Monthly youth leaders column
Joined up writing
If you have children, you will remember the various stages in their development which meant so much — a kind of mark that they had made progress. I remember joined up writing when they moved from that very child like way of writing a single letter to a word becoming a continuous line with all the letters joined up.
So much of what we do with our young people looks like writing that hasn’t become joined up. We operate groups essentially in isolation — someone does the cr¸che, someone else does the young children, someone does the Pathfinders and so on. But we’ve yet to join it up.
Those of us who work in larger churches are often accused of a lack of understanding of the problems of the small church. But even if you have only one child in the 0 to 18 age range, that student will progress through the work year by year. Perhaps that gives us a clue as to how to use joined up thinking in our under 18s ministry. However small your church is there will always be a need to think of the work as a whole.
Lost in the gaps
It is horribly true that we lose many of our children in the process of moving from one group to the next. We often do this in line with school year groups and have a ‘promotion Sunday’ and I have witnessed a few of these where children turn up one morning to find they are no longer in their familiar group but have simply moved up. Research says that more children are lost ‘in the gaps’ than ‘in the groups’. A few simple steps can stop this happening. At least three months before children move up, someone from the older group needs to be seen in the younger group — children need to get used to meeting that person who is to become their new leader. It’s always hard to let go of a child you really care about and release them to another group. But your primary task, towards the end of a child’s life in your group, is to make sure they fit into their new group. Leader exchanges during this time can be beneficial and also good the new teacher to come to collect her new students.
Missing for three weeks?
Some children stop coming when they enter a new group and it is vital that you have some pastoral follow-up to make sure the children feel they are missed. If you are not to miss children, your records must be good enough — many leaders simply teach the children who turn up to their group each Sunday, irrespective of whether they’ve missed a few weeks. It is generally reckoned that if a child misses up to three weeks, it is very hard for the child to return to the group, so they become part of the statistics of children leaving the church.
The curriculum can be an issue. Some youth groups plan for a few years ahead just to make sure they cover a variety of topics and biblical genre but many don’t plan that far ahead.
Indeed it is quite possible to find groups where it is not known what is being taught next week, let alone for the rest of the current term. This kind of curriculum planning needs to go beyond particular groups to a whole ministry — it must never become a straight jacket. There must always be freedom to respond to things as they arise.
And, finally, joined up thinking occurs if key leaders meet regularly, even if they can’t do it very often. We must get this big picture feeling into our ministries — there is nothing better as a leader of a group of seven-year-olds than to hear that someone who you taught all those years ago is going on well. However small your ministry, it is vital to see everything you do with under 19s as part of a whole and lone ranger leaders have no place in a church which wants to keep their young people.
Joined up youth and children’s ministry is the only way.