'We have a crisis': Are internships a way of solving the Church's young adult problem?

A quick Google of 'Christian internships' yields around 971,000 results in a third of a second.

From Compassion International and YWAM to Youth for Christ and Bethel School of Supernatural Ministries, there is a wealth of options for 18 to 25-year-olds unsure what to do when they come out of school, college or university.

New Wine's Discipleship Year is one among the crowd and Chris Fox, the programme's director, says the abundance of choice is in response to a dire predicament.

The overwhelming choice of Christian internships is down to the crisis of young adults in church, Fox says.

'We have a crisis among young adults in the Church,' he tells Christian Today.

'Just three per cent of young adults are involved in local churches around the country. 

'There is a dearth of young adults who are following Jesus.'

The Discipleship Year is in response to that.

We are talking at New Wine's main summer event, a festival for evangelical Christians in Somerset that attracts around 23,000 over two separate weeks. The demographic is largely older couples or families with young children.

But the number of students and people in their 20s is comparatively low, perhaps reflecting the crisis Fox speaks of or perhaps just the fact there are more tailormade summer festivals for young evangelical Christians.

The trend of young adults abandoning church is not a new one. For years figures have pointed to two particular transitions – leaving school and leaving university – as key points where people stop going to church.

For Fox, this has been a problem brewing for the past century.

'Ultimately I think there has been a failure in past generations of passing on their faith to the next generation.

'I think in the Church, particular in the historic traditional Churches, we've not done very well at that in the last 100 to 150 years.'

He goes on: 'The Church hasn't adapted very quickly to changes in culture, particularly the big shifts in the 20th century, in terms of responses to the two world wars and the sexual revolution, which was a big turning point in the Church, and the liberation of women.

'All of these are known and talked about as theories of why the Church has declined.

He adds: 'While there has been this big decline I'm also hugely optimistic.

'What we are seeing is young adults now are the most likely out of any generation to share their faith in Jesus.'

Far from being threatened by the sheer scale of options for young people, Fox says he welcomes the diversity

'I think the reason there are so many of these internship schemes is people are trying to do something about this gap with young adults.'

The Discipleship Year, much like the rest of New Wine's approach, is focused on local churches in the UK rather than glitzy international projects.

'Our unique selling point is discipleship,' he says.

'I think that's still the key question for churches in the 21st century – how do we make disciples for the next generation, not just do consumeristic programmes for young people but actually invest in them so they are the ones who are leading and discipling the next generation?'

Spread across the country in hubs from Poole in the south to Hull in the north, the year-long programme is a mixture of teaching, training and working in a local church. Interns spend one day a week in classes with intensive teaching and then a minimum of 12 hours across the rest of the week working in a local church. It is often accompanied with a short-term mission trip overseas as well as weekend retreats.

'Absolutely' committed to seeing more women leading churches, New Wine now leads many other Christian networks in its ratio of male-female speakers. The Discipleship Year is no different and Fox says he is 'utterly committed' to ensuring an equal representation of genders during the year's teaching. 

Fox's optimism for growth among young adults is not unwarranted. Across 16 hubs around the country 80 took part in the programme last year with another 80 expected this year. The numbers aren't vast, but the Discipleship Year is making its mark in looking to address the dire numbers of young adults in church .