Last Sunday I was sitting in with the primary Sunday school groups and it got me thinking again about one of my bugbears when it comes to working with young people. I see little evidence of ‘joined up thinking’ and perhaps even the sharing of best practice. It’s all very well following the same material, but it needs to be much broader than that. There needs to be a continuity of style and I don’t mean that it all has to be done the same way. There also has to be one eye on where it’s leading.
It’s probably easier to give an example, but it’s quite complex, so bear with me. There are a lot of factors which, small in themselves, all contribute to an overall lack of coherency. The younger primary group have quite a structured time together, but it’s done in a clever way. The general babble that always happens whenever a bunch of young kids get together is turned into a ‘news’ time – a chance to share with everyone what’s been happening. This news is used for prayer, to give thanks or to ask for help. It’s a good way of getting value out of something that will happen anyway. Compare this with the older group where there’s no opportunity to blether at the start and they are ‘told’ what news has come to the attention of the leader. Then, the younger ones get a story, the older ones get a Bible passage read to them. (There’s an activity before each, but not detailing it doesn’t mess up my example). Now, the difference here is obvious – story, reading. On Sunday it was a pretty lengthy reading from Genesis. It was read straight from the Bible. None of the young people had a Bible to read along and the reading was pretty dead-pan. Hardly any wonder there were glazed looks within a few minutes. And that’s probably enough to illustrate my point. Imagine someone moving from one group to the next at the start of the session. Complete change of style, complete change of ‘rules’. And similar problems at the other end as teenager hit that age when they ought to be moving into formal church membership (or should they? But that’s another argument) – church is something that is ‘done to you’ rather than something you engage with.
So, is it possible to maintain that enthusiasm we seem to reserve only for the very youngest age group? I think it is, but it needs some effort and ‘joined-up thinking’. It also needs a critical look at what we do and be ready to make changes if necessary – sometimes (and preferably) regularly.
To revisit my example: why not adopt the ‘news’ time the youngest group have? Why do the older group have to listen to the scripture passage – why can’t they read along with Bibles given to them? Better still, why not have the Bibles there, but the story ‘told’ not simply read? And why not encourage engagement with the teaching through role-play or even getting the young-people to read it?
The example and the suggestions are by no means exhaustive and there are plenty of other areas where it would be easy to nitpick. But, it’s not really my intention to be at ‘arm’s-length’ and take potshots. Rather, it’s to observe and reflect on what I see and, hopefully, remember it when I find myself in a position to directly affect what happens. It’s also the case that there is no universal solution and we’ll never get it right 100% of the time. Everybody is too different for there to be a one-size-fits-all answer. But if we’re serious about all ages being part of the church family, then I think it’s necessary to look at how we ‘do church’ across the age spectrum and make sure it’s coherent. The transitions from one ‘phase’ to another need to be managed carefully so that expectations, from all sides, are made known and continuity is maintained – that is, the purpose of community worship and church is understood and clearly communicated in a way that encourages growth and commitment.