It takes a whole church…

I want to do some thinking out loud about how the church encourages and develops spiritual growth in young people.

Here are some questions I am wrestling with as I think about how our church helps with the growth and spiritual formation of our children and young people. As you can see i have lots more questions than answers – so very happy to be part of a conversation on this – let me know your thoughts. Very happy for you to suggest books, bible passages or web pages I should look at.

1. Hospitality

How do we practice hospitality to people of all ages, backgrounds, educational abilities, understanding of the christian faith?
From a child’s point of view how do we offer a welcome not just in Sunday school but in the whole community of the church?
Is there anything we are doing that is a barrier for young people to come to a fuller understanding of the grace of God?

2. Joined up thinking

What can we do to help the whole church to play its part in encouraging faith, love and hope in our young people?
How can parents work more closely with children’s and youth workers?
What are the opportunities and responsibilities for those of us who do not have children to help shape the lives of our young people?

3. Ethos of encouragement

What are the things we can change to make our young people feel connected with the whole church?
From coffee rotas to prayer times are there things we can be doing to help young people know they are valued in the life of the church?
What should the discipleship of young people look like outside of church meetings?

3. Disciplemaking and not just head filling?

What would a disciplemaking children’s and youth work strategy look like?
How do we asses the effectiveness of our current practice of youth and children’s discipleship?
Does our Sunday provision and midweek group help to grow disciplemaking young people?
How do we move beyond a programme orientated approach to our young people into a genuine whole life community building approach?
What could discplemaking / mentoring look like in our church?

4. Catching Fish and Leaky Buckets

Nationally it seems that the church is in touch with thousands of young people through outward facing youth ministry programmes, schools work, uniformed groups (scouts, brownies etc.) Yet we are struggling with the retention of our own young people. Has anyone done any exit interviews to find out what are the factors that are leading to hemorrhaging of our young people?

5. Biblical literacy
how do we help our children and young people to grow in their confidence, appetite and knowledge for God’s word?
how can we help children who are not academically gifted to not see church as another place where they fail?

Some literature worth consulting:

It takes a whole church

18 thoughts on “It takes a whole church…”

  1. Thanks for your thought provoking questions. These are a really helpful way of getting us all to think about what we are doing.

    The process of thinking thrugh these questions as church may be more important than the actual answers. If we are thinking about how we disciple our children then we are going to engage with the issues rather than just looking for opportunities to entertain them.

    It’s worth going back to the old maxim: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”. If we involve our kids in exploring scripture, opportunities for servce and decision making then we give a very real chance for growing disciples. If, on the other hand, we conform to our society’s preoccupation with entertainment then they will become bored and leave as soon as the going gets tough.

    Let’s explore these thoughts together as church and find God’s heart in passing on to the next generation. What a privilege!

  2. Great questions . . . trying to pull together some answers could lead to your next book (seriously!)

    A couple of books I have found helpful as I wrestle with the same kind of questions . . . “One Generation from Extinction”, by Mark Griffiths (Pub Monarch); “Mend the Gap”, Jason Gardner (Pub IVP); “Growing Souls”, Mark Yaconelli (Pub SPCK); “Almost Christian”, Creasy Dean (Pub Oxford).

    On you post above, 4. “Catching fish and leaky buckets”, this is our biggest challenge. In the Church of England, we have in our schools about 25% of ALL primary aged children in the country . . . if they do not hear and respond to the gospel as children, the stats tell us right now (things may change of course) that they never will – and yet, the church does not have an effective engagement policy across these schools that balances school “education” with schools “ministry” – if we got that sorted, we might make a significant difference . . .

    However, Davd Coffee once talked about the “double shock”, first of children and young people encountering and responding to Jesus (Horray!) and then encountering the Church (oh dear!), we have a lot of work to do when in a lot of churches we do not look like we enjoy worshipping or knowing God!

  3. thought provoking questions.
    I believe there are innumerable benefits to having paid youth and children’s workers within the church context, not least of all, the ecumenical opportunities opened up by having a professional to make the contacts. Sadly in many cases, this perception leads the rest of the church family to dust off their hands and ‘let them get on with it’. The results of this create some type of barrier between parents and youth/’children workers as they are thrust in to the most unwelcome position of being either unpaid childcare or the fountain-of-all-wisdom-and-knowledge. Neither of these are either appropriate or helpful. Paid staff are not there to replace or reduce the amount of voluntary input into the work of the Gospel.
    I imagine that the same attitude pervades, to some extent, many ‘specialist’ posts including work with the older generations as well. I remember running a carer and toddler group for a while, and the best thing that ever happened to that was when the Elderberries took time to join us for parts of the afternoon. We had young mums and small children with no idea who Jesus is receiving ministry from these bastions of faith and belief, who, in their turn, enjoyed the company of young families. It worked for us for a season.
    I don’t know what the answer is. But I do know that it is not helpful to have the church divided up into separate pockets and ‘ne’er the twain should meet’.

