It is difficult to know what the future holds for youth ministry within Mennonite churches in Canada. Change is happening fast for some churches as they experience more immediate declines in the number of youth and children in their congregations. With regular participation now defined as congregants attending one Sunday a month and their diminishing familiarity with the Bible, we wonder how we can grow faith in youth. Many anxious churches are asking how to slow the disappearance of youth, children and families from the life of the church; they worry about the spiritual life of the families and youth they do have.
As we live into the future, authentic relationships with youth, children and families will be key. This is the work of the whole church. This calls for seeing the importance of journeying with children and youth for the long road of faith, which goes beyond a handshake on Sunday morning. Be creative with mentoring ministries that match families who have children or youth with another family at a different stage of life. Try pairing people who can act as “spiritual grandparents” with a family. These relationships invite mature Christians to model the love of Christ and share their own story of how God is at work in their lives. They also invite dialogue about difficult questions of faith that make the Christian life authentic.
Relationships are important with youth both within the shelter of the church and in the community around the church. How is your church connecting with youth where they are? Is there a community or sports centre for youth with which your church could connect? When we focus solely within the church, we aren’t connecting with youth or families who would find exploring faith and belonging to a community a new experience.
Within Mennonite Church Eastern Canada (MCEC), we are embarking on a year of discerning, deep listening and exploring what will grow sustainable youth ministry for the future. At a visioning event in April, ULEAD, our resource leaders for the day invited us to work at a provocative proposition to guide the development of our vision: “Investing in intentional, unconditional relationships with youth, walking with them towards a fearless faith in Christ Jesus.”
This statement challenges us to wonder what it means to be intentional, unconditional, and fearless. We need to release our reaction to judge youth for their choices. Accompanying them towards a fearless faith invites us to be fearless just as much as we are inviting them to embrace faith in Christ Jesus with all the passion and energy they have.
Living into our future can be an anxious time of unknowing with no guarantees of the survival of the Mennonite church as we know it. We are beginning to experience the growing pains of moving toward more intentional church. Unrest and uncertainty can be an opportunity and an invitation into a season of discerning, exploring and creating. This is an exciting time to be dreaming about what youth ministry and the church could be.
Jean Lehn Epp is Interim Coordinator of Youth Ministry Resources for MCEC. Over the next year she will help guide MCEC in discerning and exploring youth ministry for the future.