Up-Skilling your Congregation

by James Fawcett March 25, 2019 A

The question: How can I up-skill church members to be better at talking with young people?

The question seems to suggest you have church members willing to talk to young people so I’m going to make the assumption that that is the case. I think that is the first hurdle (and it’s a massive one), the first thing to get over, this is actually by far the hardest thing to do; finding willing people is tough. It’s great that you are in a place to do that, to give them space to have willing members of the congregation that want to talk to young people. I have 5 thoughts that might help:

My first thought, would be celebrate this. I have found that encouragement and celebration get me a lot further than anything which can be seen as a big stick of ‘you could do better’ or ‘here is some training’. Get your little (or big) group together, form a little team, give them praise and appreciation, it’s going to get you far! If you don’t have any interested church members, find one, just one! This is the place to start, you can build from there.

Secondly, listen. have a conversation with the church members, this may sound simple, but don’t assume, ask, perhaps this would be a good place to start; What are their current skills? What do they bring to the relationship? What are are they fearful of? Do they remember what it was like being a teenager? What do they think the young people need? All of these questions (with some from you) will begin to allay any fears that they might have around talking to young people.

Thirdly break the mould, get out of the box. We don’t need more youth workers, we need more Christians interested in young people!! If you have an accountant perhaps they could help with maths homework, if you have a fireman perhaps they could show them around the fire-station, if you have a full time mum, then perhaps they have time in the day to WhatsApp them some prayers or encouraging scriptures. Most of my conversations with volunteers have been about shattering the illusion of the youth worker and helping them to get away from them thinking they need to be anything other than who they are.

Fourthly Be Genuine: Relationships work when people genuinely bring who they are. Young people see through a facade, they hate fake and young people in 2019 are good at the ‘fake news’ and aware of the trolls on the internet and are therefore hypersensitive to people trying too hard. Encouraging volunteers to be themselves, to work with boundaries, but talk about hard times and doubts.

I think the phrase, ‘show me your scars, don’t show me your wounds’ is a good one for helping people assess what to share or not share. Is this an ongoing painful situation or something that past and is dealt with, however big or small?

Fifth and final; get practical. Give them some stuff to talk about. Get some playing cards from YouthScape, get the 100 sentence starters book. Introduce young people to adults and give them something to talk about, something like this, for example; ‘Here is Trey, he is in year 6 and just about to go to high school. You are just changing jobs, what’s it like for you?’. Or, perhaps give the adults a survey to ask as many young people as possible. Don’t leave the paper blank otherwise people just freeze. 

These things require listening to your volunteers (knowing they are changing jobs) breaking the mould (interested in what they do) and being genuine (giving space to talk about the real things in life).