What Kind of Youth Work?

One of my churches has the opportunity to do some youth work. A local woman approached me about getting the church involved with finding ways to reach out to the kids who roam the streets of the village. She isn’t part of any organisation, but has stopped to talk to the kids that hang around, getting to know them, and asking them what they want to do. I don’t know if she has any religious beliefs, but feels the need to be attached to a larger organisation.

I think this person has a great idea about reaching out to the kids. And I have to be honest, I see in her a challenge to myself and the church in that she is doing what we are called to be doing. But, I have been wondering what it will mean to have the church’s name attached to it? Will the nature of the work change? The best I can tell, there seems to be two approaches:

  1. No faith aspect whatsoever: the major thrust here seems to be let’s get people across the door and offer them hospitality. Whilst I understand this approach, I am not sure how what we would do here is that different from a social work programme (I mention this the other day in my concerns about the Methodist Church).
  2. Full-frontal evangelism assault: Perhaps an overstatement, but in this type everything done is to present the kids with the gospel and make a decision. Maybe this is the overstatement because I have seen the former more so than the latter, so I haven’t seen anything else done well.

For me, I want there to be some sort of goal (for lack of a better word) that people encounter the gospel with a view to discipleship. From one person who I have discussed this with, the goal is not make the young people Christians. I have said that if that means what we normally think of as Christians (Sunday morning Sunday school attending, members of the church), then I quite agree. But, if we mean by Christian a new way of being one – one that even may break from past Methodism, I don’t see that as a bad goal (knowing that not everyone will make that journey).

I’ve not discussed any of this with the person interested in doing the youth work, so I don’t know her reactions to what it would mean to add a faith element to it. That may not be what she has in mind at all. If so, what does that mean about our involvment?

So, I am looking for help: is there a way to balance between the two, or should I just count of people coming into the church and hope that God reaches them through our outreach (albeit without talk of faith)?

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10 thoughts on “What Kind of Youth Work?

  1. I’m not drawn to either of the alternatives that you mention. In one church I served several “outside groups’ met in the church & the congregation benefited from this. But, that is because there was “crossover.” People who were part of the worshiping congregation were also part of these groups. So, folks in these outside groups often visited our worship service on Sunday morning. I think a “low key” form of witness is often the most effective. My concern with this type of Youth Ministry you mention would be: what connection does it have with the congregation (the people, not the building)?

  2. I’m not convinced there’s a straight choice between ‘no faith whatsoever’ and ‘full on evangelism’. You don’t have to beat the kids about the face and neck with a Bible, but I’d say that the church should be alert to opportunities of sharing faith. And creating them.

  3. Thank you for your comments, Richard and Craig. I don’t think there needs to be a straight choice, either, but I am trying to figure out what that choice is. I think my problem is I haven’t seen a middle way for youth modelled. I think what troubled me was how to offer them some sort of faith experience if we don’t even talk about making them disciples of Jesus.

  4. Thinks are starting to happen for you, don’t miss the opportunity to engage with these young people,
    you have the give to get along side of them
    go for it Will

  5. My most evangelical church (the one that thinks Methodism is far too liberal) has been operating a ‘no faith aspect whatsoever’ youth group (ages 11 to 18) for over 25 years. It’s ‘no faith’ because ‘full frontal evangelism’ didn’t work and the kids didn’t want to come. The good people of this church felt that they wouldn’t serve the youth that they wanted to serve if the kids went away so the format was changed.

    The group provides a safe space to meet – often away from a drunken or doped-up mum or dad – and the kids raise money for a weekend away every year. Most of these kids wouldn’t have a holiday if it weren’t for this group.

    I realise this is a difficult choice. However, I’m afraid I chaff at the idea that everything we do must be for evangelism and not for service. And I also chaff at the idea that every group that uses the building needs to somehow end up involved with the Sunday congregation. (That’s certainly not what ‘Fresh Expressions’ is about, for a start.)

  6. Mike: Thanks for the encouragement, Mike!

    Pam: Thank you for the story of your church’s experience.

    I’m looking for a middle way between the two extremes. I imagine that full-frontal evangelism won’t work, but I can’t help thinking that with church’s involvement, can’t there be some sort of faith connection? I haven’t a clue what that is.

    I am not sure why you separate evangelism from service? I would agree with you if you meant the whole point would be to get them to come on Sunday morning. But why wouldn’t we want them to encounter Christ? I don’t think being a Christian can look like what it has in the past, but sometimes I wonder if in order to break from the past we go the route of not making any mention of Jesus or that he wants to be involved with them.

  7. Will: yes, this church has separated the two things because that’s what the kids and the parents want.

    Perhaps it depends on the context. In this case, there is a real need for the kids to have a safe space because there are no public facilities for that safe space. There is a real need for them to learn respect for themselves and others because it’s not provided in the home. There is a need for them to learn that they can work for something (the weekend away) and enjoy the fruits of their own work because they have been taught by example to expect to be on benefit.

    I take your point and I agree with you in principle. I’m just saying that this congregation has found that it doesn’t really work for them.

    I think my question is ‘Why are we so sure that people don’t encounter Christ if we give to them with no strings attached?’

    I sometimes get very uncomfortable with the idea that what we are really asking people is ‘We’ll do something that is of benefit to you for a time but we’re expecting the pay-back of you becoming like us.’

    In the spirit of debate and thinking things through. 🙂

  8. Pam, I see your point about needing a safe space. There are plenty of alternatives that they could be doing if left to their own devices (my car is a reminder to that!).

    What I am wondering about is how do we offer a different story for them as well? Being at a place where they are valued I see as a start, but I am thinking about ways to beyond that to somehow connect those who may be interested in the Christian story.

    I do know you mean about the ‘strings attached’. I can’t remember if I wrote in my post the other day that many churches judge the ‘success’ of the programme on how many turn up on Sunday morning. If none, then it didn’t work. I am not in favour of this, either. That’s why I don’t see it as a goal as getting them into ‘the church’, but finding a community centred on Christ – or at least let them see the possibilities – and that it looks different from what they think it may.

    Thanks for your thoughts and the debate! At least we are not so far apart as being unable to talk to each other! 🙂

  9. Hey Will

    It may sound crazy but you could ask for all parties to sit down together and talk honestly about their needs and expectations. One thing we all have to learn whether we are christians or not is the art of compromise.

    A church safe place has to be heated and lighted etc. This needs the co-operation of the church community. If they are willing to wave the rent then the church may want to hold an open youth week end where the group could have an opportunity to meet with other young people from the district with or without faith for a sharing of experiences.

    This is just an idea you all have to work it through as to how to meld your call to spread the gospel and basic support. Take the Jesus model! love first and the gospel will follow. I will pray for you as my local church is in just the same dilema. On Sunday am 20 young people from “church families” and 70 young people on a Friday evening. We are holding prayer meetings to let God be our guide at the moment. So God be with you – the answer will come

  10. Hi TDM,

    Thanks for your comment. We are going to sit down and talk. Hopefully we will listen to each other.

    I think you’re exactly right about trying to work out spreading the gospel and basic support. I seem to be going back and forth on what exactly is the church’s role in this.

    Your call to follow the Jesus model is helpful, and a great reminder.

    Hopefully, I will be able to blog on the process! Thank you for your encouragement.

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