For a long time children’s ministry and youth ministry have been understood as two completely different worlds. However, as has been illustrated in the Hemorrhaging Faith Study, we the church have been losing a lot of kids in that transition between the elementary world of ministry and the youth world of ministry. This has been a growing concern at Spring Garden and so a few years ago we started looking at how we could make steps to de-silo our children and youth. “De-Siloing” for us has meant creating a more streamlined approach to discipling kids and youth that remains consistent as they develop.
One of the ways we have sought to streamline faith development between the age groups has been to provide opportunities for families of all ages to grow in discipleship together: to Show God’s Care to the community together, to grow in love of God and each other together and to Share God’s Story with Willowdale community together. These community opportunities have taken on different forms depending on the season. This year it has meant all the ages leading the congregation in a Christmas liturgy, all ages putting together care packages for ex-offenders at Easter and families of all ages participating in a skating event with youth from Eva’s Homeless shelter.
We have also intentionally shaped our learning environments with the same large group/small group format from preschool into adulthood. This way kids are familiar with the concept of sharing and growing together with a small group of peers before they enter youth group. Within those children & youth learning environments we have also sought to develop some consistency by overlapping some of the mentor relationships built. Older leaders, who the kids will meet when they enter the youth group environment, also lead the Gr. 5-6 small group on Sunday mornings. A couple of these leaders are older youth, one is our youth ministry intern, and two are Youth Unlimited outreach workers.
It is still hard to say whether these seeds will develop into something sustainable and fruitful in our long-term ministry with kids & youth. However, thus far we have been encouraged to find elementary kids beginning to connect and relate to our youth before they cross into that world for themselves. A particularly encouraging aspect of this has been that the parents of elementary kids building relationships with some of our community youth who do not have parents of faith. One example comes to mind when I dropped by our local bike park the other week. One of the fathers and his elementary aged son were there with their shovels, helping the teens clean up and fix some of the jumps. The boys had found some baby rabbits in the grass by the jump and all work had stopped! Clustered together around these bunnies was a community youth worker, a Christian dad, a 10 year old kid, a bunch of teen boys- all trying to figure out how to keep those baby bunnies alive! To me this was a picture of the fruit we are praying for. Members of the Body gathered together in care for the community. My hunch is that when that ten year old boy reaches junior high, he won’t have too much trouble continuing on in his journey of faith development.
Joanna James serves as the Pastor of Discipleship at Spring Garden Church in Toronto.