If you are thinking about developing some youth work, here are some questions / areas to consider as you make a start!
#1. Are there young people in your community / village / town etc? If the answer to this no or not many, then do not stress too much about what you are doing / not doing. If the answer is yes – is this just that they live there, or that they not only do they live there but there is a school in your parish / area too? If so, then the key question is, “are you (someone from your church) involved in the school at all?”. Are people in the congregation – praying for the school / praying for young people / aware of anything the school might need that the church could provide – e.g. even in some secondary schools, they might not have the space to gather a crowd or do a “full school” assembly, what is the score with that – could the school make use of your church building for RE / visits / school celebration? A first step to creating an “environment” where youth work could happen is raising the profile and presence of your church in the community amongst young people and those who already work with them.
#2. Are there young people the church is already in contact with – but doesn’t realise it? Are there any other organisations using the church building that – for whatever reason – the church is not counting as “youth work”, (even their own stuff that they might not count – bell ringers, choir) scouts, guides etc? How can you support what is already happening (offer a chaplaincy service? Invite to special church services?)
#3. Is there a vision to “do” youth work? That sounds obvious, but everyone might want to see the church do it – but the “church” is a collective term for everyone. WHO – specifically, would be up for it (getting the training, being DBS checked, pioneering something if the church has not done it before, prepared for a long term commitment) – those people need to be identified, brought together so they can pray and discern what they might be able to offer . . .
#4. Can you build from what already exists? Grow the Sunday School, start doing mid week activity with children . . . do it well, and you might find that you have a growing number (in a couple of years) hitting year 6 . . . then plan to form a transition group with them (3-6 young people is enough) once they are in yr 6, start meeting with them separately from Sunday School from the Easter in the year they will finish . . . When they hit Yr 7 – STAY WITH THEM, unless you have initiated contact with young people when they are 12 / 13, it doesn’t make sense to simply expect someone else to work with them when the leaders who have known them since they were 8 can grow with them through the next decade, there are a number of youth clubs for children and young people where this is the ethos – start with them at 6, then see them through til they are 16 and start again at 6. In addition, in smaller churches this makes a lot of sense . . . as there are less people, and often children and young people in a village context are used to doing stuff across a wider age group.
#5. What else is happening in the area amongst other churches? What is going on in other churches in the Deanery or ecumenically, can any other church with more team / resources – help? Join in? Enable? Maybe someone else has a great ministry to young people but are struggling with space – while you don’t have many young people but have a HUGE building, why not bring those things together? This is Kingdom thinking – long term, when these young people have grown up and moved away (as many do) what will have been more important – that they came to your church, or that you created space alongside other churches and enabled young people to flourish and discover faith for themselves?
#6. Have you nailed your values? Young people need – acceptance, love, guidance, significance. [For more on these four things, click on each word to be taken to a blog post unpacking their value] Can (and will) your church offer these? These values create a foundation on which youth work can thrive, I would call these four values the foundations – based on our relationship with Jesus. The principals of youth work – participation, empowerment, etc. are the “walls” that create a safe place for young people to grow and develop.
Finally. It is better to do something well occasionally, than do something weekly – but badly. Give serious thought to what is sustainable – it doesn’t bless young people to begin something huge with great intentions only to close it after six months because everyone is shattered and didn’t realise how much work was involved. Opportunities to do stuff does not mean it should be done – there are good things a church can do, but is it a God thing – is the time right, has prayer been poured in, has God said anything specific about starting now?
What would you add?
What questions do you wish you had asked before you started something?