What if every church engaged young people meaningfully?

By Scott Guyatt

Posted in Culture

The youth will inherit the future but they are also a vital part of the present. Have our churches done enough to meaningfully transition leadership and responsibility from one generation to the next? 

“Young people are the future of the church,” as the saying goes.

Sometimes the implication is that we have to get the youth involved so that in the years ahead, when those precious young people reach some indistinct and undefined “adulthood”, they’ll be ready to take over, fill all the rosters, and keep things ticking along. They’ll help ensure the church we love so much continues to operate when we ourselves are gone.

I wonder if this saying, and the mindset that it can sometimes engender, sells young people short, and is actually in danger of missing the point entirely.

I can’t help wondering what it would mean in our life if we firmly believed that young people are vital for the church today. If we acknowledged that having young people actively involved in every part of our church would make us all better now (and not only to make sure we’re still around tomorrow). And I wonder what things in our life we are prepared to give up to enable that to happen? What sacrifices are we prepared to make?

It might start by influencing our worship, so that what happens when we gather pays genuine attention to the needs and desires of young people.

It might involve working hard to offer young people real leadership roles. By this I don’t mean leadership that is constrained to youth and children’s ministry, but offered to the wider church: young people in church councils, as members of a presbytery or Synod leadership groups. And yes, the ways those groups do their work will be challenged by the views and needs of younger participants.

It might mean entering openly and honestly into dialogue about the issues that young people are wrestling with every day, or even letting other issues (that seem so important to the rest of us) slide because for the average young person, they’re a non-issue at best, completely irrelevant at worst.

It might (who am I kidding, there’s no “might” about this) entail us finding ways to encourage young people to speak into the life of our church, and ensuring that “we” stop and listen—genuinely, openly listen—to their hopes, dreams and discernment for their church. By extension we’ll also need to be prepared to act on what we hear.

And that might take determination and resolve.

It’s said by project managers that the dilemma of project work is to choose any two of three project features: fast, good and cheap. If you want a project completed quickly and well, it generally won’t be cheap. And if you want it completed quickly, and cheaply, chances are the outcomes won’t be that good.

I wonder if in a way we might find ourselves locked in this same dilemma. If we want younger generations actively engaged in our church quickly (that’s our non-negotiable timeframe), then we likely can’t achieve that by means that are both effective and cheap (involve no sacrifices).  

If we look for the easy option, we simply won’t get the outcome. There are sacrifices for us to make and costs for us to pay.

At least that’s what I think about when I wonder what might happen if every church was committed to engaging young people meaningfully.


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