A report has just been released from the Anglicare Research Unit on a series of questions Youthworks commissioned in the 2011 National Church Life Survey*.
Once again the statistics show how significant the childhood and teenage years are for making commitments to Jesus. According to the 2011 NCLS – 76% of Sydney Anglicans became Christians before the age of 20, and 44% did so during their teenage years (10-19). The same picture has been evident in the previous surveys from 2006 and 2001.
“Until now these numbers could have been dismissed as just reflecting Christian kids from Christian families coming to own their faith for the first time. Even if that was the case, it’s hardly something to be dismissive of. How good is it that churches are working effectively with parents in the joy and responsibility of raising their children to love and serve the Lord!
The other problem with dismissing children’s and youth ministry as only ministering to Christian families is that it just isn’t true. And thanks to the 2011 NCLS, what youth ministers knew from experience has been confirmed in the statistics.
The most recent survey included a new question that asked church attenders about their parents’ commitment to Christianity at the time of their own conversion. For people who became Christians between the ages of 15-19 years, only 25% of them report that both their parents were Christians at the time of their conversion. There are another 18% where one parent was a committed Christian. That leaves 57% of people who became Christians between the ages of 15-19 who were from nominal or non-Christian families.
These are people like Kai from Seaforth (Yr8), Samantha from Campbelltown (Yr10), and Josh from Broadway (Yr12). Alll from nominally Christian homes and have come to faith in the past 3-6 months.
The Anglicare research team concludes, “this suggests that youth ministry could — and should — play a pivotal role in bringing children from a range of family backgrounds to Christ” (Bellamy et.al. 2013, p.24).
We are already seeing young people and their families come to faith as a result of the children’s and youth ministry in our churches. But our resources are far from spent and new opportunities are still waiting to be taken hold of. How much more could be achieved with a renewed commitment to education and training for youth ministry?…
…Martin Luther said, ‘There is no greater obstacle in the way of Christianity than neglect in the training of the young. If we would re-instate Christianity in its former glory, we must improve and elevate the children, as it was done in the days of old.’
The writer of Psalm 78 said, ‘I will declare wise sayings; I will speak mysteries from the past—things we have heard and known and that our fathers have passed down to us. We must not hide them from their children, but must tell a future generation the praises of the LORD, His might, and the wonderful works He has performed.’
May it also be true of our generation. By God’s grace, and for his glory.”
*John Bellamy, Sami Iohara, Tiffany Bodiam and Byron Kemp (2013). Becoming a Christian: A report from the 2011 National Church Life Survey for the Anglican Diocese of Sydney (Prepared for Anglican Youthworks). Sydney: Anglicare Social Policy and Research Unit.