There are no young people in your church. Should you start a youth group? Levi Phillips from the Capital Youth team for the Diocese of London doesn't think so. Here's a few alternatives.
When it comes to starting something for the young people in your church, the prospect of starting a youth group can be a daunting task. But the great thing about working with young people, is that you can start with whatever you’ve got. So here’s five alternatives to the standard “youth group” format that anyone can try in their church community.
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Create a space for homework after school
One thing that is clearly obvious in the life of young people is the seemingly unavoidable pressure from schools to excel in their work. With an increasing workload outside the classroom, young people need a space where they can focus — and that might be difficult at home.
The best way to find out what will work best with the young people you have, is to ask
If you have any kind of quiet space available, all you need is a few tables and chairs. They’ll bring their work, you can chat and listen when they want to talk. Offer hot drinks in the winter and you’re onto a winner. This is a fantastically easy and simple way to start connecting with the young people in your community. The key with this idea, is doing it consistently.
Get them involved
As much as we think young people value their own space and dedicated activities, research actually tells us they don’t want to feel separated from the main congregation. A 2016 report, Rooted in the Church, suggests that while young people do value age-specific leadership and activities, they do not want to be “artificially” separated from the main church. Their preference is for modern worship, but not always a separate youth group or service. If you can find subtle ways of involving young people in the existing worship life of the church, you’re onto a winning strategy.
Find your honey makers
This one requires a little bit of innovative thinking. Every church has at least someone with a passion for a certain hobby, who is already investing considerable time in it. If you know who the hobbyists are, you could invite them to do a show-and-tell, or bring the youth to them.
At our church, there is a bee keeper who also happens to be passionate about educating young people on the ecosystem. Because she makes and sells honey, it’s a natural fit to invite young people to come and learn about beekeeping, the life of wild bees and the importance of looking after the local wildlife. Each year, a group of 8-12s come and don beekeeping suits and get up close with the bees — an amazing educational experience that opens up the opportunity to talk about how God charged us with looking after the Earth.
Find your honey makers and hobbyists. Invite them to involve young people.
Make them welcome
Encourage your welcome team to look out for young people, both when they arrive and after the service. Include young people in your welcome message when you start a service and invite young people to host services with you (everyone feels more comfortable when we see people we can relate to leading from the front). This is all about making young people feel welcome in church, which is a hugely important factor for them (we even made a booklet with Dave Walker about it).
We know this is a big one, but consider the advantages of admitting young people to communion before they are confirmed. In our research with focus groups around the Diocese and national research, this has been identified as a bit of a blocker when it comes to young people feeling like they are really a part of the church.
The best way to find out what will work best with the young people you have, is to ask. By starting a conversation around what they need, you’ll begin to gain insight into their personal situation and the context of your community. This will immediately challenge any assumptions and give you a whole realm of ideas to try until you find something that really works with the young people in your parish.
The hardest part about listening to young people, is plucking up the courage to try things. It’s one thing listening to what someone is asking for, it’s another to try fulfilling that need when it requires an investment of time, money or emotion. Which brings us onto a few tips…
Tip: Be transparent to make room for failed experiments
If you are clear with young people that you’re trying out different things, they’ll be okay. Being transparent with them on the journey of finding something that works will mean they can give feedback and come up with new ideas, whilst creating permission to try something else entirely. As they see your willingness to try things that might not work, they will respect you for it — if things don’t quite take off, it creates a great opportunity to continue the conversation about what they would like to explore and try.
Tip: Give them responsibility
Getting young people to own a part of the church’s worship life is a big way to integrate them and give them a voice that counts, whilst raising the chances of anything specifically for youth being sustained. Whether it’s a Bible study, craft club, homework session or garden party, try to identify areas where you can get them involved in leading, organising or facilitating. Give them as much support as you can, but get ready to see them thrive as they take a leading role in church.
This blog was originally published on the Capital Youth blog. Find it here!