By Amanda Wells
Churches around the country can be inspired by an innovative youth programme in Christchurch, says Robyn Burnett, who is the city’s Presbyterian Youth Ministry coordinator.
The 24-7 YouthWork programme, developed by the Spreydon Youth Community of Spreydon Baptist Church, has been embraced by Hornby Presbyterian Community Church. The programme involves youth workers from the church spending 10 hours a week at Hornby High school, to serve its students and staff . Hornby now has three youth workers involved in the programme, and has seen its youth group almost triple in size as a result.
Robyn, who previously worked at Hornby but is now based at St Margaret’s Bishopdale, says the programme helps create a positive culture in school and can make a big diff erence to the church’s youth programme.
She says some of the young people from Hornby High have became involved in Hornby’s youth group, with some progressing to the Going Somewhere leadership and discipleship course.
Robyn is keen for St Margaret’s to get involved and would like to see other churches in Christchurch and around the country pick it up. She attended the August Presbyterian Schools’ conference in the Hawkes Bay with South Island Youth Coordinator Steph Redhead, where some feedback from schools suggested that connecting students with the local church was a key.
Warwick Moffat, youth pastor at Hornby Presbyterian Community Church, says the strength of the programme is that it involves a local partnership
“It’s real strength comes from a local church and local school working together for the benefit of both; we’re all part of the same community.”
He says it means their church now interacts with local young people it would otherwise never meet or see, a signifi cant number of whom become involved with the church.
“We haven’t had to invite people; they’ve just started coming to our youth group.”
Spreydon Baptist had youth workers in three different high schools for a number of years before the programme was given the name 24-7 YouthWork in 2000. In 2003, within the same week, both Hornby High School and Hornby Presbyterian had contacted Spreydon expressing interest, says Warwick. “It just kind of snowballed from there”. The programme is now operating in nine schools in Christchurch and has been started in Auckland. Warwick says the youth workers aren’t at the school to preach, and don’t talk publicly about their faith unless specifi cally asked – they are simply there to serve the school and its young people. But the majority of students and staff are aware that they are Christians from the local church.
For the first four years, Hornby Church had two youth workers involved, but this year a third person has been added. Each spends 10 hours a week at the school, mostly during lunch times, simply hanging out with students and running the odd event, as well as helping in some classes, with the prefects and student council. Th ey have also been involved in extracurricular activities such as coaching sports teams and school productions. In addition to hanging out with the students, the youth workers also spend time with staff .
The youth workers also help out with the church’s youth group, giving an instant “connection” because the youth workers the young people meet at school are also the leaders at youth group. Five years ago, Hornby’s youth group had about 20 people attending, with only a handful from Hornby High whose families went to the church. Now it has up to 60 young people turning up, with about half of these students from Hornby High who have no other connection to the church.
“It is huge for us, and brings a few challenges,” Warwick says, because some of the young people have difficult or troubled backgrounds.
The church’s prayer groups pray for the programme and recently the youth workers have been interviewed during services to better connect them with the congregation.
Warwick says he’d like to enhance the church’s sense of connection to the programme, including perhaps having more of the other youth group leaders spend time down at school.
In order to fund the programme, the school contributes a significant portion of the money required, while some comes from the church, and some from the community. For example, the Christchurch City Council has been and continues to be a strong supporter.