As I read through the account of the early church in the book of Acts, I tend to forget what age the apostles might have been when they transformed the world.
I sometimes wonder if I, as a 45-yearold, would have been encouraged by the apostles to stick to my own demographic and connect with the more middle-aged folk of Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. And yet here I am, ministering to youth and young families in Woolgoolga, and offering resources to parishes across the Diocese [of Grafton] for this younger generation.
Often when I am asked, “What is happening with the youth in the Grafton Diocese?” to be honest, I must reply, “Not much”. And the reason is pretty obvious. Parishes already have too much to do. Rectors already have their plates full, and many older parishioners are overloaded as they seek to maintain existing ministries.
And yet all the reliable church-growth research points to the importance of investing in ministry to the next generation. Children are more likely to attend church regularly as adults if their parents read the Bible with them. Youth who read the Bible and pray regularly in their teens are more likely to instil religious values in their own children. In fact, in the words of Professor of Sociology, Robert Wuthnow of Princeton University, “... one thing the church must do, no matter what else it does, is minister to young people...”.
Now, to say that there is “not much” youth ministry happening across the Diocese is not to say that nothing is happening at all. There are some parishes where young families are well-catered for and youth ministry is a priority. Even during this pandemic some parishes are using online social media platforms, like Instagram, House Party and Zoom, to remain connected with their younger congregation members. A couple of churches are also producing online resources specifically aimed at this younger generation. And the value of elevating ministry to young people can be plainly seen in the growth of numbers attending these churches, and in the joy of inter-generational church gatherings.
There are many challenges that face the church of tomorrow, and in essence they are shaped by what we are doing today. And so it is interesting to think of how the COVID-19 crisis may have given tired church members the opportunity to stop and do just that, to rethink and reshape ministry.
Think of how a young family might react if they walked into your church services. What would they enjoy? What would they need to feel comfortable? It’s also worth considering how your church might connect with your local public school, whether through assistance in the canteen, scripture or through a breakfast club. There are numerous ways to build relationships with the next generation. I would be happy to chat with anyone about how they might rethink ministry to the next generation,
in thinking of youth groups or running a holiday kid’s club.
The book of Acts records an amazing time in history where we see the Holy Spirit working in a truly remarkable way. Maybe the remarkable world events of recent days are a chance for renewed transformation in the church.
This article was originally published in the Winter 2020 edition of The North Coast Anglican – the magazine of the Diocese of Grafton – it is republished here with permission