Parishes, schools and agencies

Bayside youth group asks the 'big questions'

A new kind of youth ministry in Gardenvale

By Chris Shearer

June 28 2018


It’s 6pm on a chilly winter’s eve in Gardenvale, in Melbourne’s south east, but St Stephen’s church is alive with the warmth and laughter of children’s voices. They run and yell and play with the kind of energy few of their parents could probably muster on a Friday night. As the activities begin in earnest, they settle in, attentive, engaged, content. This is St Stephen’s newest ministry, a youth group called Kidz n Teenz, run in partnership with Trinity Uniting Church in Brighton.

Kidz n Teenz is the brainchild of St Stephen’s vicar, the Revd Paul Carr. When he joined the St Stephen’s family late last year, Revd Carr was keen to build on the church’s commitment to youth ministry while adapting to the modern context.

“One of the historic elements of this church was that it always had a desire to build youth and teens ministry and it did indeed have a group a number of years ago. But the change in demographics and children getting older, moving into Sunday sports, congregations going down in numbers – a familiar pattern in a lot of churches – meant that there was not enough youth activity and potential growth for the future,” he explains.

“So we recognised that was a real need to get youth and kids ministry going in this area. We’re close by to schools, we have a lot of desire and interest from local families, we’re a traditional church and that’s fantastic. What that also means is it gives us the challenge of developing youth ministry in a far greater way than it’s been done before.”

The Kidz n Teenz program is split into a three-week cycle each month. Week one looks at the wider world, focusing on mission and what that means locally and internationally. Week two is dedicated to music and food from different cultures, and week three is a film night, held either at St Stephen’s or a local cinema. The final week of each month is a night off.

“So traditionally youth groups and youth ministry resolves around Bible teaching and activities and we keep all that,” Revd Carr says. “But the general thing is games and getting to know one another and love thy neighbour – that’s the key emphasis to this.”

For the past few cycles, the mission week focus has been Cambodia. The group has been learning about how aid projects are improving lives in the impoverished nation. They’ve also been raising funds by dutifully filling dozens of lolly jars, which are then bought by businesses. The takings are then matched by Rotary Australia and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. By the time all matching is complete, each jar is worth about $3500 to the project.

The results so far have been encouraging, with numbers swelling several times larger than the first night’s participants to about 20 young people each week. Almost all the children TMA spoke to said they loved the social aspect of the evenings, with many saying they were recommending the Kidz n Teenz group to their school friends.

“It’s been hugely positive,” Revd Carr says. “We’ve got families connecting to the church and just asking some of those big questions, whereas perhaps they may never have been to church before.

“It is a wonderful way of giving the Gospel out to people without being too fierce with it, so they can start understanding and unpacking some of the real principles of the Bible and asking big questions about life. It’s a great way of people just getting to know what it’s like to be a part of the bigger picture of God’s kingdom.”