It is no surprise to ACR readers that Australia is radically and rapidly changing as a nation. Whether or not it is accurate to describe the initial colonies or federated states as a “Christian” nation, it is abundantly clear that as we enter the third decade of the 21st Century, Australia is increasingly a post–Christian and post–church society.
In 2017 45% of Australians identified as Christian and 25% of Australians were described as ‘cold’ towards Christianity. Only 15% stated that they attend church monthly or more.
As confessional Anglicans, we are not specifically concerned with Australia being a culturally Christian nation. However, we are passionate about Christ and his Kingdom. We are passionate about making disciples of all nations by evangelising the lost and discipling the saints. And it is for this reason that as a diocese it is essential that we prioritise children’s and youth ministry in our churches. Understanding the importance of these ministries will enable us to intentionally invest in young people for the good of our churches, and for the glory of Christ’s Kingdom.
1. Children’s and youth ministry is making disciples
NCLS results from Sydney Anglican Churches over the last 20 years have shown the consistency of child and youth conversion. The majority of Sydney Anglicans came to faith before the age of 20 and significant numbers before the age of 10.
|Age first became a Christian|
|Under 5 years of age||19.0%||18%||17%|
As a church passionate about mission and the salvation of the lost it makes sense that we would value ministry to the age groups where we can see clear evidence of God working.
Understanding the beliefs of young people can help us see the need for this missional focus. According to one study, only 38% of Australian teenagers identify as Christian (6% as Anglican) and the majority (52%) have no religious identity. However, in the same study, 50% of teenagers said that believed in karma, 29% in reincarnation and 20% in astrology. As the authors of the report stated, “while religious affiliation is no longer the norm for the majority of teens, they have not become abidingly secular (in a personal sense).” This data agrees with much of Rory Shiner’s article in this ACR Journal.
It is incorrect to think that young people in our post-Christian nation are disinterested in spirituality. Many are hungry to explore and experiment with spiritual concepts and practices. It is the opportunity of our churches to engage with young people and affirm that—like the Athenians in Acts 17—their spiritual wonderings and wanderings are a correct impulse, just misaligned. We have a wonderful opportunity to explore with, and expound to, them the known God “who made the world and everything in it [who] is the Lord of heaven and earth” (Acts 17:24).
By God’s good design, children’s and youth ministry is a field ripe for harvest. Therefore, it is not simply faithfulness to Christ’s gospel imperative (as if that isn’t sufficient justification!), but strategic wisdom that spurs us to intentionally invest in ministry to the next generation (Ps. 78:4; 145:4).
2. Children and youth are the church of today, not just the church of tomorrow
As confessional Anglicans we affirm that children are members of the church now. It is right to intentionally invest in ministry to the next generation for the sake of our diocese’s future, but young people are not merely instrumental to a future church. Children are capable of saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, a truth that is affirmed in Scripture (e.g., Matt. 19:14) and which we confirm in our agreement with Article XXVII and our practice of infant baptism.
Baptism is not only a sign of profession, and mark of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from others that be not christened, but is also a sign of Regeneration or new Birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive Baptism rightly are grafted into the Church; the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed; Faith is confirmed, and Grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God. The Baptism of young Children is in any wise to be retained in the Church, as most agreeable with the institution of Christ.
Since young people are baptised into the Christian faith in our churches, we therefore have a responsibility, as members of the same church family, to disciple them well. Indeed, an important part of the church’s responsibility to children is to equip the families in our churches to engage in effective home discipleship. Parents are the primary disciplers of their children. This is a theological truth (cf. Deut. 6; Eph. 6) as well as a sociological reality; a fact also supported by NCLS data.
|NCLS 2006: Q54 “Which of the following people were most significant in helping you come to the Christian faith?” (Multiple choice of up to three responses)|
|Local Church minister or pastor||23%|
|Youth Group Leader||18%|
|Sunday School Teacher||15%|
3. Children and youth are important for the spiritual maturity
When the disciples asked Jesus ‘Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?’ Jesus did not identify the entrepreneurial leader, the seminary theologian, the dynamic music leader, not even the busy youth or children’s minister. He beckoned a child to come to him and stated that “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:1-2).
Jesus expects that we model our life of discipleship on the example of the child. This may happen best if we are regularly with, and learning from, the young disciples in our congregations. Thus, the siloing of children’s and youth ministry from the regular rhythms of “adult” church life may not only exacerbate the issues of ministry transition and post high school drop out rates, but also prevent the other generations from benefiting from the life of faith of these young disciples.
Young disciples need the example of the mature saints (cf. Tit. 2). But younger saints are also able to “set an example for the believers” in older generations
(1 Tim. 4:12) as well as help the older saints understand and process the forces of cultural change that disproportionately affect children and youth.
