Digging deep to solve a youth church problem
Starting them young is the key to Guernsey Elim’s future, says Matt Gregor. He spoke to Chris Rolfe (pre-Covid) about a new venture ...
With thirteen years under his belt as youth pastor in Cardiff, Matt Gregor was used to working in a large city centre church, with a wealth of resources and facilities. His move to lead Vazon Elim Church on the west coast of Guernsey in 2016 was something of a culture shock.
The 100-year-old church, one of the first to join Elim, and with a congregation of around 90 adults, had just one hall to serve the 100 under-14s who attended its clubs and classes each week.
“Cardiff has a great culture for children’s and youth ministry with lots of facilities, so I knew I needed to improve things very quickly after arriving here,” says Matt. “I was concerned about the whole children’s ministry being in one room.”
Passionate about youth and children’s work, Matt was eager to improve the church’s limited facilities, and to retain and attract other families. Taking part in Elim’s Church Leadership Academy, he says, spurred him into action.
“I knew our Sunday morning children’s programme needed better facilities if we were to go to the next level in terms of seeing children and young people discipled. But when we were digging down into vision, strategy and plans at the Church Leadership Academy, I was prodded that this was a bottleneck to the growth of our church, and an urgent issue we really needed to take by the throat.”
With renewed confidence and drive, Matt began making plans to improve the building, but immediately hit a brick wall. Architects gave quotes for traditional construction work spiralling up to £500,000.
Determined to find an alternative solution, Matt unearthed a new possibility – a pre-fabricated single-story building the size of ten shipping containers for a more manageable £80,000.
“With a bit of prayer, and a long letter to the planning department about the benefits of us having this building permanently, we bought it,” he says.
Fast-forward nine months and Matt and his team are delighted with their transformed facilities. “We’ve gone from two buildings which were 150sq m each, to 450sq m in total. “The new building is clad in wood, so it looks like a posh Swedish cabin and includes lots of very usable space. “There’s a new kitchen, a lounge and other great-sized rooms for age-specific programmes.
“We still do some children’s ministry all together, like praise and worship, but we’ve now got separate classes for pre-school, infants and juniors, and the youth have space for a programme they do every other week. The programme is much better now it’s age-specific. I mean, when you’re seven it’s so uncool to hang out with five-year-olds, isn’t it? We’ve put our crèche in there too, with a live video link and sofas and tea and coffee, so parents with young children can connect into the service. We also have a great outside play area that’s all contained.”
Matt says the new building is already benefiting the church, with his team catching his vision for expanding the youthwork. “At Cardiff the importance of children’s ministry and youth ministry was really in the DNA, and that’s what I want to see developing here. If we can’t make it work for children and teenagers who are brought up in the faith, how on earth are we going to connect with children and teenagers who haven’t got Christian families? I think Elim is heading for an all-out evangelism and discipleship strategy for children and young people, because statistics keep showing that lots of people who come to faith do so at an early age. I want our church’s kids to get wildly on fire for God, for that to spread, and for us to do the best we can to help that happen.”
A culture of questioning
Matt says the culture of questioning the way you work that he experienced at Cardiff Elim is key to the growth of his church. “We were constantly asking, ‘Why do we do things this way?’, ‘How can I do this better?’, ‘How can I hit my goals?’ For youth ministry, we’ve got to ask ‘what is the vision, what is the plan, and what would success look like?’ It’s growing disciples by helping young people come to know Jesus and be filled with the Holy Spirit, and then connecting them to the body of the church.”
Consultants are also called in to help grow the church
Matt is enlisting some expert help to grow Elim Vazon church. Kid’s ministry consultant Olly Goldenburg is advising on children’s ministry, while Mark Ryan of Birmingham City Church (BCC), and Church Leadership Academy facilitators Jason Heron, Steve Ball and Dave Ayling, have been sharing church leadership tips. The idea was sparked by a visit by story-telling extraordinaire Bob Hartman. “Bob told Bible stories and the place was howling with laughter one minute and welling up the next.”
“With that, we thought how can we get extra help?” says Matt. “We have five things we’re trying to get better at: a sense of God’s presence in worship; improving our children’s and youth ministry; being the most welcoming place on the Channel Islands; great engaging preaching; and offering great pastoral care for all ages.”
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