This afternoon I joined with other Anglicans in my episcopal area to meet and share ideas, hopes, dreams and challenges with our Archbishop. All the questions can be put into two categories: Finance and Youth. I was there because, along with my mostly full time position at Trinity Aurora, I am the Youth Ministry Animator for York-Simcoe. It was a long drive, but a great opportunity to say hello to people spread across a large geographic area.
As a youth minister, these wider church events feel a little strange. When I was a rector, I loved engaging in the wider church, sharing strategies for congregational growth, learning best practices. Now that my ministry has a narrower focus, I find myself less enthusiastically engaged. It is not that these things are not critical, just not as critical to my current ministry as they were in my last one.
When the archbishop was asked his first question about youth he turned the question back to the group, asking folks to share their own experiences in their parishes. I braced myself. After the conversation I had just heard about finances and the canon law that requires every parish to hire an accountant, folks were a touch grumpy and discouraged.
Folks were honest. There are no young people in their churches. The youth in their communities are not coming.
We were about 10 minutes into the conversation when I realized I had not yet heard those key, familiar phrases:
They don’t want to commit to anything…
They don’t think church is important…
I heard some discouragement, some confusion, some 50 year old solutions (let’s hold some dances. That’ll bring them back), some grasping at straws. But something was conspicuously absent.
Mostly, I heard a desire to do anything, whatever would work (within their meager means) to welcome the young people back into their churches.
Earlier in the conversation, the archbishop asked, “What gives you hope?” My answer was, “I am hopeful when I meet a young person who is the only young person in their church…and they’re still going.”
We think that the vital youth ministries are only happening in churches with a “critical mass”. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you look at the huge sunday school and youth association movements of the 1950s to 1970s, how many of those folks, now in their 50s and 60s, still in our churches? A fraction.
Small churches have great gifts to share in youth ministry. Youth from smaller churches are often the ones who keep their faith and join churches when they go to college and university. Their small church is their community, their family, their mentors.
Every year I am in this, youth ministry moves further and further away from that Friday night youth group. This is a wonderful opportunity for our small churches. Every person, young and old, is seeking, first, to belong. Where better to know belonging than a church where everybody knows your name.