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'No one size fits all': Church challenged to re-think the way it engages with young people

Three books launched by the Church of England this week give an honest appraisal of how the Church relates to young people through worship and mission today. They offer valuable insights into how churches might begin the process of assessing and developing their ministry with young people.

As a response to the Church of England’s National Youth Strategy, Good News for Young People, in 2002, two of the new books focus on the tough questions facing the Church as it meets the challenge of relating the gospel in fresh and appealing ways to young people.

Young People and Mission - edited by youth ministry specialists Alison and David Booker – gathers together contributions on a number of practical areas of mission, as well as provocative reflections on the tensions that continually need to be addressed by those engaged in youth work. The book draws on the experiences of writers with a range of experience in working with young people, to explore issues such as:

  • How Christian youth subculture can distance young people from the Church
  • Whether ‘mass action mission events’ are effective in engaging individuals with a sustainable foundation for a growing faith
  • Helping young Christians understand other faiths and the implications of living as Christian in a multi-faith society
  • The challenges and benefits of working alongside uniformed organisations such as Scouts, Guides and the Boys’ and Girls’ Brigades.

Taking another of the National Youth Strategy’s themes as its cue, Young People and Worship, edited by Mark Montgomery, calls on churches to rethink the way that they engage young people in worship. Stressing the fact that there is no ‘one size fits all’ way of involving young people in the liturgical life of the church, the book covers creative approaches to worship and wider issues of spirituality through contributions from a range of youth work specialists.

The importance of providing prayer and Bible study that resonates with young people’s own experiences and stimulates their imagination is highlighted, as is the need for ‘all-age worship’ to be based on a participatory approach rather than seen an opportunity to simply ‘entertain’ younger members of the congregation.

“The authors take youth culture seriously but at the same time recognize that young people do not want to dumb down God and be patronized with gimmicks. This book encourages new attitudes to young people and to worshipping God, with fresh motivation to see it work. It is my hope and prayer that its suggestions will be taken on board,” says the Rt Revd Roger Sainsbury, Chair of the National Youth Agency and the Centre for Youth Ministry.

Third in the trio, Mission-shaped Youth collects together stories of people and projects that are responding to the call to mission made in the landmark Mission-shaped Church report. These case studies – ranging from monthly worship events organised by a group of churches, to church youth workers employed in secondary schools – are used to draw out some of the key challenges and encouragement for the wider Church, as well as offering inspiration for churches seeking to develop their work with young people both inside and outside the Church building.

In the book, the Rt Revd Graham Cray, Bishop of Maidstone and chair of the working party that wrote Mission-shaped Church, urges churches to intersect with today’s young people in their daily lives and culture – and not just see mission with young people as being all about evangelism.  He identifies seven essential features of youth ministry today, writing that ‘mission-shaped’ youth work should be relational, incarnational, long-term, and should recognise the importance of discipleship and worship as key elements. Chris Russell, vicar of St Laurence, Reading, summarises this analysis in describing three ‘pivots’ around which ‘youth-mission-shaped church’ grows: the importance of worship, of fostering a sense of community belonging, and about creating a community of disciples seeking to follow Jesus in their everyday life.

The Rt Revd Lindsay Urwin, Bishop of Horsham, believes Mission-shaped Youth represents a significant contribution to the Church’s resources for those engaging in youth ministry: “This book is full of wisdom and experience. I hope it will engender a new courage and a new generosity to re-make our structures and worship opportunities so as to gather up young people ‘that none be lost’.”

Mission-shaped Youth – rethinking young people and church (ISBN 978-07151-4082-6) is priced £7.99; Young People and Mission – a practical guide (ISBN 978-07151-4060-4) and Young People and Worship – a practical guide (ISBN 978-07151-4057-4) are both priced £11.99. All three books will first be unveiled at the National Christian Resources Exhibition, being held at Sandown Park from 15-18th May, and will be available from Christian bookshops from this week including Church House Bookshop, 31 Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BN, telephone 020 7799 4064, email bookshop@c-of-e.org.uk, or on the web (mail order available).