In this section:
Historically, Sunday morning provision (often in the form of Sunday Club or Junior Church) has been the mainstay of childrens and youth work, but in recent years we have seen a reduction in this provision across the country. Reasons include declining numbers across all ages, lack of volunteers, and competition from other activities happening on Sundays. How, then, might we develop Sunday provision that challenges and engages 11-16s in their faith journey, inviting them to come, follow Christ in the footsteps of St. Chad and discover what this could mean for them in their every-day life (cf. Romans 12:1-2)?
God often places the seeds of vocation in us when we are young, so as 11-16s transition into high school and begin to make decisions about GCSEs, A-Levels and workplace training, it is important that we should help them consider who God might be calling them to be, and what might be God calling them to do. It is a prime opportunity for offering young people opportunities to talk with older Christians in fields they are interested in, and to offer leadership opportunities to those interested in a formal ministry in the church.
Sunday Morning provision can allow our young people the space to become more confident talking about their faith during the rest of their week. It can also be a space for young people to invite their friends to a safe, low-risk opportunity to explore faith.
Sunday Morning provision can be an opportunity to encourage 11-16s to learn about what it means to follow Christ in their every-day lives, not just on Sunday. Dont shy away from the tough topics it is through exploring these in a safe, friendly environment like Sunday Morning provision that the foundations for life-long faith can be laid.
Developing good Sunday morning work is about more than just a curriculum. Reflecting together on some key aims that you and your team can agree to can make significant difference to how you run your youth provision on Sundays. Below are some things churches may wish to consider when developing youth provision on Sundays:
Like all provision for young people, it is essential that you have a clear purpose for why you do what you do. This benefits everyone as:
- Leaders to have a clear aim If your group runs in parallel to the adult service on Sundays, for example, you might choose to develop aims like:
- We will make our young people to know that church is a safe space to come into.
- We want to follow what the adults are learning in the sermons, except for when we explore the following topics…
- Over the next 6 months, we will have offered to pray for every one of our young people.
- We would like X number of young people to choose to follow Jesus Christ in the next year. We will pray for this to happen, and work for it by…
- Young people know what theyre getting involved in if young people learn that they can expect leaders that know and care about them to be there each week and that these leaders will be with them to help them read the bible, play games, pray, chat and generally have fun in order to learn about what it means to follow Jesus Christ, then they are more likely to prioritise attending regularly. It also makes it easier for them to invite their friends.
Remember, if you are setting targets, be sure to make them Simple, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-specific (SMART). For more detailed thought around developing your youth provisions purpose and plans, see Sustainable Youth Ministry, by Mark DeVries (details below).
Dont be afraid to do Christian things
Our aim for Sunday morning provision must be to enable 11-16s to explore what it means to be a Christian, and to work out whether this makes intellectual and emotional sense to them. This means we must, in amongst other things, provide our 11-16s opportunities to:
Worship God either during the service or in the group, either as sung worship, or some form of liturgy or multi-sensory activity.
Read and learn from Bible usually in the session with your young people, through activities that (often) have a link to a message pitched to the age and stage of those in attendance, allowing participants to explore the meaning of the passage, its effect on what they believe about God, the world and themselves, and what to do about it in their day-to-day lives. This could be done through things like
- Games etc.
Pray This might take the form many things, but if we are to create disciples of Jesus Christ, showing 11-16s how to pray, and giving them opportunities to have a go are highly important. Opportunities might include:
- Praying together in small groups.
- Using imaginative contemplation.
- Creating a multi-sensory prayer activity.
If you would like to learn more, we would highly recommend Mark Yaconellis book Helping Teenagers to Pray (details below).
Why not pray right now?
If youre talking with one of your young people and they mention a situation that could do with prayer, offer to pray for them right there and then. If they say yes, pray for them in a sentence or two using simple language. Make sure they know it is okay to say no and that will be received without judgment or anger etc., and if they do, just continue the conversation as before. Be sure to consider safeguarding when praying for young people: stay in a public place with your young people, dont be alone with them, and be respectful of boundaries, especially regarding touch.
