A vibrant youth ministry essential for today’s church

Published March 1, 2009

THE QUESTION SEEMED naively simple: How many young people are there in the Anglican Church of Canada? It was an attempt to dispel the notion that we are a dying church.

It was quickly discovered that parishes and dioceses simply do not track those numbers.

Membership in the church doesn’t have so much to do with how involved you are, or how young or old you are, but whether you contribute financially. If you give regularly, you’re on the rolls. If you’re a young, theologically astute and passionate student struggling to get by and you aren’t a regular contributor or attender, you simply don’t count.

Many church leaders, it seems, still live with the mistaken notion that young people, if they matter at all, represent the church of the future. Nonsense. They are the church of today. Show me a church that has a vibrant youth ministry, where young people are engaged in small group discussions and acts of mission, and I will show you a church that is vibrant and growing.

About one half of all Pentecostal congregations in Canada hire a trained youth minister (compared to eight per cent of congregations in the United Church of Canada and probably a similar or smaller number in the Anglican Church of Canada). Is it any wonder that they are one of the few denominations actually growing in size? They invest in youth leaders.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) has a few things to teach us. Since 1966, young people ages 14-19 and their leaders have taken part in biennial meetings of the Canadian Lutheran Youth Gathering (CLYG). Most of these gatherings attracted about 1,500 participants to times of worship, learning, mission activity and relationship building. Those 15-year-olds who attended that first gathering in 1966 are today almost 60 and many are undoubtedly active leaders in the church. A significant number of lay and ordained leaders in the Anglican church point to Anglican youth ministries of years ago as their own starting point.

Why is it that, while we see a greying and a shrinking denomination, we blatantly ignore potentially thousands of young people?

One Anglican diocesan youth minister recently said that the part-time position was being eliminated, however the paid position for the diocesan archivist was being maintained.  Are we a church more interested in the past than in the future?

Anglican youth leaders participated in Generation 2008, a national Anglican Youth Ministry conference last summer. Out of that emerged enthusiasm for many new initiatives, including the creation of CLAY 2010, the Canadian Lutheran Anglican Youth gathering, a joint effort between ELCIC and the Anglican church. (You can read more about that on page 3)

CLAY is scheduled to become a biennial event and it needs to receive the endorsement and financial support of dioceses and congregations. Parishes should provide scholarships or grants for their young people to attend.

Thankfully, a national youth ministry strategy is emerging through the Youth Initiatives Task Force. The recent round of budget cutbacks, however, has delayed the implementation of some of their recommendations. Budget determines vision. The youth ministry strategy needs to be embraced by the house of bishops and it needs to become a vital part of Vision 2019.

We must reach those thousands of young people – our sons and daughters – who have fallen through the cracks and for whom church seems irrelevant. This requires visionary leadership at the national, synod, diocesan and congregational levels.

How many young people are there within the Anglican Church of Canada? As Judy Steers, national staff person for youth initiatives, passionately points out, “potentially thousands – it’s up to you.”


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