By Dan Jenkins
I have lots of conversations with people about activities that are running for young people in their churches and the struggle of transitioning young people from a younger group up into an older group when they outgrow the younger one. Many churches see young people drop off completely.
I have recently been working on an audit of youth work in ten churches across Brighton; I’m sure the results are fairly representative of church youth work across the rest of the diocese. Some employ youth or children’s workers but rarely both. All have a fantastic number of volunteers supporting work with young people and all want more. There seems to be good engagement with young children in parent and toddler groups, some run Sunday schools and most have children and young people involved with choirs, serving at communion or operating a sound desk. All have a drop off of young people at around age 11.
Many of the churches have great initiatives working with young people and perhaps they can reverse this trend in the coming years but it has struck me that one of the biggest challenges for churches, whether rural or urban, in wealthy areas or areas of poverty is that for some reason at the age of 11 many young people start staying at home on a Sunday morning rather than coming to church with their parents.
Part of the problem is the way that we deal with transition. The fact is that young people perceive that there is very little at church for them. We have kept 12 year old Samantha engaged with finger painting, biscuit decorating and stories of lost sheep since she was a toddler, she’s heard these stories over and over, she’s outgrown the finger painting and it won’t keep her coming back for very much longer, especially as all her friends are sleeping in on Sunday morning, counting the likes on their latest Instagram post and binge watching Netflix.
What if her Instagram and Netflix friends were here at church with her though?Would they be helping toddlers with sticking and gluing or would we be journeying with them to be encountering God in a life transforming way? Having a critical mass does have a way of making a place attractive but if we can’t disciple Samantha when she’s here every week, what makes us think that we’d be able to disciple all her friends if they started coming too?
If you don’t already have a rolling programme for young people then I’ll talk more in another post about making the most of what you’ve got, discipling young people and developing a strategy for growth but today I wanted to focus more on transitioning age groups, this is where things seem to fall apart. There’s no easy way to transition young people but here are some key tips for transitioning young people from one group into an older one.
- Don’t clash with school transitions – No matter how hardy young people may seem, there’s a lot going on whilst transitioning between schools, transitioning early will mean that they can settle into a new routine that will remain consistent when everything else is changing.
- Don’t be too strict about ages – Young people are not committed to activities or programme that you run, they’re committed to relationships. If there is one person with a friendship group that are all a year younger, splitting them from their friends may not be the best move. Allow them to decide where they’d like to be.
- Transition events – Something like a bowling trip or a beach BBQ for the older group with all the young people that are about to transition invited along. These crossover events will help those that are about to transition up to get to know leaders and other young people in the new group. Start these events well in advance and have as many of them as is feasibly possible.
- The term before! – Whenever you decide to do the big transition, allow young people to attend the older group at least a term before the transition date.
- Prep the group – Communicate what’s happening well in advance so both groups know that there will be new younger ones coming to join. Talk about welcoming new comers and expectations of the group.