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Allowing real change

“WE HAVE to attract young people into the church because young people are the church of the future.”

I remember hearing people speak like this when I was in my late teens in our church.

When I heard that, I wanted to cry out, “But I want to be part of the church today!”

We still say similar things about the church now, wringing our hands and trying to think up ways to attract young people.

We see the growing Pentecostal churches with loud music and apparently lots of young people, so we try to mimic them.

But we don’t have the skills or the gifted musicians so we end up doing a pale imitation and wonder why it doesn’t work.

When I was 19 or 20 I was invited into the committee responsible for the finance and property life of the church.

I enjoyed the experience because it gave me contact with other men and I enjoyed being involved in working bees because I learnt skills I would not otherwise have learnt.

I learnt to lay concrete, to operate a ride-on mower, to use a chainsaw.

Somehow I also got to thinking about how God was calling me to live as a disciple of Christ and to wonder what it would mean for me to become a minister.

When I was 22 I moved to Brisbane and became part of a congregation that had a very large youth ministry.

As I reflect upon that time I realise that this group of about 80 young adults managed its own life and was protected from much criticism by the minister and the elders who did all they could to inspire and encourage while allowing us to manage our own affairs.

As I have travelled around our church over the past three years, find that in most places there are young people in our church.

Maybe only one or two who come rather irregularly.

They probably grew up in the congregation from infancy.

They feel sense of loyalty to those oldies, but they find hard to be recognised as adults, or to be respected and trusted as
committed disciples in their own right.

Too often we who have been around the church a long time think that we must change to attract young people.

In doing so we often try all sorts of things we think they want.

This ignores the fact that there are young people already there.

The question is not “what do we need to change to attract young people?” but “are we willing to allow these committed
young people to change us?” I know of congregations where experienced gifted older leaders have stepped down and made space for “inexperienced younger leaders” and sought to mentor and encourage their leadership.

It feels risky, but it empowers the next generation of leaders to offer their gifts, enthusiasm and faithfulness to shape our mission and our future.

Can you look for the one or two young people still associated with your congregation and take time to listen to them to see how their skills and passion might enhance and transform your congregation?

When I visit our schools and colleges I see young people in both primary school and high school confi dently leading awards nights, being MC at celebrations with amazing confidence.

I find myself thinking that I could never have done that at their age.

Please make space for your high school students and young adults to shape and excite our church.

Our young people are not the church of the future; they are part of the church today.