Youth: most active, least committed

Zac Veron

Just when I thought the National Church Life Survey (NCLS) team had gone quiet, along comes another outstanding report, from further analysis of the 2006 survey. Two particular observations stand out from the pack in the recently released "Regional Church Life Profile " Diocese of Sydney". Among a number of signs for encouragement regarding connecting with youth are two signs for concern:

1. Sydney Anglicans in the 15-29 years age group are inviting more people to church than any other age group. They also have the highest role involvement. However, in general, their commitment to the vision of their church is low.

2. Only a small percentage of newcomers see their children also join that church. Children of new church members, many of whom have no immediate church background, are not following their parents in encouraging numbers.

What can be done to address these concerns? Let us take the second observation first.

Children of Newcomers

The NCLS analysis highlights an important opportunity as Connect 09 gets underway in most of our churches. There exists a largely untapped group of children whose parents have recently joined a church. Each church should consider how to connect with this group, that they already have indirect contact with, through the family networks. One key to this is discipling the parents to lead their families - Christianly.

Mentoring of new Christians who have children, by long standing Christian parents, is important. So too are resources to help Christians raise godly children. Such resources, which work well in the Australian context, are scarce. Youthworks has identified the provision of such resources as a high priority in our new strategic ministry plan. These will take some time to develop, but stay tuned.

Now let us turn to the group that has the highest involvement in the ministries of our churches, yet has a low commitment to the vision of their church.

Low Commitment to the Church's Vision

Many church leaders will instinctively ask "What can be done to encourage the 15-29 years old young people to commit to the church's vision?" That is precisely the wrong question to ask! Rather than swim against the tide in a vain effort to get their young people to commit to their church's vision, they should invite their youth to play a major role in forming a new vision for the church.

Churches which have a high "buy-in' of their vision have learned that the most effective vision is a common or shared vision. A vision that has been determined by the 45-75 year old people alone, and then announced to and imposed upon the rest of the church, will not capture the hearts of all groups within that church. Our churches, which rely on the efforts of young people to sustain many of their ministries, must give these same people more authority in decision making within the church.

Please understand that young people are not against their church's vision. Neutrality or lack of commitment is natural if they feel they have not had a say in the direction of the church. However, inviting them to be part of the church's decision making circle will inject new energy and a longer lasting effective vision for the whole church.

I have much more to say about developing effective church visions. More than the editor will allow me to include in this article. However, he has allowed me a free plug! For more on effective vision setting please read chapter 20 of my recently launched book Leadership on the Front Foot (published by CEP).

My prayer is that churches throughout our great Diocese will make connecting with youth a priority in 2009. Key to this is allowing our committed young people to have a substantial role in the formation of each church's vision.

Zac Veron is the CEO of Anglican Youthworks