With the scary truth out there that only around 3% of young people in Cornwall regularly attend an Anglican church in Cornwall, Jac Smith who joined our communications team earlier this year, asks why.

The answer isn’t too hard to work out. In most Anglican churches across our county the services are beautiful, poignant and rooted in love. But to the young, they are mostly unfathomable with rituals, words and music that excludes them. At best they are endured, at worst they are inaccessible and irrelevant.

Do we have to have ‘Jesus is my boyfriend’ type music?

So, what’s to be done? Undeniably, young people respond in their droves to churches that offer the sort of worship indistinguishable in beat, passion and loudness to what most of us can only imagine is on offer in a club. With songs that joyfully proclaim, “I am alive on God’s great dance floor” or, as one vicar affectionately said, ‘Jesus is my boyfriend’ type songs, the gap between what most of our Cornish churches are offering and what young people are looking for seems insurmountable. And that’s just the worship.

Why should we change what we love to do?

Does it matter? Can’t they all go to one of the other churches in Cornwall? Why should we change what we love to do? Probably the best response is to look to Jesus who was always confounding his Disciples by spending time in places and with people they thought unsuitable. That’s because He didn’t come for those who already know Him, he came for those who don’t. And with only 3% of young people going to church in Cornwall, that’s a lot of don’ts!

As Revd Tony Stephens says, “Change has to come from within each and every one us, in our hearts, before strategies, plans and outward change can happen. And if we’re not doing it with God, then we’ll be like those clashing cymbals that nobody wants to listen to.”

Before Tony took up the post of Rector of the Callington Cluster, he was a pioneer minister in Weymouth. Involved in street pastoring, healing ministries and outreach, the push and pull of his faith and reliance on the Holy Spirit has shaped the way he approaches his ministry in Callington.

With five churches in his cluster, change has been lovingly brought about that has created a unique identity for each church, ranging from traditional to a hub for Bethel’s Sozo Ministry and a Friday night drop-in for young people called “Your Space.” Recognising there are multiple touch-points with families, they have just taken on Amy, a Families Leader, to build and grow the ministry both inside and outside of the churches walls.

The fruits of working with youth

Likewise in Illogan. Revd Steve Robinson sat bolt upright one day when an email pinged in offering trainees from the South West Youth Ministry team (SWYM). “Until they arrived, I was probably among the youngest of our congregations across our three churches! The demographic is now changing because of their provision. It has meant that we have children’s groups on Sundays, giving young parents the space and opportunity to stay in church and hear God’s word.”

In St Keverne, Reader Nina Batley felt God press young people on her heart. So, 14 years ago she began SKYP, a Friday night youth club. The team decided that there wouldn’t be a ‘God-slot’ but made no secret of the fact that the club was run by St Keverne Parish Church. Word spread and young people came. Supported by a network of prayer, the team then asked if anyone wanted to explore Youth Alpha. Some did, a different evening was set aside and when the course finished the young people wanted more. So, a Christian youth group was formed called SKY. The cycle was repeated and another group formed. And so it goes on, growing, evolving and fulfilling a hunger in young people that they didn’t know they had.

Four years ago, Nina was joined by Mike, a SWYM worker and answer to prayer. Mike worked alongside Nina and last year was appointed as a Youth Minister for St Keverne Parish and to work wider in the benefice and continues to build on Nina’s work, which includes a strong connection to TRIBE, another youth group run by the Menage Methodist Church and Fusion, an ecumenical monthly worship evening for young people. It’s a bold step of faith for the church which is growing the Kingdom but hasn’t changed the demographic of the church. Does that matter?

In St Mawes, Revd Arwen and the parish are doing fabulous work running a youth club with numbers growing weekly to almost 30, again fulfilling a community need. So much so, the community is blessing them richly with amazing resources and spaces for the young people to enjoy. And in Tregony, Revd Emma runs an afterschool club on a Friday that sees older members of the congregation mixing it up with the X-Box, Minecraft generation.

So long as young people are hearing God’s word does it matter that they don’t go to church?

So, if young people are hearing and responding to God’s word then surely it doesn’t matter if it’s in a youth club, school or even on the bus that the team in Menage and St Keverne are currently renovating to get to the harder to reach young people. God is good at meeting all of us where we are and defined the model of ‘going’ rather than sitting and waiting with his Disciples.

But, wouldn’t it also be Kingdom-like if all of us, no matter our age or preferred way of expressing our faith, knew that there was a place we could go to share, worship and be in His presence together, all at the same time?

In some parts of Cornwall that happens throughout the week, including Sundays, in the ancient Church of England buildings that have been prayed in and over for centuries. Young and old do get together, some dance on God’s Great Dance Floor, some do dad-dancing and others gently tap their toes. In others, prayer for younger people is fervent and provision is given, but not on a Sunday and not within the church. Again, does that matter?

Another question. What will happen to all those prayerful buildings when the music stops and the last of the dwindling congregation goes home to God?

Jac is a Christian, writer, mother of four young adults and passionate to share what God is doing in Cornwall. If you have a story, or a comment on the above, please do get in touch here