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:
· 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.
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
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