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Thinking big? The story behind Youth Work Sunday

Jenny Flannagan

31 May, 2019

 

A big idea that started small: a day to think again about youth work. Jenny Flannagan tells the story and vision of Youth Work Sunday.

 

If you’ve not heard of Youth Work Sunday before, don’t be alarmed, it’s a new project that Youthscape kicked off in Luton back in 2017. We get excited by trying to come up with ways to get churches thinking about young people and dreaming up how to inspire and encourage them to get youth work going. And so we hit upon the idea of dedicating a whole Sunday each year to celebrating youth work. Whether or not you have any.

It seems an obvious event to rule out if you don’t have any teenagers in your congregation, and yet we think Youth Work Sunday is a brilliant idea for just those churches. And we have some experience of seeing it come together.

When Youthscape started Youth Work Sunday, we thought it best to start small and local and so we took it to about 40 of the churches in Luton in September 2017, and sent out Youthscape staff and volunteers to help them pull it off. Amongst those churches there were a handful with thriving youth work. But more of them didn’t have any youth work at all. Youth Work Sunday looked different in all those contexts – some churches showed our video and prayed for young people; some had no screen available for showing anything; some had a Youthscape staff member come and preach; some led notices about Youthscape’s work and invited congregations to get involved. It was a great chance to reconnect with so many churches who support Youthscape and pray for us, but it was also, crucially, a moment to encourage them when it came to what was happening in their own parishes and neighbourhoods, and their own congregations. To pray for the schools on their doorsteps. To remind them that they were part of a bigger picture across Luton. To help them see new possibilities.

 

It was a hit, with all kinds of churches. We were buzzing after that first year. So we took it all a step further. In 2018 we went national! Which sounds big but really still felt quite small. It meant that we reached out to a few friends in other parts of the country and asked if they thought it might be a helpful event to try out. We wanted it to be a way of encouraging more churches to think again about young people – whether that was about celebrating what great youth work was happening on their doorstep, or in their church hall (not least in the uniformed youth organisations) – or whether it was a reminder to keep praying for the young people in their community and asking what more they might do as a church to reach out to them.

We know so many people doing great youth work up and down the country and we wanted to help create a moment to celebrate what was happening, tell some great stories, stir the church’s faith and imagination again, and, of course, recruit some new volunteers. And we wanted to help the churches who felt discouraged or disheartened to keep praying and looking for small ways to love young people.

 

The Diocese of Birmingham jumped in straight away. They were already running a recruitment campaign for youth workers in their diocese, asking everyone to get involved, and used Youth Work Sunday as a way of focusing churches on what was going on. “Everyone a Youth Worker” inspired congregations across Birmingham to get involved – whether they were doing youth work, cheering young people on or praying for them.

“It was such a great chance to encourage the church in the youth work they’re already doing and inspire other people to consider volunteering. It made me feel excited again about what local churches can do.”

Youthscape staff member
 

South West Youth Ministries also stepped up and used Youth Work Sunday as a way of encouraging the churches where they place youth workers to get involved. Nothing happened in bright lights, on big platforms, to massive youth congregations (although we’d love that too). It was small, faithful congregations who opened a door to young people – or even just their hearts, to the possibilities of what God might be inviting them to do.

In 2019 we’ve stepped things up again. Youth for Christ have come on board and are encouraging all their local centres to get churches involved with Youth Work Sunday. The first Irish Youth Ministry Gathering took place in May this year and provided all its delegates with the resources they need to run Youth Work Sunday. And the Dioceses of Birmingham and London have jumped in too.

But at its heart Youth Work Sunday is an invitation to any congregation, no matter how disconnected they feel from young people – to be encouraged, inspired, challenged, and find a way back into the story.

This year’s National Youth Work Sunday takes place on Sunday 22ndSeptember in churches across the country. Joining forces this year with Youth for Christ, the Dioceses of Birmingham and London, and the Irish Youth Ministry Gathering, Youthscape is releasing a set of resources to help equip churches of all sizes and shapes to dedicate their Sunday gathering to celebrating youth work and young people and all that God is wanting to do in their lives. To find out more, click here.

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