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Is church tradition an obstacle to growing young disciples?

How many young people aged 11 or older attend your main worship service on Sunday morning? Zero? One or two? Five? More than 10? Over 20!? For most parish churches in the Church of England, hands would go up for the first options, and quickly come down for the rest. This reality is even starker for churches from more traditional, liturgical, or sacramental backgrounds.

Across the board, church decline is faster amongst under 16s than any other generation, but where there are churches with larger numbers of young people, 71% of these are within evangelical settings, with only 10% coming from the sacramental tradition. The spread of young people in churches is diminishing too, with 6% of churches accounting for 44% of all 0-16s who attend church. With these statistics we might want to ask, can young people only encounter the love of God in Christ within one particular tradition or is there a need to resource youth ministry more broadly too?

Youth Ministry in Communion (YMIC) seeks to respond to precisely this need. YMIC began in Easter 2021 as a cross-parish youth network in Kensington Area, London, pioneering collaborative sacramental youth ministry. Since then, it has grown and developed, becoming a pilot project to test ideas for sacramental youth mission and ministry, with the aim of sharing learning and practice across the Church of England. So, here are some of the things we’ve learned so far:


The Church is supposed to be collaborative, but we can often become too obsessed with our own patch and projects. Collaborating in youth ministry has been key to YMIC’s development because we could pool resources: finances, ideas, human resources, equipment, venues etc. Crucially, this meant we could put on attractive youth events that gained a critical mass. Creating spaces where young people could see they’re not the only under 18s in church and openly explore faith with those at the same stage of life has been central to YMIC’s growth. 


Working together to facilitate these engaging events for young people has correspondingly given confidence to each local partner parish church that it is possible to offer good youth provision in a way that is authentic to its own tradition. As St Thomas’ discovered, seeing is believing and these gathered events have built confidence for youth work at the local, parish, level. One of our partner parishes, for instance, having previously had no existing youth work during the week or on Sunday, has since developed detached work with a (non-church) secondary school in their parish, and now see up to 50 attend weekly drop-in youth sessions at the church. Building this confidence amongst churches where youth work has often been limited or non-existent, reminds us that young people don’t have to go elsewhere to discover God’s transforming love!


But this isn’t about churches backing themselves into a corner and rigidly insisting on the ‘rightness’ of their own tradition and spirituality. The Church flourishes when we learn from one another– when the Body recognises the gifts of each member. Simply put, YMIC is not about being partisan but learning from what works well elsewhere, whilst still trusting that the distinctiveness of its own tradition can be a gift to young people too. This has meant learning about the benefits of putting on attractive, invitational youth events– all of which wouldn’t be possible without collaboration and suitable resources. Yet the worship remains distinctive and authentic to the tradition of the partner parishes, feeding from rather than detaching from church on Sunday.

At our last event at St Mary’s Putney, we joined with over 80 young people to share Holy Communion together.

All of this requires an ongoing willingness to try things, a willingness to make mistakes and learn from them. YMIC is far from being a finished project or having established the working model for sacramental youth ministry. But we have found that regardless of church tradition, when youth ministry is properly prioritised and resourced, local churches can be places where young hearts are set on fire with love for God.

This article was printed in Multiply 2024: The Manual, a publication that accompanied the programme of Multiply 2024, which explored multiplying a younger church. You can find related content below.