Develop a routine and culture for your group
Create a rhythm that the young people know will happen every week (exceptions like special events etc. are allowed). Despite being older, routine is still important for 11-18s and can help them feel settled and may make it easier for your young people to bring their friends to. Things to consider include:
- What happens when your young people arrive?
- How are the young people are greeted?
- How do leaders behave towards each other and the young people?
- How do this groups leaders handle discipline?
- When and how will this group will finish?
Prioritise learning, and do it in different ways
It is important that in our Sunday Morning provision we commit to offering opportunities for our 11-16s to engage in learning and not just to be entertained. The majority of people use a mix of visual (sight), kinaesthetic (touch / movement) and auditory (sound) input to learn, but often have one particular method of learning that is dominant over the others. Making the most of the opportunities to use all three neednt be hugely demanding: most pre-written curricula / resources for 11-16s offer opportunities for young people to engage through all their senses. It may be worth considering what preferences you and your team have and how you might offer different types of learning experience through surveys you can find online.
Similarly, Dave Csinos, a Canadian childrens ministry expert and researcher talks about spiritual styles. Writing for lectionary-based childrens and young peoples resource Roots, Csinos describes these 4 styles as:
- Word engaging with liturgy, the words of hymns, writing, listening to readings
- Symbol wondering about God, being alone, enjoying nature, examining pictures or objects that tell us about God (like icons).
- Action engaging in campaigning, welcoming others to church, serving refreshments
- Emotion sung worship, being connected to church groups or clubs, enjoying religious art, connecting with people (especially knowing how they feel).
Again, 11-16s are capable of using all of these styles, but are likely to feel most comfortable with just one or two. Remember: this may not be related to churchmanship, as often young people that turn up to church come with their parents or family members, rather than make a choice about where they might choose to attend.
Exposure to different learning and spiritual styles provides opportunities for us and our 11-16s to encounter the breadth of the Christian tradition. Be bold and to experiment using different spiritual and learning styles. As you do, try to notice how your young people react do they have a preference for one particular style over another? What was it about one particular activity that made them struggle or flourish? Why?
Be aware of exams
Exams can be a large weight to bear for many 11-18s, and require much preparation and revision. Young people can respond to this in a number of ways. They may, for instance:
- Attend irregularly just before and during peak exam times, young people may not be able to attend because of revision pressure (self-, parent- or school imposed).
- Behave strangely during stressful periods previously chatty and laid back young people can become irritable, sullen or snappy.
- Believe untruths Ive done badly in the past, so its obvious that Ill ruin these exams, too… or Im so stupid Ill never pass this exam are untruths that young people can rehearse to themselves.
- Allow their judgment to be dictated by their emotions I freeze and feel this knot in my stomach when I sit down to revise, so Im not going to do any.
- Feel pressure from their families My sisters are geniuses and got all As. Unless I get the same, my family will think I have failed. Perceived or real, these feelings can weigh heavily on siblings.
Naming these behaviours and feelings through our provision, offering practical tips for revision and exam stress, and unpacking what the bible tells us about Gods love for us regardless of our exam performance can really help us to lessen the impact of these challenges on the lives of young people.
Making Space for Wondering
When developing sessions in your provision for Sundays, be sure to include enough time to pause for reflection. This could be as simple as leaving a 7-second pause at the end of the story or passage of scripture you read or posing a question beginning with I wonder…. For more advanced or older groups why not offer them an opportunity to complete a variety of activities related to the story or passage youve just explored? This might be reading the passage again alone, prayerfully journaling what they are discovering, painting or drawing what the story means to them, or just being still for a moment. Mark Yaconellis Helping Teenagers to Pray (details below) is a brilliant read for leaders wanting to help develop prayerful reflection amongst their young people.
