Reflections on launching a Youth Church

Part 1 - We grow by obedience, not guidance

As we pass the first anniversary of the launching of our youth church this month, enough time has now elapsed for me to begin to make some sort of sense of the experience in a way that I hope can bring something of clarity to others, not just for those thinking of planting a youth church, but hopefully there are some general principles here that can help us all in all kinds of ways:

By conventional wisdom, planting a youth church when the world was still in the midst of a pandemic was foolishness, and there was no shortage of people who were happy to express that opinion, often, the very people one would expect to be there as key supporters. People criticised our plans for worship style, proposed pattern for meeting, even our choice of celebrating the Eucharist once a month (this was seen as not youth-friendly) and, seemingly, everything else that it was possible to criticise: “Perhaps your plan would work somewhere else, maybe in a bigger town or City, especially down south, but not here, not in Accrington!” Add into the mix the potential for such a project to destabilise a local church scene that by God’s grace had been largely united over a number of years, and the potential for this new youth church to shut down before it even started was huge!

A few years previously, I had been part of a planning group in the town with a number of well-meaning church leaders and youth leaders that never moved beyond that – a planning group. We even had some substantial funding in place from the Diocese. Then, our dilemma was essentially: Do we appoint the person to the job and then build the job specification around their skill set, or do we decide on the skill set we need first and find the right person for the job after that? And the result was that we did nothing.

I learnt the hard way then that if you wait until all the lights across town are all on green, you’ll never set off. It seems to me that there are 2 schools of thought when it comes to God’s guidance. The first says that we won’t move until we hear from God. One thing my planning group was good at was prayer! But the 2nd school of thought says: “Let’s take the handbrake off, put this thing in gear and move, praying desperately as we go that God will take the wheel and steer us in the right direction.” It’s probably no surprise from the way I’m setting this up that I buy into the second school of thought on guidance, not the first.

And so, we launched a youth church at St. Christopher’s, that has gone from strength to strength ever since. That’s not to say that it’s been easy or without more than its fair share of bumps in the road along the way, but God has taken the wheel and remains in the driving seat. I am convinced that as long as things stay like that, with God in charge and not us, we’ll be ok. It seems to me that God guides us as we remain obedient to Him. The only variable then is: will you be obedient to Him?

“But Samuel replied: ‘Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.’”

– 1 Samuel 15:22