The 2015 Survey on the Current Situation and Future Prospects for the Church in China, undertaken by the China Gospel Research Alliance, indicated that pastoring the next generation is among the priorities of Christian leaders in China.
This priority speaks to the needs of youth in China and the urgent need for the church to reach and minister to them or risk losing the next generation of believers. This will not just be the loss of individual believers but also the potential loss of Christian families and church leaders.
Based on the data gathered and further discussions in various consultations and other settings, a snapshot appears of the current situation in youth ministry and what are the suggested next steps for bringing people together to facilitate collaboration and accelerate the process of equipping local churches and ministries to effectively minister to the youth in China.
Current Situation and Challenges
For the purposes of this discussion, youth are defined as between the ages of 12 and 24 which coincides with middle-school teenagers to those who may have just graduated from college.
As an example of the current situation, in a major city with a population of about 20 million and an estimated number of 10,000 fellowships or churches, only about 20 of those groups have some sort of youth ministry.
The reasons for this dire situation include:
- Pastors are already very busy serving their churches and find it difficult to give attention and priority to youth ministry. Many of them have not experienced youth ministry themselves and may not fully understand its value.
- Churches are not equipped to do youth ministry well. Many churches have Sunday School (which is often better run), but they use that same format for youth ministry. As the children reach their teenage years they become bored with and are not motivated to attend a program that is not designed for their needs.
- Policies make it challenging for the church to actively engage youth below the age of 18.
- Students have a heavy workload leaving them little time to be involved and also have the distraction of the internet, including computer games and social media.
- Parents are first-generation believers and most do not know how to disciple their children. There is also a generation gap between parents and teens.
However, it is encouraging to find that in a few cities, several churches partner to share resources so that they can provide an interesting and sustainable youth ministry.
Most youth-focused ministries offer help to churches in the following areas:
- Youth camps
- Youth and family counseling
- Training for youth workers or leaders
- Creative tools for outreach with discipleship materials
- Degree programs for youth pastors or youth leaders
- Student ministries
Going forward, it would be good to have youth ministry “experts” who have a proven track record meet with those who need resources and training in order to better serve the youth in their communities. In this way voices from both ends of the spectrum can be heard and an opportunity can be provided for dialogue, for examining available resources, and for coming to a better understanding of needs. This cross-pollination will enable the development of relevant resources while also equipping and empowering those who need help to do well in this area.
Three key areas of effective youth ministry:
- Youth in Family
- Youth in Church
- Youth in Community, including:
- Youth in educational institutions—campus ministry is stronger in comparison with the two above-mentioned areas.
- Youth facing challenges in society—both at-risk youth and unemployed or under-employed youth
- Youth serving society—youth impacting other youth or serving society in other appropriate ways
Questions to address:
- How do those who are interested in youth ministry both inside and outside of the country collaborate to maximize effectiveness and minimize ineffective strategies?
- What do churches need most from ministries?
- Which ministries offer good training, good materials, or other resources?
- How best to match resources to needs and empower local churches or ministries?
- To whom do we need to cast vision; who do we need to motivate?
- Who else do we need to connect with to champion youth ministry?
- Develop strategy: Identify problems, establish vision, and provide resources.
- Focus initially on a few potential leaders.
- Understand cultural differences between Chinese and Western youth. For example, Chinese youth have less freedom to follow their own path than their Western counterparts. Resources for Chinese youth must be culturally relevant and appropriate. Contextualization is needed.
Youth in Family
- Recognize that youth problems often start with issues at home
- Parents are key in discipling their children
- Disciple parents to be mature followers of Christ who disciple their children
- Address marriage and parenting issues
- Resources are needed and could include: books, radio programs, small groups for accountability, support, discussion, and prayer.
Youth in Church
- Youth ministry needs to be made a priority of the church. This is the church’s future!
- Cast vision to pastors and leaders so they see this as a priority
- Equip youth workers so they have interesting and relevant ways to nurture youth
- Encourage churches to partner and share resources in order to have effective, sustainable youth ministries. Look for good models to demonstrate how churches can work together.
- Work with the families (Remember that parents are key in disicipling their children)
Youth in Community
- Cast vision to the church and organizations to invest in meeting the needs of youth in society
- Encourage the development of interesting discipleship resources, including apologetics.
- Develop resources for innovative learning such as through sports, online Bible games, cartoons, manga, music, etc.
- Develop an online Christian youth network that is well-managed to insure high-quality content and which could aid intentional discipleship.
- Investigate the potential for providing vocational training for unemployed or under-employed youth.
- Investigate opportunities for believing youth to impact other youth or to serve society in other appropriate ways.
Image credit: null by Beryl Chan via Flickr.
Young at Heart (pseudonym) has been involved in various ministries at different levels and is responding to an expressed need through direct feedback from leaders in country as well as through another joint research project focusing on what help is needed in discipling or developing the next generation (of leaders),... View Full Bio