OK, just finished a series of three sessions with some churches in Mid Sussex (five churches represented, from Scaynes Hill, Wivelsfield, Cuckfield, Balcombe and Barcombe).  Going backwards, I am going to post some information about what we covered, and some details about where you might find resources / useful stuff for work with children and young people.

Our third session, just done this last Tuesday, looked at what I have termed “The Cicle of Engagement” (see picture) – now it is not easy to paint a picture, briefly, of all the work that can and should be going on with and for young people. 

However, having some kind of shape does enable churches to see just how much is possible – or actually, in some cases realise how much they might already be doing without realising it. 

The circle, whilst having numbers from 1 – 6 is not intended to be linear – in fact, increasingly, I would say that young people might “engage” anywhere.  Joining in with great passion and committment for example with acts of service when they do not yet know Jesus . . . whilst some young people who have grown up knowing God from an early age can be apathetic about putting their faith to work for others. 

The numbers differentiate aspects of work, they do not denote “growth” or development.  What is challenging for the Church in general, is how little is done “together” (6) . . . this is work that I think every church can do – whether they have young people or not, or whether they have anyone to work with young people or not – they can pray for other churches nearby, they can communicate with each other about activities and – as we saw a few years ago with Hope 08, “do” stuff together for entire towns, villages, communities etc. 

A prime example of this would be a Holiday Club.  I see very little reason why churches would not do holiday clubs together, why plough in a shed load of people and resources on your own – for one week a year – when the challenges, the planning, the music, puppets, upfront teaching, team, catering, publicity can be done together?  I am yet to hear of a church that has run a holiday club and then weeks later . . . has grown their children’s work significantly as a result.  The lack of working together is not because people are worried that others will “poach” the “fruit” . . . it just isn’t thought about. 

In the discussion at the training sessison we discovered just how diverse the work being done in these five churches is – there is so much going on, so much variety and so much good stuff.  It is great to get together with key people in the local church who are making stuff happen for young people in their churches and communities.

The other challenge for me as I look at the “Circle of Engagement” is what I have termed the “bridge” . . . this can be misunderstood – I do not necessarily mean a “bridge into Church”, in fact . . . I like to think that (regardless of where children and young people end up), that Vincent Donovan’s thought is paramount when we build bridges and consider what they might be bridges to . . . he said,

In working with young people do not try to call back to where they were and do not call them to where you are as beautiful  a place as that may seem to you. You must have the courage to go with them to a place that neither you nor they have ever been before“, Vincent Donovan, Christianity Rediscovered

This was written, over 30 years ago . . . !  How relevant it remains for the Church today.  We could look at the “bridge” we are trying to build . . . whether it is a bridge to “our church”, “our way of doing things”, “our institution”, even – in the current climate, the way the church tries to get young people involved nationally in synodical structures and get them excited about being on committees . . . we NEED young people in these places to challenge, encourage and lead us – but this is not the bridge to LIFE!  Life is found in Christ, and when we look round our churches and institutions . . . we might find that Christ has “popped out” and is involved in something elsewhere whilst we discuss the colour of the radiators . . .

The Bridge then might lead to something completely fresh and new, not just for the young people – but for those who might travel that journey with them.  There are not many books about this kind of journey, but “Gospel Exploded”, by Bob Mayo is one of them . .. honest, funny in places – sad too.  It reflects the challenge and the joy od seeing God do something NEW.

As we work with young people who know nothing of Church and less about Jesus, are we ready for this kind of journey . . . ?  Anyay, the bridge is just one part of the whole thing . . . we also have children growing up in the church who might take a different path, we might suddenly have a young person present themselves at church looking for something . . . we cannot predict this stuff!  We just need to be ready, have SOME idea (vague though it might feel at times) of how it all hangs together . . . and trust that God is working his purposes out . . . with us, through us, in spite of us.

What is your circle of engagement like in your church?  Where are the gaps?  Where are the opportunities to work together with others?  What are the God opportunties that could transform your engagement?