Church of England commits to next generation evangelism

23/02/2019

The Church of England's General Synod today debated the future of youth evangelism in England, describing the current situation in churches as 'shocking'.

Opening the debate, Canon Mark Russell, Chief Executive of the Church Army, revealed that 36% of Anglican congregations have no one under the age of 16. Meanwhile only 6% of Church of England churches have more than 25 under 16 year olds and most of these are younger children. The challenges are particularly acute for teenagers with many churches having none.

Yet research suggests 13% of teenagers identify as Christian and many respond positively to the Anglican faith. Speaking from personal experience, Mark Russell said  'I played pool with a 16 year old at Church Army's Bradford Centre of Mission and asked him what becoming a Christian meant to him. He said that his whole life changed from black and white to colour'.

Speaking in the debate the Revd Leah Vasey-Saunders said her journey to be a vicar is a direct result of joining a local church choir at the age of 18 at the invitation of a friend. 'We need to take young people seriously. The time to act is now'. 

The Church of England is making progress, with the appointment of its first Youth Evangelism Officer, Jimmy Dale and its first bishop for evangelism to young people, Bishop Paul Williams.

Three priorities were identified in the debate: recruiting more youth workers, training all clergy to communicate with young people, being inclusive and welcoming of LGBTI+ teenagers.

Lucy Gorman, York, speaking in the debate cited diversity and inclusion as an issue saying 'When 1 in 25 young people identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual we need to speak into the silence and connect with them to include them in the life of the Church. The work that Living in Love and Faith is doing is great but we need to do more'.

Andrew Dotchin from St Edmundsbury and Ipswich gave the real life example of his church creating a safe space for LGBTI+ teenagers to meet locally, called Rocky Road, as crucial for youth evangelism saying  'They are wonderful, they are challenging, they are holy.'

Research from the Church Army suggests that young people value safe spaces to explore important questions and issues.

The Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham, Paul Williams, reminded General Synod Members not to look down on fellow Christians because they are younger. Describing regular meetings he has with local young people in the diocese as 'encouraging and inspiring.' The Bishop, said some of his best learnings come from those interactions.

General Synod voted unanimously for the motion.