Value your Leaders
Every person involved in 11-16s provision on a Sunday is a part of Gods mission to tell the next generation about Him. The faithful hours, money, energy that our youth workers, volunteer and paid, invest into our 11-18s should be regularly acknowledged and celebrated. We recommend a once-a-year celebration and commissioning of all those working with children, young people and families. Its an ideal time to invite your young people to thank their leaders what a difference they have made in the previous year.
Acknowledge young peoples context and experiences
The 11-16s coming to our churches at whatever time exist not in a void or vacuum, but a real-world context, connected to people and institutions, with their own experiences and perspectives. Their opinions will be rich and varied, and they will bring these with them to Sunday mornings. Rather than empty vessels to be filled, it is important that we work with them to hear about these challenges or problems and to overcome them together through a cyclical process of action and reflection. This concept by Latin-American educationalist Paolo Friere is called problem-posing education, a form of teaching where
The teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teachers, but one who is himself [or herself] taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach. They become jointly responsible for a process in which all grow. In this process, arguments based on authority are no longer valid; in order to function, authority must be on the side of freedom, not against it. Here, no one teaches another, nor is anyone self-taught. People teach each other...
(Paulo Friere (1993), Pedagogy of the Oppressed, London: Penguin, p66)
This may all sound very conceptual and complex, but the reality is simple:
- We start from where our young people are in terms of their understanding and interests
- We work with them to help them articulate what problems they want to solve
- We commit to working with them to solve them, becoming learners as well
- Together we commit to taking part in action that informs reflection in a cyclical manner
In practical terms, this might mean different things for Sunday mornings:
- The 11-14s Sunday Morning Group want to learn about prayer, so you explore Lk 11:1-13 (the Lords Prayer and 2 short related parables) with them. After exploring what it might mean to pray the Lords Prayer, and how it relates to vv5-13 (reflection). You might discuss ways to learn to trust Gods goodness more, and encourage them into action throughout the week to experiment with what happens in when they pray. You return next week to reflect some more, and work out the next thing to do during the week.
- The 14-16s Sunday Youth Cell discuss (reflect) on the state of the multi-use games area (MUGA) at the local park it needs paint and minor repairs. Acting together, you encourage the council to do this, including writing letters asking councillors to visit and raising some money to make it happen. Throughout you are able to talk about the Kingdom of God with your young people, that Christians are meant to love both God and neighbour, and that we should pray about these things to God and work to make these things better. When its complete, you could have a community party to celebrate the hard work that went into getting the work completed, and think about what next to do.
Not all of our churches are blessed with having young people present on a Sunday morning. There are various reasons for this, the main one being that society has dramatically changed over the past few years. For instance
- Jobs often require a 24/7 rota or a 5-in-7 shift pattern as opposed to a Monday Friday 9-5.30 job, so parents cannot go to church themselves, or take young people that want to attend,
- Children may live in two homes throughout the week as their parents no longer live together, and
- There are more activities available on Sunday mornings such as team sports, visiting family and friends, and shopping that compete with church attendance.
What do you do if you have no/very few young people?
The temptation is to not provide anything at all, but some small changes can make church a lot more welcoming for the young person that turn up with, or without, their parents or carers. Here are some things you could do each week to help young people engage in church:
Pray intentionally for the children and young people connected to your church family, and in your community
In the words of Richard Foster, it is in prayer that we begin to think Gods thoughts after Him. So it is through prayer for and on behalf of children and young people that we begin to discover Gods heart for them. Remember, whilst there may not be 11-16s present in your church, there will almost certainly be:
- Congregation members who are parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents and family friends of children and young people;
- Families with 11-18s in your parish or benefice;
- Local schools, 6th Forms and colleges, in addition to uniformed organisations like Scouts or Guides, and public spaces where young people gather in your parish or benefice, and
- National and international issues affecting the lives of children, young people and families.
How could you build prayer for children, young people and families into the life of your church? Which events are most suitable? How often is right for you?
