• 26 May 2023

A challenge to win the next generation for Christ

On three consecutive evenings in May, Select Vestries from across the diocese were invited to focus on winning the next generation for Christ. Bishop David gathered parish leaders so that Jasper Rutherford could share research showing the state of Christian youth ministry in Ireland.

Jasper is a Church Army Captain and European Director of Christ in Youth. He is a passionate evangelist and has been involved in youth ministry within the local Church and with para–church organisations for nearly 20 years. He conducted the research towards the end of the COVID pandemic in 2020.

Before Jasper spoke, Bishop David read Judges 2: 6–15, a passage telling us that the generation after Joshua didn’t follow the Lord and it did not go well for them. He reminded us that each generation is called to pass on the faith to the next, but we are in danger of failing in that task.

Jasper’s findings revealed that the number of employed youth workers in Ireland across all denominations in churches and para–church organisations, falls dramatically short of what’s needed. He also noted that the numbers of youth workers employed in para–church organisations was outstripping those in churches, the place where Christian discipleship is most effective.

Although 77% of employed youth workers in Ireland were working in Ulster, this translated to only 1 church–based youth worker for every 2,821 young people aged 10–24. By another measure a young person in Ulster might have to travel 12 km to find a church–based youth worker. The situation is even more serious in other parts of rural Ireland.

This raises the serious question as to the extent of faith formation for youth in our churches, especially given that 84% of young people in Northern Ireland will choose to follow Jesus before the age of 25 and only 1% will make this decision after 45.

“I believe that on the back of Covid we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to shape the future of youth ministry,” Jasper said. “These are just facts and figures but what are we going to do with them? What is God saying to us in these times? What’s our legacy of faith?”

Even though Down and Dromore is the diocese with the most employed youth workers in Ireland, a number that increased post–Covid, Bishop David also left us with a challenge.

“This is a reality check, and we need to repent because this has happened under our watch, under my watch. However, it’s also an incredible opportunity. For things to change it will take resources, but there are enough out there to do the job that needs to be done.”