What is the role of children and youth in the renewal of the Church?

Yesterday, I had the privilege of hosting a panel that was asking the question, what role do children and youth play in the renewal of our churches.  It will become available online and I’ll add the link. It was part of the Simpson Lectures on church renewal. I recommend you listen to the various sessions.

We know God has often used the voice of youth to call God’s people to greater faithfulness.

  •  Jeremiah – called at a young age to speak and do drama to communicate God’s message
  •  Daniel – standing strong against a cultural tide
  •  Mary – willing to be God’s servant even when she and others didn’t understand
  •  Samuel – listened to and obeyed God’s voice, even when it could upset the adults
  •  David – standing up to the giants that stand in the way, when they adults were too afraid

God has often used youth. Do we hear their voice calling us to greater faithfulness today? God often uses the courage of children and youth when the adult are too scared to do anything or try anything new!

What is this generation of children and youth saying to the church? I sense a great willingness in our leaders to listen. Our leaders are saying, I want to listen to the children and youth, but how? Where do I start?

Here are some themes that kept surfacing in the panel yesterday:

  1. This generation is saying “show me” – share your stories and engage in your community. This generation especially wants to see a faith that goes beyond words and inner convictions to overflowing in our lives and actions. They want to see if faith makes a real difference in how we treat people, in how we help our community, in how we help the brokenness in our world, in what we do at the hockey rink, in what we do at the grocery story, in what we do at work… Share your stories of how God is alive and at work in you and around you today. Look beyond the walls of your church and invite youth and children to serve your community together with you.
  1. Don’t underestimate the power of the small – Children and youth notice the little things. God’s Kingdom is like a mustard seed. Start with what you have. You have 2 kids that come on Sunday morning? Great start there! You have 3 youth that want to hang-out and talk about Jesus and life over hot chocolate? Great – you’ve got a youth group! Start there. Don’t underestimate the power of showing God’s care and love to the few. Be consistent and invest in relationship with them. Authentic relationships are greatly valued by this generation. Some great ideas were shared on small things that can encourage children/youth in a big way: sending a postcard in the good, old snail mail, remembering their interests and taking an interest in them, listening well, telling great children’s story, being ready for them on Sunday and praying for them by name.
  1. Partnerships – We need each other. Children and youth need the voice and example of multiple Christian adults in their lives. Foster partnerships between home and church, parents and leaders, youth ministry and your wider church, church and community. No one is an island. As we seek to see this generation grow in their faith, these partnership have lasting influence on the lives of children and youth. It takes a community to raise a child. Invite parents into what is happening for children and youth in your church. Communicate with them what is being taught and shared. Invite seniors and adult into the youth group – to mentor youth, to share in a snack or meal and to learn from one another. Invite children and youth into the wider life of the church – to sever, to lead, and to share their stories of seeing God at work. Find many and various ways for partnerships across the generations and with the community.

How else do we fan into flame renewal in our churches, by engaging children and youth?

And what might out children’s and youth’s ministries be teaching the church? “Indeed, youth ministry’s great potential may life in its ability to reimagine the church on behalf of the wider Christian community, a church in which God has called young people to play an irrepressible and irreplaceable part.” (In “The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry” By: Andrew Root & Kenda Creasy Dean p 35ff)

What experiments are happening in your youth and children ministries? What can the wider church learn from those experiments? What new ways of doing church are emerging from our children, youth and young adults?

Here are some of the new things being tried, that I overheard in the buzz of the Simpson week on church renewal. These things started as things being done in the children or youth ministry and then the “big” church decided to give it a try.

  • Interactive sermons, where people are invited to ask questions via text message or tweeting
  • Inviting drama and dance onto the stage to bring God’s Word to life in a new way
  • Sunday school for the whole family, where children, youth and parents learn together from God’s work and how to apply it in their home during the week
  • Small Groups that intentionally include all ages, kids are welcomed!
  • Small Groups that purposefully take place in coffee shops, gyms and restaurants
  • Churches that split-up and meet in homes on Sunday morning instead of in one building
  • Churches that occasionally change their Sunday morning to be a day when everyone shows up in work clothes instead and takes the church outside the walls of the building and servers their community together
  • Allowing volunteers different options to invest their time, energy and gifts. (e.g. Giving one month to a theme topic in the children’s ministry, serving once a month on a rotation, having a partner to trade on and off with in their ministry, being allowed to check-out a ministry before they commit to serve there etc.)
  • Inviting youth and children to use their gifts in the wider church. This can take all kinds of forms – making videos, creating slides, youth leading a devotional or sermon, organizing a service project for the church, create a backdrop for a sermon series etc.
  • Letting people submit their “tough questions” and then setting up a panel to tackle the questions
  • Sunday mornings that are set-up with the atmosphere of a coffee house
  • Interactive and responsive worship opportunities – e.g. writing your name on a cross, participate in painting a picture during worship, writing a note to God, throwing a stone into a water bucket, worship stations…
  • Intentionally partnering with a community organization and being a consistent army of volunteers with that organization

What ways are you reimagining church?

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