What does ‘Growing the church younger’ look like in our diocese?

Published on: 27th June 2024

St George's Pontesbury in the village

Growing younger is a key goal for the Church of England, and the diocese too, but what does it mean in practice, particularly with teenagers? Many parishes regularly seek to welcome families with young children, like St George's, Pontesbury, which offers Children's Church, Tiny Tots and Little Dragons groups. But older children and teens can be harder to engage with. For Joe Barnes, a new youth worker in Pontesbury deanery, it means working with young people with little to no religious experience, often from difficult home backgrounds, who, he says, “ask tough questions”. Recently one child wanted to know why a loving God could have let his father die. “They’re all good questions,” Joe continues.“What these young people need is to be listened to and to hear about Jesus’ love in return. My answer starts with building a rapport with the young people then answering their questions openly, from a Christian point of view, inviting them to think about Jesus and a God who knows suffering first-hand.”


As part of his role, Joe mentors students on a one-to-one basis and leads RE and assemblies in Mary Webb Secondary School & Science College in Pontesbury, which serves much of the Rea Valley community south of Shrewsbury. The school appreciates the additional support, and he’s building on work done by the diocesan Intergenerational team led by Lizzie Hackney, and on work by Shrewsbury Youth for Christ. Deputy Head, Sarah Pugh, said, "Youth workers are indispensable to us as a school. They are a highly valued part of our school." One year 8 student reflected on mentoring, saying, "It has stopped me getting anxiety as bad," and another said, "It is fun because you work on stuff that you're not confident in. Now I have found my confidence increasing."

Many of the children Joe mentors have issues with schoolwork and mental health difficulties. “It’s a lot of pastoral goal-setting, working on focus and identity, with a ‘light touch” on Christianity. But at our after-school Youth Cafes in Pontesbury and nearby Minsterley, we have more of a focus on spiritual development, but again through asking and answering questions, and talking about what we believe, how Jesus shows us the way. It’s working, I can see God re-building his church, through these young people who come to it with completely fresh eyes. I’m excited to see what will happen, it’s in God’s hands, all he asks is for us to be willing. ”


While much of the youth work in the diocese takes place outside of traditional worship spaces – in schools and youth groups – Joe is based out of St George’s church in Pontesbury, and he’s excited that the young people themselves are talking about having a special youth service for the wider area in the church itself. Revd Greg Smith is Rector at the church and Rural Dean in Pontesbury Deanery: “The funding for Joe’s post has been achieved through the commitment of St George’s, which inspired generous financial support from Hereford Diocese over three years through its Strategic Mission Fund, a grant of £10,000 from Pontesbury Parish Council, plus a major commitment from Shrewsbury Youth for Christ. It’s recognition both of the Church’s ability to deliver, and of the dearth of youth work being undertaken locally.


“Joe’s value has already been proven, in taking the lead for the youth café in Minsterley which has been successfully running for two years, attracting 30-40 different young people over that time and engaging them in deep conversations about faith and many other issues of great concern. At the same time, he has succeeded in getting a youth café off the ground in Pontesbury, with 7 volunteers drawn from 4 different churches. That youth café regularly attracts 10 or 11 young people after schooll.”


Revd Greg concludes, “Our clear sense that God is at work in all this has been reinforced by the diocese's new youth hub being set up in Bishop’s Castle. We see so much potential for synergy, with youth workers able to network and encourage each other; a sharing of resources and ideas; and the prospect of launching a regular opportunity for young people to worship together.”


The Strategic Mission Fund was initiated by the Bishop’s Council which released historic assets to raise funds to support the delivery of the Diocesan Strategy for Mission and Growth, of which growing younger and growing disciples is a major part. Find out more here or for a conversation about project ideas, contact Programme Manager David Morris by email.



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