“We can’t really do anything for young people at our church – we’ve only got one or two – there aren’t enough of them.”
If I had a pound for every time I’ve heard someone say that I’d have..… a substantially better-resourced youth ministry! I’ve heard it from clergy, parents, volunteers, members of congregations. Even on occasion from a despairing youth worker.
I’ve never once heard it from a young person.
And to some extent it resonates with my own experience. The church where I work has reasonably well-established groups for children and young people up to the age of 13 but, until recently, nothing beyond that.
This time last year, I knew that my oldest young people were about to “fall out” of the top end of our existing provision. They were about to go into year 9, and our oldest group only went up to year 8. What to do?
We started “Engage” – a name suggested by one of the young people to follow on from our existing youth group, “Encounter”. Because, as she put it, “first you encounter God, then you really start to engage with God.”
Engage meets fortnightly. We have never had more than 4 young people at a session. Usually we have 2 or 3, sometimes only 1. And very occasionally, none.
Does that sound like a success? In a church hungry for growth, maybe not. It certainly doesn’t look brilliant on the annual Statistics for Mission form. It might not look like an efficient deployment of resources.
But as a witness to the faithfulness of God, I think it is about as “successful” as we could get. We talk a lot in children’s and youth ministry about “modelling” the love of God to our young people. Rightly so. If we give up because there aren’t “enough” of them, what model of God’s love does that present?
God isn’t into the numbers game. One person, any one of us, is “enough” for God. Enough for God to be born on earth as one of us, to suffer and die for us, to be raised to new life for us, and to send the Holy Spirit to be with us forever. For each one of us – for any one of us – God does that.
And if one person is enough for God to do all that, then they’re surely enough for me to turn out on a rainy Thursday evening, with an activity I’ve taken time to prepare, in the full knowledge that it may or may not be used.
Yes, we have some amazing conversations at Engage. Yes, these very few young people have chosen to do things that have had a significant impact on the life of our whole church.
But mainly it’s about being there. Because God is there. And not giving up on even a single young person. Because God never will, and they need to know that. In a world where they feel constantly measured and judged and found wanting, they really need to know that.
Is it an “efficient” use of my time? Probably not. But there are more important things that efficiency. Perhaps that is one of the ways in which the church needs to be counter-cultural.
Recently I revisited (for about the thousandth time) Matthew 18, a key passage of scripture for anyone who’s dedicating their life to serving children in the name of Christ. And I heard, as never before:
“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”
One such child. Even one. Even if there is only one child, one young person in your church, you have an opportunity to fulfill Jesus’ command by welcoming that one person as you would welcome Jesus. You have an opportunity to serve and nurture and learn from and with one of those whom Jesus called “the greatest in the kingdom of heaven”. Even one is “enough”.
Youth ministry shouldn’t be about numbers. (Nor should church as a whole.) Perhaps that requires a quite radical rethink in how we do things. Perhaps it should.
I wonder how we can show every young person that they are loved totally and unconditionally by God – that they really are “enough”?