The truth of the matter: build wells
Anna Walker and Rihanna Cracknell explore some common myths around attracting and keeping young people in our churches.
A Welsh cattle farmer couldn’t comprehend how an Australian cattle farmer – with a vastly larger farm – could have time to continually mend his fences as he did. The Australian farmer responded: “I don’t. I build wells, not fences”.
Sometimes it’s easy to ‘fence’ people into our pre-conceived ideas and schedules. There can be a fear in church around how we keep what we have – particularly young people. However, if we are confident in the truth of the gospel and the good news it brings, as a community of Christians we can focus on building ‘wells’: places where people find the true living water, as well as a community based on love, joy, and welcome.
I had a conversation with Rhianna Cracknell, one of this year’s Growing Young Leaders, about some of the ways young people are searching for truth in their lives and how the church might build ‘wells’ for them to experience the truth of God.
What element of truth do you think young people are looking for in their lives?
“I think young people are looking for who they are going to be, trying to find out who they want to be, or who they really are. They are willing to experiment to find out what fulfils them, what makes them happy, where they feel comfortable and to find a place that is for them. In general, not just in a church sense, young people are looking for a place they can belong.
“As a young person, I want to find a space where I feel part of a group, part of a community. School and church are very different environments. When I come to my youth group on Sundays it’s nice that they get a fundamental part of you, I don’t have to justify my beliefs, it’s normal and we don’t have to talk about it, we can talk about other things we have in common or play games and discuss.”
So young people are searching for identity and a place of belonging. Is there an appetite among young people for looking for something spiritual?
“I think there is. An atheist friend has recently been reading the Bible. She is finding it comforting in a way she has never found before and I think this offers a different aspect for some young people who are actually looking for something fulfilling.”
What ‘truth’ do you think you find particularly through church?
“I think that within church you are part of something bigger than yourself: a greater plan. But then, within yourself, through your experiences and the people in your life – family and friends – you find something that contributes to the whole. It becomes about helping the people around you, connecting with the other people in church to create a different kind of community that’s not focused around you as individuals but around the worship of God.”
What do you enjoy as part of your faith experience and expression of faith?
“I really like encountering God reflectively because it feels personal and very immediate and doing that with other people is a great experience of sharing something. Sharing rituals as family is also good as it brings us together as well as closer to God.
“Worshipping in a larger group is often considered more exciting and culturally expected of young people. It can be a great way to connect and make friends with other young Christians who are possibly in similar situations to you, but sometimes you just want to do different things based on circumstances or how you are feeling. I try and do a lot of praying as I go around my day because I feel that it makes my faith very personal and that God is actively involved in my life.”
How can Christians best journey alongside young people and disciple them in faith?
“All young people are different which is why it’s hard to base church worship and experiences specifically on one aspect. Variety allows people to learn from different experiences. One person could be put off by reading but then they could find going outside and praying in nature really meaningful.
“I guess the most important thing is just talking to young people personally, one-to-one because it does really help to get to know someone. If they take you seriously and actively engage in a conversation with you, it makes you feel like you’re really wanted there within that community. If people feel valued and valid, they feel more inclined to stay.”
What does ‘truth’ in the church context really mean?
“It’s about being authentic and entirely honest about what you are trying to represent. Perspectives will differ, you can see that throughout the wider church; there is so much diversity in ideas and belief throughout all Christian denominations. The way individuals approach the world is unique but if you come with a sense of questioning and wondering as to where ideas and perspectives come from rather than just dismissing them, it helps you develop your own belief and understand why you think the things you do.”
The well is not the source itself, but how the living water can be reached. As churches it’s important to recognise young people’s faith as real, providing them with the freedom, space and permission to ask questions, lavishing authentic and unconditional love, and welcoming them with a sense of belonging – all signposts to the truth of God.
If we truly believe in the truth of the gospel and can build a church based on these things, then even as young people stray to the farthest limits seeking for truth and identity, rather than finding themselves constrained by fences, they will be drawn back by the water. Are you building wells or fences?
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