It seems that somewhere around 72% of Christians made the decision to follow Christ before they turned 20 (Evangelical Alliance). Our younger years are a key time for exploring spirituality, asking questions about how the world works and forming the foundation of beliefs that we will follow for the rest of our lives. Which presents a challenge to us as church…
If young people are going through this process of figuring out their beliefs, how can we be active participants, helping them have the opportunity to encounter Christ? Especially when nearly 50% of C of E churches have fewer than 5 under 16s (From Anecdote to Evidence)?
The National Church has realised we need to do some coordinated thinking about just this question. So, enter Jimmy Dale, the new Church of England National Youth Evangelism Officer. He’s been brought on board to help the C of E grapple with these questions, to hear from the grass roots what’s going on in parishes in this area, and to help the Church, at all levels from national to local, formulate a range of creative responses to the challenge.
On Monday 30th January, Jimmy hopped onto a train and headed to Winchester to meet with a range of youth leaders throughout the Diocese.
Jimmy shared three of his core assumptions he’s working with when it comes to Youth Evangelism: • Evangelism and discipleship are connected – they don’t happen in isolation of each other
• Evangelism is a journey – a much longer, more varied journey than the 30 seconds that someone might stand on a stage and invite people to become Christians, though that often springs to mind when we think of ‘evangelism’.
• Youth Evangelism is about more than 11-18 year olds – it includes working with kids, and the discipleship of adults. This is a whole church conversation, not an issue in isolation.
Here are just a few of the exciting things we got to tell Jimmy about from what’s happening on the ground here in the Diocese: • Churches focussing on discipling the young people they work with to help them be missional in their schools and homes
• The Weston Church Youth Project’s comprehensive engagement with the young people on the Weston estate through their school and their community, linking holistic youth work with faith development
• St Luke’s Hedge End’s brand new Bacon Buttie Breakfast drop in on a Monday and Friday for young people en route to school (they’ve been giving out something like 150 bacon butties in a 20 minute period!)
• Young people with no church background taking the chance to listen to God and pray for each other in Weeke in Winchester
• Conversations about building links between the Council and churches from other denominations to meet the needs of young people in the Andover area
There are so many things to be encouraged by throughout the Diocese. So a question to ponder – what could it look like for your church to be good news to the young people in your parish who don’t yet know Jesus, but might be asking some big questions about the world?
Jimmy will be working towards a host of ways to help parish churches engage in evangelism with young people, whether they’ve currently got 50 young people in their community or couldn’t name a single one. We’ll keep you up to date as things happen!