Therefore, it is not simply for the young people in our churches that we prioritise children’s and youth ministry. It is vitally important for the spiritual health of all the saints, regardless of age, that children and youth are ministered by—and minister to—a church that values and encourages these reciprocal intergenerational relationships.
4. Children’s and youth ministry fuels flourishing churches
It is the experience of the Ministry Support Team at Youthworks that where a church intentionally invests in intergenerational discipleship, the whole church flourishes. We have seen in our own advising and consultancy that an intentional focus on children’s and youth ministry results in more young people growing in their maturity of faith, more young people inviting their friends to church, and more young people continuing in their faith post high school. We are also seeing young people influencing their parents and whole households coming to investigate Christ and his church through the godly witness of their children. Additionally, we are seeing all age groups in the church flourish as disciples of Jesus as they witness and participate in the church’s investment in ministry to children and youth.
These observations at the local level confirm the research data from Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) in the US. Early research from FYI showed that a key indicator of long-term faith commitment in adolescence and young adulthood is the number of meaningful relationships that a young person has in the church in addition to their parents and peers. A second extensive study into churches who were thriving in their youth and young adult discipleship found that prioritising young people [and families] everywhere was one of the six essential strategies in regard to these church’s relative health.
This investment in children’s and youth ministry is both in the setting and articulation of vision and also in the allocation of specific and practical resources. As the authors of the second study write, “Prioritization of young people everywhere represents our tangible, institutional commitment to allocate resources and attention—not only for specific youth or young adult programming but also across the life of the congregation.
Children’s and youth ministries are significant ministries in our church, and they ought to be. For the sake of the long-term faith of these young ones, for the sake of the maturity of all the saints, and for the ongoing Gospel work of our diocese, and the growth of our churches, it is essential that we continue to prioritise children’s and youth ministries in the church.
According to our diocese’s 2017 attendance records, almost 25% of those engaged in weekly church activities were under 18 years, with just over 15,000 children and youth attending weekly Sunday School, Kids Clubs, and Youth Groups. Additionally, our diocese authorises almost 2,000 SRE teachers to open the Bible and teach the Christian faith to public primary and high school students.
We have a strong heritage of youth and children’s ministry
in our Diocese; ministry that is committed to Gospel proclamation and the
discipleship of our youngest brothers and sisters in the household of God.
Youthworks is committed to seeing effective youth and children’s ministry in
every church and we are passionate about the opportunities that we have to partner
with parishes to see our churches flourish.
 McCrindle, Mark (2017) ‘Faith and Belief in Australia’. McCrindle Research. Being ‘cold’ was determined through identifying an attitude towards Christianity of either ‘I am passionately opposed to Christianity’, ‘I’ve got strong reservations about Christianity and I have no interest in it’ or ‘I have some issues with Christianity and it isn’t for me’.
 Bellamy, J (2018) ‘Becoming a Christian: Key Influences on Faith Formation and Church Attendance: Report on Questions Commissioned by Anglican Youthworks in the 2016 National Church Life Survey’. Sydney, AU.: Anglicare.
 NCLS (2007) ‘Influences upon Faith Development amongst Anglicans: Results from 2006 National Church Life Survey’. South Sydney, AU.: NCLS Research.
 NCLS (2007).
 Singleton, A, Rasmussen, M.L, Halafoff, A. & Bouma, G.D. (2019) ‘The AGZ Study: Project report’. ANU, Deakin and Monash Universities.
 The Articles of Religion. http://acl.asn.au/the-thirty-nine-articles/
 Reggie Joiner compares the number of hours of influence that church ministries have on a child (~40 hr/yr) to that of a parent (~3,000 hr/yr). Joiner, R. (2009) Think Orange. Colorado Springs, CO.: David C. Cook.
 Bellamy, J., Iohara, S., Bodiam, T., & Kemp, B. (2013) ‘Becoming a Christian: A report from the 2011 National Church Life Survey for the Anglican Diocese of Sydney’. Anglicare Diocese of Sydney, Social and Policy Research Unit.
 Cf. Stuart Crawshaw’s model of “shock absorber youth ministry”. Crawshaw, S. (2008) ‘Moving beyond the shock absorber: The place of youth ministry—past, present and future’. More recently articulated on The Pastor’s Heart podcast (July 9, 2019), and Soul Revival’s The Shock Absorber podcast.
 Powell, K. & Clark, C. (2011) Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Kids. Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan.
 Powell, K., Mulder, J., & Griffin, B. (2016) Growing Young: Six essential strategies to help young people discover and love your church. Grand Rapids, MI.: Baker.
 Anglican Church of Australia. Diocese of Sydney (2019) Year book of the Diocese of Sydney/Province of New South Wales, Anglican Church of Australia: 2016 to 2019.