Encouraging the networking of youth ministries

While we have found this matter to be difficult for some to accept, Christian youth ministry in New Zealand is in trouble. Numbers involved have declined significantly. Momentum is not high in most places. The existence of some larger youth ministries obscures the challenges faced by hundreds of others.

> An article on ‘How to lead a city youth leaders network’ can be found at Godtalk.nz/unity.

This pattern evidences the fact that denominational networks alone are now an insufficient support to a youth ministry in one of the provinces. We are facing significant cultural challenges together.

Godtalk stands to encourage that the time has therefore come for the ‘denominational’ support structures to join hands with the united Church structure on the ground in each place, in which youth and youth leaders unite where they are. There is only one Church (capital ‘C’)  in each city, and one Church in our nation. But this uniting needs empowering.

From our strategic assessment of the problem – including national travel 8 times, with months on the road each time, here are three key points for creating an environment in which the needed innovation to address these challenges could take place (because there is resistance). We then articulate – for engagement by more senior leaders, some useful information and detail on what we propose someone (it doesn’t have to be Godtalk) does to help us all!

We pray these three revelations will be caught by every church (including youth) leader

We can change the face of NZ youth ministry TOGETHER

Unity brings strength. Networks have broken down – so they need rebuilding. National networks bring insufficient ‘force of impact’ to make local youth groups strong. Local youth groups therefore need to network and unite. The vision for any youth leader is not to only grow a youth group – but to see the youth of their entire city or town being reached and encouraged. This requires unity – and when this vision is embraced TOGETHER it opens up a whole different set of possibilities!

YOUTH can outreach by themselves – if  released with vision and support

The future is not written yet. There are new possibilities ahead – and things old change! Dave tells the story of an effort he was involved with that got student-led group going in 90% of the schools in a city of 4 million people – without any group existing ‘officially’. They were all student led. They prayed. They asked God for ideas – and they did what they felt led to do. Hundreds came to faith in the youth ministries that worked together in this. We shouldn’t just entertain youth or treat them like children. They are intelligent, and are capable of achieving amazing things!

The key is discipling leaders who serve the city – not one group

Youth ministry is REALLY HARD WORK. If our goal is only to run our own group then the vision is too small – because things that are important for the city (like school groups and united outreaching events) will get overlooked! The call and favour of God is there for youth leaders to arise who will serve the whole city or town – not just their own youth group. Amazing things are possible together that are not possible apart – and breakthroughs that are big need unity! 

Strategic overview

We have attempted a few things over thee past 5 years in particular (written late 2021). We cannot see any good coming from sharing many of the details of what we discovered – except to share conclusions.

Specifically, new understandings about our unity, and how we could work together are needed. This is as true for youth ministry as it is for wider adult ministry.

What we have proposed to key youth leaders across NZ seems to involve values and ways of working that go beyond their prior experiences – just as some current developments in pastors’ groups across our nation would actually have been argued against just one decade ago. This is to say, this might just be a matter of time. We are on a journey together as the Church across NZ in the area of unity. We have found people with influence have been unable to see how uniting could generate results nationally – so they’ve presented reasons for not joining hands at all. Where these leaders have localised successes – it is a pattern that they feel like the ‘head not the hand’. The idea of partnering with others when you are currently successful seems contrary to something in human nature. Meanwhile those with successes have neither the networks nor experience base to take what they are doing national – yet have been unable to accept that anyone else might have something they don’t. We have attempted unsuccessfully to empower two people in this position – with a desire to give them our national network, and to leverage our national connections, to enable their influence to go broader. We have been unsuccessful twice now in help a person even see the wider possibilities. They have continued entirely separately – resulting in localised results – until they finished in their roles (and everything fell over).

We believe we are in a unique position currently, due to extensive travel and unique networking with pastors’ groups, to be able to report on things that are or are not happening across the geography of our nation at this time. (We won’t always do this travel, and therefore won’t always be in this position).

To last longer, and to be effective in witness in view of the kinds of challenges we are now facing, youth ministries need to unite in each city and town! To sustain those groups, something needs to exist nationally that feeds stories (encouragement), vision, ideas and resources to them and amongst them.

This is a strategic assessment – and the below proposed roles are a strategic proposal. This is not with self-interest. We don’t mind who does this. We are saying someone needs to do this. Our work is in ‘seeing innovation come into the gaps’. We are doing our work.

Regional Reps – a proposed for needed regional youth ministry outreach support

The role of a outreach-focused regional youth leader serving both a city and a province would be as follows. Who does this isn’t as important as the suggestion that this is now a needed support role to youth outreach. It is also a specific role. If it deviates to duplicate things others are doing in various movements or circles, it becomes redundant.

(1) Someone to facilitate and support the networking of youth leaders in each city and town and province – so youth leaders can work together where they are living. If nothing else they will last longer – but we know they will actually all achieve more if this happens, and it is now more than a good idea. It’s actually needed!

(2) Someone to promote and help see that youth are being intentionality equipped to reach out to their peers in todays climate – through their youth groups, and also through their school groups. This is no longer just ‘a good thing’. Youth are being culturally persecuted for their faith. They will fall silent if not taught skills – like Jesus had, for conversing in hostile environments while all getting your own messages of hope across.

(3) Helping facilitate united outreach programmes, to lift the reach and profile of every church youth group! Without question, youth leaders can achieve this themselves – once united, and it helps lift everything.

This would help every youth ministry.

The DNA of a unity movement: Regional reps would not be in charge of any group, and the organisation through which the efforts funding is strructured would not own any group (whether a youth group, a youth leaders network, or a school group). This is a ‘third-party servant work only’ – as employees of the (united) Church. If structured any other way, various leaders will feel something of their own ascendancy is under threat, and it won’t work. We know this ‘Church’ model works – because we work in this way in our wider national work every day, with success.

An article on ‘How to lead a city youth leaders network’ can be found at Godtalk.nz/unity.

For more information contact Dave at team@godtalk.nz