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Engaging youth in the church is such a big topic that can be daunting to tackle.

In July of 2018, Rick Hiemstra, Lorianne Dueck and Matthew Blackaby, published a 200 page report titled Renegotiating Faith. This report was written in response to the questions raised in the Hemorrhaging Faith report about youth and young adults and their relationship with the church.

These Canadian reports can be difficult to get through but they provide several meaningful insights about this important topic. We are seeing many young adults leave the church that they were brought up in. At the same time, we also see some young adults choose to stay. What makes the difference? These reports attempt to answer that question and therefore might also be a worthwhile read for our U.S. neighbours (as trends in the US are similar to what we've seen in Canada). 

To help tackle this report, I spoke with Ron DeVries and Lesli van Milligen from Faith Formation Ministries. Both Ron & Lesli are very involved and passionate about young people and were eager to share their insights about the report and topic at large.

Our conversation mainly focused on empathy and investment through mentorship opportunities. In this context, mentorship involves showing young people that you are willing and eager to walk alongside them in their journey and invite them into conversation. It often means encouraging them in their faith, empathizing with them in what they are experiencing, and showing that you care.

Mentors also have the unique opportunity to help young people get connected into new communities when they leave home or are reintroduced into their family’s community if they choose to return. Mentors can be advocates for them and help vouch for them as they enter into a community.

Renegotiating Faith explains that young adults (between the ages 18-29) are in a transient phase of life. They are often in between and not entirely connected with any one community. It can be difficult for members of this group to find a church community. After leaving home for a job or university, it can also be difficult for young people to enter back into their family’s church.

Lesli and Ron’s main idea is to find places you can engage in conversations with young people and reach out to them—we can’t always wait for them to come to us. Is there a young adult in your congregation with whom you share similar interests?

They also reminded me that we do not have to create big programs for mentorship to be effective. It can be as easy as inviting young people for coffee or lunch after your church service. We also have to keep in mind that change won’t happen overnight so we have to be patient. You may only have a few young people interested in mentorship but investing in them can be life changing.

There are several resources that can help to break down this topic and the Renegotiating Faith report. Ron & Lesli highlighted several that help to make it more accessible:

  • Faith Formation Ministries has created a Family Toolkit
  • Youth Champions: If your church is needing guidance on how to begin walking alongside youth, you may want to consider reaching out to your Youth Champion. They are equipped to walk with churches as they work to find what will work for their church and are eager to begin this conversation.  
  • Books:
  • Listen to Kara Powell talk about Growing Young from the 2019 January Series
  • Rich Hiemstra will be speaking at Redeemer University in Ancaster, Ontario on March 6
  • Listen to Rick Hiemstra’s podcast interview with Evangelical Christian Fellowship from this past September

To close I would like to leave you with the words of J. R. Tolkien “not all those who wander are lost." 

Lesli reminded me that wandering is normal—it means that they are searching. Hold in prayer that your youth will find what they are searching for in God. Wandering can be an important step in spiritual development and faith formation and it takes patience on our end to guide and develop these relationships.

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