Young adults and Baptists Together
A series of recommendations to engage and release young adults in mission and leadership across Baptists Together have been made
The recommendations arose from a new piece of research entitled ‘Young Adults – 18-35s and the Church’, which drew on the experience of practitioners from across the UK who are actively engaging with, empowering and releasing 18-35 year olds in the mission of God.
This research was commissioned by the Mission Forum last year. At its November 2018 gathering, Baptist Union Council identified a focus on this generation as a key priority. Report author Carl Smethurst, Regional Minister in the South West Baptist Association, presented his findings at the most recent Mission Forum meeting, earlier this month.
Download the report here
The report explained that there are fewer and fewer 18-35 year olds attending our family of Baptist churches in the UK, and indeed, this is similar in other denominations.
The report’s reflections and recommendations were made following the bringing together of 16 practitioners from across the country, each selected because of their experience working with, supporting, training and releasing young adults in missional ministry.
While the practitioners worked across a range of settings from the local church to mission agencies to specific charitable projects, ‘there were a number of discernible themes that were present in many of the presentations and subsequent discussions,’ the report stated. These were:
There was broad acknowledgment that releasing this generation from God’s mission is indivisible from effective discipleship. The most effective form of discipleship for younger adults was identified as mentoring.
Creating authentic community
Nearly all the presentations strongly suggested that creating an authentic community was a significant key to releasing young adults for God’s mission. Several practitioners pointed out the desire of younger generations for community in an increasingly digital/virtual world. However, desirable community has to be that which exhibits movement and engagement in a cause, less of a social club and more of a ‘team on a mission’.
‘This generation is tired of communities whose rhetoric does not clearly manifest itself in its actions,’ the report stated.
Appointing Young Adults to Leadership Roles
Most practitioners highlighted the importance of not just preparing younger adults for leadership but actually letting them lead! In discussion one contributor referred to the frustrating ‘now, but not yet’ of Christian leadership that young adults sometimes experience; lots of preparation for leadership ‘now’ but ‘not yet’ given the opportunity to lead.’ Some comments expressed the importance of creating safe structures for younger adults to lead within.
Appointing Young Adults to leadership roles, then, is a key theme in releasing this generation for God’s mission, but it must be done in a considered and responsible way.
Encouraging Creativity and Self-Expression
Most of the contexts presented recognised the importance of permission-giving to younger adults to express themselves creatively in all areas in the life of the church/organisation, but especially in mission. Several practitioners spoke of the importance of individuals or small groups of young adults finding creative ways to engage with those to whom they are best placed to relate the gospel. The particular point was made that rather than training Young Adults in how to evangelism methods’, encouraging them to find creative and possibly new ways to engage their peers in the gospel story instead was a more effective way to release them in God’s mission.
Creating Leadership Pathways
Of significant note was the number of instances where practitioners have successfully accessed Internship or Apprenticeship programmes to empower and release young adults in God’s mission.
Research suggests that a high proportion of those who have completed Internship programmes continue in a leadership role in the Church. This is particularly demonstrable from research conducted amongst those who have completed the BMS Action Team programme. However, there is less compelling evidence that these leaders find roles within the Baptist family and this was generally borne out in the experience of the practitioners present.
A number of recommendations were made in light of these findings and discernment. The first batch centred around creating leadership pathways for Young Adults within our family of churches.
Internships / Apprenticeships
Leadership mentoring from local church, regional and national leaders
Recognise and commend those who have been through these pathways to our family of churches.
A number of suggestions were made to help create a greater culture and identity for Young Adults within Baptists Together. Other denominations and Christian organisations had created such a culture, ‘but was not obviously the case for Baptists Together.’
National Young Adults Champion
Intentional recruitment of Young Adults to regional/national roles
Greater inclusion of young adults in national events
Create young adults networks
There were also recommendations around creating a church planting programme within areas where a high proportion of 18-35s live and identify strategic Baptist churches who can be trained and resourced for mission to Young Adults.
Thanking the 'experienced and insightful' group who contributed to the report, Carl stated his prayer that the report does not remain on a shelf ‘until a research student discovers it 40 years from now.’
Instead, he concluded, ‘at this significant moment in the life of the Baptist family, (let's pray) we might embrace with faith the huge opportunities that God is laying before us to engage with and release this new generation in mission and leadership in this nation and beyond for his Kingdom purposes…'
The report was warmly received by the Mission Forum, and the initial outcomes are:
A new National Young Adults Forum be formed and tasked and empowered to lead the national family of churches in engaging with this generation (in a similar way to the National Children, Youth & Families Round Table).
Mentoring of Young Adults (and others) to be developed for all leaders across Baptists Together (National, Regional and Local) with the desire that it becomes ‘normal practice’ amongst our family of churches/pioneers etc. This might look different in different settings but mentoring Young Adults was a key recommendation of the report.
A mapping exercise was commissioned of Internship programmes available across the UK and the development of a Baptists Together ‘Kitemark’ for Internship programmes that gives some national recognition will be explored.
Conversations with BMS to explore the possibility of rolling out Actions Teams across the UK.
Associations will be asked to consider possibilities for mission to Young Adults (either within established churches, church plants, pioneer settings etc) and encouraged to explore how these might be developed.
The development of a training programme to help those churches who are wanting to engage in mission to Young Adults will be further explored.
Download the ‘Young Adults – 18-35s and the Church’ report here
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