They are the future … that is what you might expect me to say about the importance of the children and youth of your church. The reality is, they are not the future.
They are the present and they can be instrumental in encouraging your church to raise the bar and step into new ministries with excitement and energy. They have the ability to inspire and lead the way for a congregation that finds itself in a rut.
Seven years ago, my church found itself without a youth group. At the time, it appeared youth ministry was a thing of the past for us. Those with children, however, wanted to make sure that those children became connected to the church and had something that appealed to them and inspired them. The goal was to ensure they would always know that God was there for them, regardless of what they might face in their lives.
I remember standing in front of the congregation and telling them when a child has three or more adults in their lives, outside of their family, whom they can look up to and who would be there for them, they can withstand anything life throws at them. That challenge led to a group of people standing up and saying they wanted to be those mentors and life lines for the children in our congregation.
We started with the children we had. The majority of these children were in grades 2-6 and we grew from there. Those children today are in high school and college. That group of adults who stood up to say they wanted to make a difference had no idea what they were getting into and no way of knowing that those children would change the lives of the adults and the life of our congregation and our community.
Because of the lack of youth, our children started stepping up into leadership roles at earlier ages. Some were reading in worship before they were in high school and doing an amazing job. They were active in ministry from babysitting to leading groups for Vacation Bible School. Then the biggest change of all came along.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the following month, Houston, where we live, was evacuated for Hurricane Rita. The youth heard the stories, saw the pictures, and wanted to do something to make a difference. They approached an adult sponsor and expressed a desire to go and help in the rebuilding efforts in New Orleans. They inspired her to follow through and though they were all too young for the work in New Orleans, she found a way for them to serve by going to North Carolina to take part in a workcamp, repairing homes for the elderly and indigent. That first year, we took 28 people with us and it has become a tradition and an inspiration to th e congregation.
When this group returned from North Carolina, they did so with a sense of accomplishment and a yearning to do more. They told their stories to the congregation and the adults became interested as well. From this simple beginning, the mission work of our congregation has blossomed. We have a vital ministry to people in need in our community, the nation, and the world. We cancel church two times a year to go out into the community and do acts of service.
We started a microloan program for women in Malawi. We began a backpack feeding program that provides food for school children in need. All of these and so many more ministries, I trace back to a group of young people who did not know what was possible or impossible and dared to step out to help those in need.
Don’t overlook the children and youth of your congregation. Encourage them to be a full part of your church. Provide them opportunities by offering a mission trip and letting them have a ministry in worship once a month. Above all, give them responsibility, respect, and the mentors to make their dreams a reality. Do not hide them away in a youth building doing “youth things.” Challenge them and they will challenge you.