Welcome young people and their adults every time
If a young person comes in to church, greet them and their family (or whoever they arrive with) specifically, try to learn their name and give them the news-sheet or hymn book etc. that you would give to anyone else. Ask if they have been to church before and consider explaining where they could sit, and to watch everyone else for when to sit and stand, exactly like you would any newcomer.
Explain what is happening during the service
Church can be an intimidating place for a young person, even if you are brilliant at welcoming people to a service. Sometimes breaking down what to do during the service is really helpful, especially if the teenager in question hasnt been to your church before. If youre leading the service, take time to explain what is happening at each stage of the service in simple language: we stand here to sing… lets sit for the sermon… we offer one another a sign of peace this means…. This could be done by editing your service booklets or by the service leader. Additionally, if you happen to be sitting near a young person (with or without a family) that doesnt appear to know what theyre doing, why not invite them to watch what youre doing and to copy?
Give them notes
Some churches are using worksheets with questions prepared by the preacher, or with space to answer simple questions like:
- What was the bible passage about?
- What did I learn?
- What might God be saying to me?
- What didnt I understand?
A simple web search for sermon young people worksheet will show what is out there. Many are available on Pinterest (user account required), and you could edit specific questions related to the theme of the sermon, or your churchs vision or Mission Action Plan (MAP). Dont forget to add contact details and website information for church, too!
Say Goodbye Every Time
Say goodbye to them individually every time, by name, even if they try to sneak away. If they are sneaking off, just a simple great to see you, do come and see us again soon is enough you dont need to draw it out!
- We can offer them a chance to discover what the adults explore during the sermon, helping them discover that the adult community is learning how to follow Jesus Christ as well.
- We can provide opportunities to introduce young people to the wider adult congregation, creating connections across generations.
- We can help them learn what to do during a church service aimed at adults.
- We can highlight the different ways 11-16s could serve in church with a view to offering them opportunities to have a go with support from more experienced adults God may already be prompting them to try something like:
- being on the tea and coffee rota after church
- joining the musicians
- being part of the sound or projection team
- leading a part of the childrens work (building up slowly)
- joining the cleaning rota
- reading scripture in services
- preaching on a passage
Sunday evenings are often less busy than the rest of the week. This enables 11-18s to catch up on homework, or to spend quality time with families, but it also makes an ideal time for youth activities at church. Here are a few ideas for what could be developed for Sunday evenings:
Youth Cells / Home Groups / Bible Study Groups
Youth cells or home-groups can be a brilliant space on a Sunday evening for young people to gather and begin to learn about how they might live out their faith in their daily life. Groups for the most part should have some element of bible study, but could also cover topics of interest to the young people in the group. For example, a group may want to explore topics like politics, social justice, the work of a particular charity or elements of popular culture (movies and tv shows etc.) It is in small groups that friendships are formed, that faith in Jesus Christ is nurtured, discipleship explored, hurts cared for, and joys celebrated. For many, the friendships formed here are the ones that last a lifetime. These groups can be peer-led, led by adults, or blend of both, according to the abilities and willingness of group-members.
Visit the RNG Resources pages to find websites or resources catalogues for Youth Cells, Bible Study Groups and much more.
Youth clubs on a Sunday may be a great option for those that have young people who may not be ready for a bible study or cell group. It can also be a great place to invite young people on the edges of church. Much of our Developing weeknight youth provision section is relevant to Sunday evenings as well as weeknights.
Evening services are an ideal time for 14-18s and young adults. Any number of things can get in the way of young people joining a Sunday morning service, including their sleep schedule, playing in a sports team, spending time with family members or catching up on homework / study. When making space for 11-18s in your Sunday evening service, remember to consider:
- Opportunities to participate if Sunday evening is their home service, why not offer opportunities for your young people to serve as part of the team? For more information, see our 'Practical Ideas in our section on Vocation and Young People.
