One of the age old questions about how to retain young people in the church rears its head from time to time. I have written before about the number one reason why young people leave the church. Whilst I maintain that post is absolutely true, there are other factors that can militate against retaining the youth. One issue is that young people are not given any ministry responsibility.
I understand the argument against that. Some would suggest that young people – especially those young in the faith – need to be nurtured. They need teaching. We certainly aren't helping them, they aver, if we push young people to serve at the expense of sitting under the Word. I totally understand, and have some sympathy, with the case.
But it has been my experience that those churches which give young people ministry responsibilities early on in their Christian walk find they are that much more likely to retain those same young people later. Those who are treated like children, will continue to feel like children. Those who feel the church do not take them seriously will soon stop taking the church seriously. The model of don't give anyone anything to do until they've proven themselves really needs to be replaced by a mindset that says don't stop anyone doing anything until they have proven they can't.
The problem with the view that young people need to be nurtured to grow – which is not a wrong thing to think or say at all – is that it forgets preaching is not the only means of growth. It also fails to reckon with the fact that delivering Sunday School material means engaging with the Word and understanding its key points. Certainly if the service you are asking a young person to do means they never end up sitting under preaching, that would be a problem. But if it means they periodically miss a sermon, in order to serve in another capacity where they are still nonetheless engaging with the Word, I don't think that will do them any damage at all. And, of course, there are all sorts of ways young people can serve without missing any preaching anyway.
As a young believer, recently brought into membership, I remember being on the rota to record sermons for the church back when tapes were a thing. I still listened to the sermon, I was just making sure they were properly recorded and sound levels were right whilst I did it. I helped clean up after the tea and coffee time. I later served in the Sunday School and, though I missed a sermon once a month or so, I still mainly heard 2 sermons a week (missing only one on the week I was serving in Sunday School) and even then engaged with the lesson material.
These weren't valueless jobs. I was actually serving the church and being given responsibility for things that needed doing. And I am sure I grew more through being given them to do than had I been offered no responsibility and told that I wasn't ready yet because I needed to sit under more preaching. Whilst we do grow through the preached Word, we grow through our service too. We can unintentionally stunt young believer's growth by holding them back from serving.
And having been faithful in these things, by the tender age of 17, I was asked to preach in the service. Someone thought it a good idea to give me a bash in the pulpit. It was a bit of a baptism of fire, with nothing in the way of training and little in the way of help, but they asked me to do it again after, and I'm even paid to preach these days, so it can't have been so bad. But I'm pretty sure that never would have happened if it weren't for the other things I did long before then.
For this reason, I think it is a good thing when young Christians are asked to serve on a creche rota, provide tea and coffee, be a helper in Sunday School or welcome people on the door. All these things are means of giving people responsibility. They are means of saying you are a valuable member of our church. They are things through which young people can grow. And I think we have a much better chance of retaining our young people when they are given some meaningful responsibility.
So look for the opportunities for young believers to serve. If you have brought someone into membership of your church, even if they are still quite young, actively look for ways to bring them into service. And don't just give them menial stuff, but give them proper ministry to do. It will help them grow and make it more likely that they will stay.
This article first appeared on Building Jerusalem, the blog of Stephen Kneale, and is printed here with permission.