The latest edition of Church Growth has an interview with Matt Summerfield who heads up Urban Saints. He reflects on the challenges of helping young people to engage with church and faith in today’s context and offers his own top tips for youth ministry.
- What would you say is the biggest challenge for the church in relation to young people?
I’d say it is for us to build authentic relationships. Young people come if something is fun but will only stay if they make friends. Youth leaders can spend a lot of time thinking about the next fun thing - in the end it drains you. Authentic relationships are what matter. Church must also be relevant to young people when they come and we need to be looking out and addressing anything we put in the way of them coming to Jesus. When we present things with a lack of reality – young people can see through that straight away. The challenge is to show them not a perfect faith, but our vulnerability and be willing to admit that we too doubt sometimes and cry out to God, “where are you?”
- What would you say about the challenges for young people when engaging with church?
To both the church and young people a key challenge is to “Be patient with each other”. To young people, I’d say, “ok, we know church might be naff, but we’re trying to figure it out - don’t give up.” To youth leaders I’d say, “Even when it feels like world war three is about to break out, keep on going.” I like the way 1 Corinth 15 is translated in The Message: “And don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort.”
- What would you say to any church wanting to reach out to young people, or to the wider church about how to encourage young people in their lives and faith?
On average about 75% of people come to faith under the age of 20 - that makes sense as it’s during adolescent years that our worldview is shaped. I would say that we have to ask ourselves, is 75% of our mission effort going into helping young people meet Jesus? Do we recognise that this is a critical age to invest in? The stakes are high. If we don’t act, there won’t be a church in the future. The statistics speak for themselves. The numbers of young people involved in self-harm, struggling with mental illness, harmful sexual practices, bullying ...are just horrific. I’m an optimistic person, but when you realise for example the high proportion of 12–17 year olds watching internet pornography, you know that this has terrible implications for them and for society. Today, more than ever our young people need God’s Shalom which brings spiritual, but also emotional and physical well -being in the context of this culture.
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