- Start Time and Length Particularly for younger teens, they may need to be in at a certain time. For example, if 9.30pm is curfew time for many of your young people, be sure that they are able to stay for the entire service and enjoy a cup of tea, coffee or hot chocolate with others at the end before having to leave in order to get home in time.
Sunday evening may be an ideal time for a youth-focussed church service. Any service that is aimed specifically at 11-18s should focus on helping young people to explore and live out the Christian faith in their context and culture. It depends on your context, the needs of your young people and the resources available to you, but these services may not need to be weekly.
One church we know runs a youth service on a monthly basis that incorporates elements such as drama, video, dance and a band led by young people. It is not possible for them to prepare this every week, so they run their service monthly, with a three-year schedule for topics to cover. This church also chooses to provide opportunities to 13-18s who would like to lead or be part of delivering aspects of the service, so young people offer refreshments, look after sound and projections, preach, and lead worship on a regular basis. This churchs youth service also attracts a number of regulars from among the adults at church who come to support the young people from their church family and to worship God with them.
There are many resources and curricula available for work with young people. Some are free and others are a worthwhile investment, some link in with the lectionary, and others explore the Bible more thematically, offering activities for the different age groups. We have many of these resources or sites that catalogue them in our resources section.
Many of us are tasked with creating a team of volunteers to ensure that an activity is able to run. We can often feel pressured into drawing in anyone who has hinted that they might have had a child/niece/grandchild in the past, regardless of the fact that they might not have the time or interest in supporting the club. We then tend to undersell what is involved in a project for fear of putting someone off and then, once they are on the rota (which wont be reviewed for another 20 years), we can breathe a sigh of relief and move on to recruiting another innocent by-stander.This system of recruitment has inevitably contributed to a climate where churches find it challenging to recruit people to a ministry who are appropriate, gifted and passionate about the work that is needed.Below are some ideas and resources to consider as you recruit leaders to your Sunday ministry with children and young people:
Think long term
If you prepare to think of volunteer recruitment as a long-term plan, you will find that it becomes less stressful for you. For example, if you begin recruiting new leaders for Sundays in January for a September start, you can take time to talk through role descriptions with them, take up references, complete a DBS form and invite your new leaders to a be a guest at a couple of sessions before the year ends so they know fully what they are getting into.
When recruiting the appropriate people for helping with your youth provision it is important that people know what it is they are volunteering. Below is a sample form that can be downloaded and used for churches when outlining what might be involved when volunteering for Sunday youth work. As good practice it would be advised that each volunteer has their role reviewed every 12 months as part of an informal conversation.This would ensure that there is the opportunity for the volunteer to change their minds and step down due to change in priorities and life circumstances, rather than feel the pressure to remain in the role longer than they wanted.
Safer Recruitment & Safeguarding
Ensuring that we are recruiting the right people for the volunteering posts is essential.The Safeguarding Team of the Diocese of Lichfield have created some packs to support and guide churches as they recruit people for volunteer posts. For more information, visit https://www.lichfield.anglican.org/safeguarding_resources/.
It is important to note that you and your team will also require Safeguarding Training. Details of training dates can be found here: lichfield.anglican.org/safeguarding_training/
Training days or conferences are brilliant opportunities to get to know your team, network with others, consolidate previous learning, and acquire new knowledge and skills. The RNG Team run regular training in the form of RNG Labs and would be happy to point you in the direction of further training, national conferences and resources tailored to your interests and needs. Just email email@example.com or visit the RNG website.
Csinos, D. & I. Beckwith, Childrens Ministry in the Way of Jesus, Downers Grove: IVP, 2013.
Dean, K., Almost Christian: What the faith of our Teenagers is Telling the American Church,Oxford: OUP, 2010.
DeVries, M, Sustainable Youth Ministry: Why most youth ministry doesnt last and what your church can do about it, Downers Grove: IVP, 2008.
Shepherd, N., Faith Generation, London: SPCK, 2016.
Yaconelli, M, Helping Teenagers to Pray, London: SPCK, 2008.