One of the key discipleship commitments outlined in the Shared Life, Flourishing communities report, produced as a part of Project Plenty last year, was to reawaken an understanding and passion for discipling children, youth, young adults and families (CYYAF) across the life of the church here in Queensland. With the recent release of the National Church Life Survey Qld Synod results, comprised of just over 4100 individual surveys from 126 churches, I have been able to comprehend how significant the challenge of this commitment truly is.
From those surveyed, the average age of a congregant is 64, with 50% of the respondents over 70. These figures alone highlight some interesting and significant challenges facing the church in the very near future, based on demographics alone.
As I continued to explore the results, I was also struck by the fact that only 15% ranked ministry to children/youth in their top 3 things that they personally “most value” about their church. Of course, this might reflect that there is little or no ministry to this group to value. Coupled with this, only 23% highlighted that over the next 12mths they would like priority given to this ministry.
Reflecting on these figures, I fully realised how vitally important the work of Project Plenty was in bringing people together from across the Synod to try to breathe new life into the church’s future and how necessary the work of ministering to young people and families is.
But mainly, I found myself deeply lamenting the state of the church and wondering what hope there was for the future. Like Ezekiel staring at a valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37), all I could think of was the impossibility of anything living being found.
And so, with this heavy heart, I came to our most recent Working Group meeting, weighed down with sadness and somewhat overwhelmed by the enormity of the task before us.
As we began our meeting, I invited the group members to share stories they had seen or heard around the Synod since we’d last met, to offer us some encouragement and hope.
A moment or two of silence followed.
Then a story emerged from two of the members of the group who had “accidentally” found themselves visiting the same church, on the same Sunday, without knowing each other had been invited. The Congregation had also, unknowingly to the visitors, arranged a morning tea for all the church leaders to spend time listening to and asking guests questions about how they can better love, serve and minister to young people and families in their congregation and community!
A tear began to form in the corner of my eye.
Then another voice chimed in from our group.
This church, which has a flourishing youth program and is also connected with a school that has a strong agricultural program, is in the very early stages of exploring an opportunity to work with one of our smaller rural congregations. They were in the midst of sending an inaugural team from the school and church West to learn from and improve their agricultural skills and to love and serve the church and the local community.
The tears began to flow as I sensed the breath of the Spirit. I was beautifully and powerfully reminded that despite what we see and feel, the God who, since the beginning, has constantly been creating, breathing, and sustaining life, remains at work sustaining and recreating the church.
Despite the perceived enormity of the task, God is at work, and it is our role to look and listen for where God is breathing life and to do what we can to nurture and share it.
It is all our work to make what space we can to be the enablers of this life-giving breath in our world.
If you have any stories of life where you are seeing the Spirit at work, we’d love to hear them and find ways to help share them too.
Paul Wetzig is the Project Officer – Discipleship, Mission Engagement.