In 2022, Brian Holden led a group of children’s, family and youth ministers on a tour of Queensland churches with growing children’s and youth ministries. This trip took place as part of a ‘community of practice’ - intentionally exploring different approaches to working with young people. They attended some of the youth events and meetings, and met with the youth leaders, staff and clergy in each church. The following is a collation of thoughts from the team as they reflect on what we learnt.
INVESTMENT IS KEY
If you prioritise children’s ministry it will grow … Some churches did this by investing in modern buildings, spaces and resources. Others had everyone in the leadership read and discuss books like Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church (by Kara Powell, Brad Griffin and Jake Mulder, Baker Academic, 2016) to better understand how to grow children and youth ministry and why it is important.”
“The churches we visited had children and youth as a strong part of the church’s culture and DNA. This was clear when we talked to the senior leaders – they had taken the time to invest in the ministries to young people.”
“What stood out for me across all the churches we visited was the core commitment to ministry with young people. This played out in various ways. Across buildings, promotion, funding, and genuine leadership roles for young people, amongst other things.”
“I learnt that sustained change in ministry takes time and dedication. The most successful ministries had full time children and youth staff, who had theological training, and some also had teacher training.”
CHILDREN AND YOUTH ARE MEMBERS OF THE BODY OF CHRIST
“Our children and young people are full members of the church today and involving them in the life of the church helps them not only feel a part of the family but helps them in their own faith formation journey.”
“The importance of finding or creating meaningful ways that our young people can be serving and contributing towards the life of our churches is key.”
“Where young people are serving, they are staying in the church.”
One church had a desire that a young person should have a ministry by age 12 (Grade 7). They could of course change, or try other ministries, but they were enabled to do this from before the age of 12.
“I think my greatest learning is the role of the leaders in shaping a culture that cultivates a focus on ministry to young people. Where the leaders of churches tell stories about, and celebrate ministry to and with young people, the church as a whole values young people. Not as an added extra, or a burden, but instead as a group vital to the life of the body of Christ.”
DIVERSITY IN EXPRESSION
“I also learnt that ministry can be very diverse depending on the context in which you minister. Being able to identify and meet the needs of the young people to whom you minister, is crucial in helping them to develop their relationship with God.”
“I learnt that I love learning more about God, and the different ways to minister to young people. It isn’t one size fits all.”
“I loved seeing how the churches set up different spaces. One church we went to had a real emphasis on prayer which was evident as a priority in the children’s spaces of the building. The prayer space encouraged people to write ‘prayers asked’ and ‘prayers answered’ as a reminder of how God is listening and answering prayers.”
COMMUNITY OF PRACTICE IN LEARNING
“It was a really engaging process of learning – I loved being able to freely ask questions to dig deep into the ‘whys’ of their particular ministry model and see how that was reflected in their practice.”
“Every ministry we visited had aspects to them what we could all learn from, but the most effective learning came from the debrief discussions we had together. We were able to learn from what we saw that we wanted to emulate, as well as from what we saw that we wanted to do differently. There was so much value in being together in these ministry visits.”
“There was a moment on day three when we were back in the bus driving up to Toowoomba when every row of the minibus was hosting a conversation about practical elements of children’s and youth ministry. Quantity time seemed to be a doorway to quality time. Tiresome as hours in a minibus may sound, the time together opened for us the kind of mutual learning that comes from being partners in ministry.”
“Not only did we have a great time meeting new people, we also had a great time getting to know each other. The bus rides up to Toowoomba were littered with conversations about ministry practice with young people, reflections on the churches we’d been to, our journeys into vocational ministry, and how to build up this vital ministry in Melbourne.”
Revitalising children’s and youth ministry is essential for the future of the church. The trip and reflections highlight that as we invest in and prioritise this ministry, and as we create networks for children’s, families and youth ministers and leaders to learn together, the possibilities for renewal and growth also increase.
A version of this article was previously published in TMA in September 2022.
Brian is the Youth Ministry Consultant for the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne.