Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these’ (Matthew 19:14).
Our churches are ageing and each year that passes by we are becoming less relevant to the youth in our communities – so how do we reach them?
Noddfa Church had no youth in attendance just a few years ago, but by God’s grace, we now welcome over twenty 12-16-year-olds from totally unchurched backgrounds every Sunday to worship.
How did we do it?
First, we took the time to understand this new secular age in which our children are growing up.
Children today are living in a unique time where Christianity is considered all but dead. Without the ‘absolute’ of God, nothing in their culture is certain, not even their gender. Without a Christian moral framework, their family unit is often fluid and unstable and their friendship groups are often virtual or broken. They are growing up with the world’s knowledge at their fingertips, but have little stability to build anything on. Today’s children are incredibly compassionate and aspire to help others and the planet but are often isolated from their wider communities and have limited multi-generational influences. This cultural environment has starved them of the opportunity to learn important social skills (such as patience and empathy) that you would naturally develop when engaging in mixed groups (like the church). Older generations are often wary or untrusting of them. They have been bought by a material culture, and define themselves simply by what they own or consume. They are crying out for meaning and purpose.
They have been taught that Christianity is an archaic and bigoted institution and thus directly opposed to their liberated secular values. Children today do not feel that they can grow up to be ‘good citizens’ and be ‘Christians’ at the same time because of these false assumptions. At best Christianity is old fashioned, at worst intolerant and unwelcoming.
The challenge of reaching children in today’s secular age is to break down these assumptions and we have found that the only way to do this is through relationship.
Initially, we worked directly with our local schools. We offered them resources and the flexibility to fit in with their curriculum, we ran assemblies and exhibitions and used these windows to undermine the children’s assumptions of what church really is. We then engaged with parents at the school gates, building trust with the wider family and we embraced social media to showcase our facilities and services.
We started a youth club designed to be a counter-culture to the school experience. Our children do not sit in rows to hear a talk, instead, we give them control of their time with us. They can play games, help themselves to drinks and snacks or just sit and use the WiFi. We then engage with them in their natural groups, asking them to tell us about their week and seeding the gospel into the conversation when appropriate. As our relationships grow they have come to us loaded with questions about the Bible.
We started to take them on trips to the beach, museums and to winter wonderland, building memories and relationships between us (the church) and them.
We brought instruments into the youth club to teach Christian songs to those who wish to learn and gave them the opportunity to perform in church.
We have listened to our children, valued their ideas and have shown them love and respect that the world cannot compete with, and through this witness, Jesus has made himself known.
The youth club now organise events to raise money for our homeless outreach and have started a tree-planting charity through the church to raise awareness about caring for God’s creation. They even have their own Noddfa hoodies and feel part of the family. They now come to church every Sunday and often invite their friends and even their parents on occasion. Several have been saved through this process. God is good.
Our nation’s children desperately need to hear that they are not merely products of chance in a meaningless universe, they need to know that they are not defined by their sexual desires or by the products that they own. They need to know that their self-worth is not measured by how many Instagram followers they have or what clothes they wear. Our nation’s children desperately need the stability, consistency and accountability that church uniquely provides and most importantly they need to hear that they are eternally valued by a God who loves them to death!
When these truths are taught and practised by the church, God’s love, revealed to us perfectly in Jesus Christ, will become as irresistible to this lost generation as it was to us.