invariably, youth pastors talked about a “calling” to work with children  and youth, and the fulfillment they received from the post. When asked what they aspired to  in the long run, their dreams related to expanding the ministry to young people at their current  church or to serving in even more influential and aggressive youth ministries at other  churches. They viewed their jobs as being productive and satisfying, and looked forward  to moving up in youth ministry, rather than moving outside of it.

 

(iix) Ministries to children and young people in growing churches acknowledge who young  people are, and the many pressures they live with. Therefore the church had to be more  than a place where they were deposited by parents for safe keeping during the adult time  of worship. Churches found that to attract children and young people they had to offer  practical alternatives to attractions outside of the church. This means providing a positive  environment, a relaxed atmosphere and information that is relevant to their daily struggles.   This principle was critical to reach from eight-year-old children to those who were eighteen.

 

 

Ministry to children and youth is difficult in a changing world, however, it is  absolutely essential for long-term church growth. 

(Source: User Friendly Churches by George Barna)    
 

Blossom White - National Director

Department of Missions and Evangelism