“Come and help serve Christmas lunch”. These six words marked the beginning of my life as an active and important part of church. I was 17 and had been going to Youth Group for six months. Until that point, no one had asked me to be involved in anything. I was expected to turn up each week and enjoy the program. I was a spectator in a passionate, Christ-loving, engaging community. Then an older leader wandered over one Sunday evening and invited me to come and help serve lunch at the Seniors Christmas celebration. I immediately said yes. I wanted to be involved. I wanted to be trusted. I wanted to play my part in the Church I loved.
We all agree that young people are an important part of our church. Our specialised age-specific programs provide spaces where they can engage with God and His word with their peers. Specialist staff spend time serving the young people and their families. However, one of the costs of highly siloed ministries is that young people feel dislocated from the wider church body. Church is another consumer event which they attend when they can fit it in. Often no one has wandered over and invited them to come and play a role in the church they love.
In Growing Young, Powell, Mulder and Griffin argue that reversing this trend is essential to being a growing church. They observed that churches that are growing younger—where the average age of the church is getting lower—intentionally move their young people from being satisfied participants to contributing partners . They deliberately entrust and empower all generations, including young people, to play their role in the church.
So why would we take a risk to involve young people?
Young people are valuable and important members of the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27). Even when they are needy and immature and dishonourable, they are our eternal brothers and sisters in Christ. Involving them in church as contributing partners recognises this truth.
Young people need help fighting the culture of consumerism. Their entire life is one of being bombarded by advertisers calling them to satisfy their wants . They do not need Church to be another place they are treated as consumers.
Young people are a gift (Ps 127:3). They are not only energetic, they are capable. Connecting young people and older people around service blesses everyone involved. New connections are formed and opportunities for witness and encouragement abound.
Young Christians don’t want to be treated as a problem or a cheap resource. They want to play their role in the body of Christ. We see this year after year in the 500 young Christians who go through Youthworks’ Leaders in Training (LiT) program. Below are six ideas you might like to consider as you think about moving your young people from being satisfied participants to contributing partners.
Invite young people to serve in their age-specific ministries Learning to serve at church starts here. These groups are safe places to give young people real opportunities to serve one another. Consider which current activity a leader is doing that a young person could be entrusted with alone or with help.
Invite families of all shapes and sizes to serve together Rather than recruiting individuals for rosters, recruit families to welcome together, serve morning tea together, clean the church together, lead Kids Church together. The model and support of the parent (or grandparent) is essential for creating a culture of service in young people.
Encourage young people to joyfully serve in every ministry across the church Open up access to behind the scenes ministry, ad hoc ministry, up front ministry and important committees. There is a place for every young person to serve and have a voice.
Teach young people the purpose of service Always avoid treating them as cheap, available labour. Encourage older leaders to share the reason we serve one another, especially the values of reliability, godliness and sacrificial love.
Avoid having young people only teams Young people are tribal and love to be together. But intergenerational service teams build wonderful relational connections and provide a great opportunity for older people to model what loving and serving Christ looks like in your church.
Celebrate young people’s significant involvement in your normal church services Take regular time across the year to edify people, including young people, for their service of God’s people. This communicates the importance of young people playing their role in the body of Christ.
The AFL has a very simple strategy to invite little kids to be part of their game. It is called ‘Kick to Kick’. Young people are invited to kick a footy on the same grass their heroes just battled on. How will you invite young people to play their role in the church they love?
 Powell K, Mulder J & Griffin B 2016, Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church, Baker Books, Ada.
 Fuller Youth Institute 2011, We are what we consume, Fuller Youth Institute, viewed 1 August 2018 <https://fulleryouthinstitute.org/articles/we-are-what-we-consume>