Pioneer youth - Scotland

Lighting the way to pioneer youth ministry

A different approach to youth work that builds one-to-one relationships across generations is helping transform an Elim church in Scotland.

"Church has long been referred to as the family of God, and family is multi-generational, so we’ve always tried to create a culture that is relevant to all ages," says Gavin Chittick. 

The idea for the project first came in 2019. The team wanted to move away from programme and entertainment-driven youth work. They wanted to design a ministry to build one-to-one relationships with young people, create space for them to discuss their lives, situations and worries, receive prayer and be guided in their faith through specially prepared material.

Whilst the idea originated from the youth team, they quickly realised they would need the whole church to be involved if they were to launch an effective mentoring programme for all their teens and children.

"To have one adult per teenager or young person, we needed everyone involved, so we really pushed the idea in church," says Gavin. 

"Of course, the first reaction we got was, ‘I can’t work with young people, I don’t understand them.’ So we worked really hard to listen and say, ‘You don’t have to get youth culture, you just have to be there and listen.'"

Nervous but willing church members came together for training on issues such as child protection, accountability and how to mentor others. Then the project was launched.

"We were able to start a discipleship programme based on the different generations knitting together, and an adult from the church taking responsibility for each young person.

"We never forced anyone to take part, but the majority of our young people did.

"We do have material for mentors to use, but often young people just want to talk and tell their mentors what’s going on in their lives. A lot of young people are just looking for a father, mother, or grandparent figure who they know is there for them."

As the project gained momentum the pandemic hit, but mentors continue to build relationships through calls and, when allowed, through meetings at a local coffee shop.

The café had agreed to open one evening a week for the church when it could no longer hire its usual school and sports hall to meet.

Gavin and the team were thrilled to see how the Lighthouse Project was able to support young people during the pandemic.

"I can think of two young people going through really difficult circumstances. They went straight to their mentors, opened up and explained their situations and asked if they would pray with them. We were really encouraged because we could see relationships being built between mentors and young people."

Gavin even saw his own daughter turn to her mentor for support.

"Who would have thought my 14-year-old daughter would be desperate to have coffee with a lady in her 40s? On paper that sounds crazy, but it works because my daughter knows this lady is for her, loves her and cares for her. She prays for her, shows her kindness and listens.

"There are things she feels she can tell her mentor which she can’t tell me or her mum."

As teens benefit from being mentored, they are encouraged to pass the blessing on by becoming mentors and role models for children involved in the church’s children’s work.

"We ask them to keep an eye on them, pray with them. We say, ‘This kid could look up to you. Could you make sure you give them a good example to copy?’ We try to make it multi-generational so an adult is looking after a young person and the young person is looking after one of the kids as well."

As the Lighthouse Project continues to grow, the church is also looking for ways to encourage similar supportive relationships between adults.

"It wasn’t just kids who met up in the coffee shop during the pandemic. Adults were encouraged to come along too," says Gavin.

"We would say, ‘Everyone choose another adult and meet up.' We pushed the idea of it not just being a social catch up, but you meet for coffee and chat, and then have a spiritual conversation and pray together. It was incredibly successful and all ages bought into it."

When restrictions made meeting indoors impossible, people were encouraged to walk together and take time to pray together instead.

As Gavin and his team look at life beyond the pandemic, they are keen to keep building the Lighthouse Project and these multi-generational relationships and meet-ups.

"Families look after each other. It’s not just parents who look after the rest of the family or the church leadership who look after the church.

"We’re all looking after each other and that’s the message we’re trying to push. Church isn’t just a building or programme, it’s people."

 It’s time to do something that is radically different... 

At the Elim Leaders Summit, Johnny Slatter, youth pastor at Bridge Christian Fellowship, explained why a multi-generational approach to youthwork is so important.

"The models we’ve been using on the whole have been failing. American author Dave Wright says when we build youth ministries but do not engage students in the life of the congregation, a future of empty pews is an unintended consequence.

"Scripture Union reports that 95% of adolescents in the UK do not attend church. These statistics should pain us, and they certainly challenged me. Gavin and the guys knew that we needed to do something radically different to try and arrest this curve.

"My key positive coming away from all this is just seeing this multi-generational, whole church approach. Too often as pastors, or as youth pastors, we’ve been looked at as Superman or Superwoman. We’re meant to hold potentially 20 to 200 people accountable.

"We’re looking at our own faith lives, our children’s faith lives, trying to run ministries and it’s impossible for us to be Superman or Superwoman. That’s why a whole-church approach is needed.

"If we’re honest, in youth ministry in recent years, we’ve not been countercultural. We’ve been trying to copy worldly success and look at the numbers coming in, not the lives that have been changed.

"I really feel as a church, as leaders, it’s time for us to do something radically different. Raising spiritual parents, intentional discipleship, being multi-generational – that’s how we will see a youth ministry grow exponentially."

This article first appeared in the September edition of Direction magazine. For more details please click here.

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