  4. I value a cheesy kids talk in church.
    1. It make some of the service more accessible to the kids.
    2. It sends a message to them that we value them as part of the church.
    3. Comedy normally follows. Most churches could do with more laughter
    Andy Hickford makes an interesting point in ‘Essential Youth': churches who have problems attracting/keeping children tend to have problems attracting/keeping non-Christians.
    I think it’s a mindset thing. If we’re not willing to be flexible to make Chuch work for kids, then we’re probably no flexible enough to make it work for other groups either.

  5. From the point of view of our church I feel we are in the position to be flexible and tailor our youth activities to the needs of the young people we have because, for now, we don’t have hundreds. I would like to see us using more practical, hands-on experience to teach the children about God’s word, making it accessible to all and not expecting children to fit into an appropriate age group ‘box’. I believe if children see church as fun then they will want to come and stay. We don’t have any trouble attracting unchurched children to our holiday clubs!

    For older youth I wonder if focussing on using their gifts, helping them to develop them within the life of the church by giving them meaningful roles under a mentor would help them feel needed and respected as individuals and prevent the leaky bucket of the teenage years? A step on from our monthly serving duties perhaps.

  6. A book which is bang on is “Disappointed with JESUS? Why do so many young people give up on God?” by Gavin Calver.

  7. I’m grateful for the chance to learn what others are doing. Thanks for all the book recommendations. We have much to learn, but we think we’ve got a good strategy in terms of our Childrens ministry curriculum which we teach on Sunday mornings before our worship service. We’re in the 2nd year of implementing of a program called Catechesis of the Good Shepherd – a Montessori based program used by many Catholic and Episcopal churches. We may be the only Presbyterian church doing this, but we were given permission to adapt the curriculum to our theological values. [i.e, the sacraments are taught frequently and we teach a Reformed view of the sacraments instead of transubstantiation. But it should be noted that our church does celebrate the Lord’s Supper every Sunday.] What we like about CGS the most is the pedagogy – the way children are introduced to the Bible. We don’t try to reduce descriptive passages into moralistic lessons. We aim to introduce the children to the Scriptures in a way they can comprehend at their age and we operate from the belief that such a time with them is for spiritual nurture and development for the children, not to be confused with babysitting or watching a cartoon which is frankly what some Childrens material is reduced to, at least here in the US. We have two classes (one for ages 4-6 and one for ages 7-12) and we hope to add a third class (ages 10-12) next year. The big challenge for us will be developing a youth/teen program that complements the pedagogy of our Catechesis ministry.

    1. Hey Matt
      thank you for sharing your experiences here. Really interested to hear more about what you are doing.
      See you in Vancouver.
      Blessings
      Krish

  8. Krish,

    This is a very cheeky request so please excuse me. We are organising an evening with our children’s and youth team to focus on the questions raised in this blog post. The slides you have put up in Scribd look really useful. Is there any chance of making these available in an editable form such as PowerPoint or Keynote?

    Thanks

  9. These are all really important and essential questions that church absolutely have to ask. What I’ve seen is that many churches do an ok job with children, but once they become teens and young adults, many disappear…We can’t keep on avoiding asking ourselves why…The slides you’ve put up are really useful, I’m considering sharing them with the church here and getting people to talk about this…
    Praying regularly for the children and young people and for families is also extremely important…

  10. Hi Krish
    I think we tried to wrestle with all these questions in ‘Gospel Centred Family’ (Good Book Company, 2009). We even use the phrase ‘it takes a whole church to raise a child’ (p. 83). I hope you find it stimulating and practical.
    Warm greetings
    Ed

  11. Hi
    I listened to this seminar at keswick, got up early!
    I help lead a youth group for 10-14 year olds. it really inspired me. I shall be getting the other youth leaders to look at this seminar on your website. i really like the fact how you highlighted that the young people of today are looking for older role models (What do Harry Potter, Luke skywalker and Frodo have in common?)as I am about to celebrate my 50th birthday this year! I am also considering getting Bible fresh.
    Thanks for your ideas.
    Jackie

  12. Hi Krish,

    As a youth pastor we are trying to develop the 3DM approach of missional communities to work for teenagers.

    A youth missional community is a gathering of young people, no more than twenty, who meet regularly as a community in a way that is a modern reflection of Acts 2. Our communities are based around church services, their school or geographical location and each community looks completely different – but has three elements in common – Up (a relationship with God) In (a relationship with those in the community) and Out (a relationship with those outside the community).

    The aim isn’t to necessarily fit them into our Sunday Gatherings (that may be important in the long term) it is to develop them and their relationship with God as they journey life together.

    Rich Atkinson the Youth Pastor at St Toms Philadelphia in Sheffield runs a incredible youth work with 600 young people members of communities. He has written really good book called Target – I highly recommend reading that!

    Jonny (Frontline Church, Liverpool)

    1. Thanks jonny sounds interesting. I am interested in intergenerational relationships as the best studies I can find argue they make the difference to transition to adult faith.

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