When I look back to my teenage years almost all of my best memories of church grew out of relationships. I remember a Sunday school teacher that took a bunch of teenage guys to his cottage for a day of steaks and conversation.
I remember a fellow member of the youth group who painted the lens of my glasses leaving a small pinhole for me to see out of.
I remember the encouragement of our adult leader when a group of nervous teenagers were given the responsibility of leading a worship service that none of us felt qualified to do.
I remember the hours spent with the young lady who later became my wife.
I don’t recall much about the programs. We met every Monday evening and while I have faint memories of what happened at those meetings, it is the relationships that vividly stick in my mind.
In my last blog entry I wrote about a new study that has come out from the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and four other partners www.RenegotiatingFaith.ca. Once again I would highly recommend it to anyone who works with teenagers and young adults.
In that study the authors talk about the importance of relationships as opposed to programs (p. 48). They recommend that rather than focusing on a programmatic ministry churches should focus on warm friendships. I think that this is one of the best points in the study.
I would not suggest that such friendships can’t be developed in a large church but it seems to me that they should grow naturally in a small-church setting.
Impacting the few
A question that I am often asked is how a small church can grow a youth ministry when there are only a handful of young people attending. They see the larger church down the road with its full-time staff person, its youth oriented facilities and its host of attendees at every meeting and they want to know how they can possibly compete.
My very simple answer to that question is that they can’t. The larger church has more staff, more money, better facilities, and more teenagers. Actually I wonder why the small church would even ask the question. The answer should be obvious. They can’t compete.
But church isn’t about competing. It is about impacting people for God. It is about turning those people whom God has entrusted to your care into passionate followers of Jesus Christ. You can do that whether you have three young people or a thousand. It isn’t about the numbers.. It is all about the impact you have on the ones who are there.
The importance of mentoring
One of the more surprising statements made by the Renegotiating Faith study was that for every young person, ideally there should be five mentors. Obviously the person who suggested this wasn’t thinking about five different formal mentoring programs. The young person would have no time for anything else in her life.
There should, however, be five people who take an interest in that young person’s spiritual, emotional and relational life. There should be encouragement, support and love coming from five different sources. There should be five different adults praying for that young person. The young person should know beyond a shadow of a doubt that she is loved and cared for by the adults in her church.
There may be a place in our churches for formal mentoring. I would love to see spiritually mature adults who would pour their lives into one teenager but that should never replace informal mentoring. Young people need to know that the small church that they attend is there for them in a way that larger churches probably can’t be.
What can you do to impact your young people
As I have already said, you can’t compete programmatically with the large church down the road so don’t even try. Don’t even try!!!
You can, however, make a huge impact relationally if you just invest time into your teens.
One of the best youth programs that I have encountered in a church consisted of six teenagers sitting around a supper table with a couple who invited them once a week for a meal and a discussion centered around what was happening in their lives. It probably failed the program test but it passed the relationship test with flying colours. Ultimately that is what really matters.