Crisis looms if youth ministry not improved

Youth ministry needs to be integrated in the planning and whole structures of the church and decision making of the whole church, says the Christian Research Association's Dr Philip Hughes.

By Chris Shearer

March 4 2016 

Churches around Australia will need to drastically alter how they conduct youth ministry if they are to pass their faith onto the next generation and ensure their own survival, says new research from the Christian Research Association (CRA).

Isolated, tired and overwhelmed? Then it's likely you're in youth ministry

March 4 2016Three youth ministry consultations held in Melbourne

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The concerning proclamation came after the CRA combined the findings of research conducted with the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne, the Salvation Army, the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne and migrant communities and discovered that youth ministry across the city of Melbourne was for the most part not optimised for today’s conditions.

“One of the most immediate things that was evident to us in the 23 case studies that we actually did, was the dominant patterns of youth ministry were very much orientated to families of young people within the church. And we recognised that the youth work is not connecting with 90 per cent of the youth in the wider community,” said Dr Philip Hughes, senior researcher at the CRA and organiser of the ecumenical youth ministry training day where the findings were shared.

“At the moment, as we see it, we’re not providing the points of contact, the ways of engaging with the wider public through our churches. And so the question arises; how can we best do that?”

The research also pointed to a greater than expected similarity in what goes on in youth ministry across different churches and different denominations, with developing the Christian faith tending to revolve around bible study and perceiving how God was relevant to people’s lives on a day-to-day basis. Dr Hughes says the research found that for young people, faith was more an expression of what one does than what one believes. He said some young people had told researchers that they didn’t want to worship, but were keen to be involved in helping others as an expression of their faith.

The research also suggested that in many cases youth ministry had been “hived off” from the rest of the church, hindering its ability to flourish. Dr Hughes said American research had suggested youth ministry had its greatest vitality when it was supported by and central to the church as a whole.

“Youth ministry needs to be integrated in the planning and whole structures of the church and decision making of the whole church. And thus we would encourage churches to be thinking about youth ministry and to involve the youth ministers in their decision making, in the setting of their budgets and in their planning and vision development for the church as a whole.”

Youth ministry’s importance to the life of a various Christian faiths should not be underestimated. According to other research not conducted by the CRA, around 80 per cent of people come to Christ before they are adults. The Revd Dave Fuller, vicar of All Saints Greensborough, who has been involved in youth ministry with the Anglican Church for almost 30 years, says this fact alone highlights why more effort should be dedicated to youth ministry at a local level.

“If you listen to people’s stories of how they became Christians and when and what was the process it seems fairly plausible and reasonable that 80 per cent do come to Christ while they’re young,” he said. “We need to be putting a lot of work in in respect to children, teenagers and young adults if we’re going to see the faith passed on to the next generation and our churches remain strong.”

Mr Fuller said that there is no easy fix to the issue, but long-term, sustainable youth ministry needs to be a focus of all Australian churches.

“In the end, if churches aren’t doing the work of passing faith on from one generation to the next, it eventually dies.”

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