My name is Sam. I am 16 years old, and live in Portsmouth. As a child, I went to a church in Southsea with my family. By the time I was ten, we had about 15 regulars in our youth group. When I was 15, one of my closest mates and I saw that a new HTB church-plant [Habour Church] was opening in Portsmouth. We decided to give it a go, and instantly loved it. Now, a year and a half later, we are regulars at the six o’clock service, helping to run Alpha with older youth (aged 14 to 18), inviting our friends to church, and, most importantly, growing in our faith.
My attitude towards going to church did change in my teenage years. My parents wanted it to be my decision to go to church, talk about faith to others, and be a Christian. If it had been forced on me, it would have had no meaning. I think it would have dissuaded me from faith. As I got older, it was less a case of going to church because my family was going, but, rather, going to church for myself.
During my early teenage years, some of my peers drifted from church, but we were lucky to have great youth leaders who ran lots of events that kept us engaged. This included a youth weekend away, and even a missionary trip, with other churches around Portsmouth, to Ghana, to renovate a school. I found that some of my friends came less on Sundays, but having events ensured they kept plugged in.
Since Harbour Church opened in 2016 (News, 2 September 2016), there has been a huge increase in the number of young people and students attending. It’s the perfect place to invite your friends: a cool place, with similar people the same age, rather than an old, dusty building of rituals. It’s relaxed, chilled, and real. When you arrive, there’s always a big team on hand to welcome you, and an array of cakes, cookies, Cokes, darts, table tennis, and pool. It’s a great place for your friends to meet new people, start conversations, and realise that Christian people are normal, just like everyone else. What we have is the Holy Spirit living in us, and a desire for that to be the same for those we love.
Something that has really drawn my friends and me to get to know our leaders is how similar they are to us, and how they have a real passion for our lives and our friends who’ve never been to church before. Groups are a great way to get young people to church who’ve never been before. Our football team is in a league that was set up by the charity Spirit in Sport. Most people who come aren’t Christians, but they play with us Christians, and are inquisitive about that. They’re meeting members of the team, seeing that they’re super friendly and relatable, and then they’re more likely to want to come see what it is this group of five lads gets up to on a Sunday night.
This was the case for a friend I’ve known since I was four, who’d rarely been to church. He came to our Monday-night football group, and then, three months ago, came to his first service. He really enjoyed it, and is now coming every week to our older youth meeting on Sunday night, doing youth Alpha with us next term. He even brought six of his friends to our bonfire-night service. It’s obviously really hard for people my age to invite their mates to church, or even talk about it — well, it was for me. But, by prayer and trusting in God’s plan, I’ve seen him working in amazing ways in my friend’s life. This is one of the reasons I go to church.
If you want people my age to come to church, you’ve got to be passionate. I think it’s important that churches know that lots of young people are very curious about God — more so than you’d think; but, for a lot of people, it’s the stereotype of church that ruins it. The biggest misconception among young people is that, by being a Christian, you’re wishing your life away to a boring time. We know it’s the opposite. It’s also important to show that you can simply come as you are. Jesus spoke to the most frowned-upon people in society; he still loved them, and we’re all the same.
The advice I’d give to a parent whose teenager no longer goes to church is, first, to pray for them. Second, don’t force them to go to church: they’re more likely not to want to come. It’s also important that they have good role-models in their life who they can look up to. Also, don’t make them go to the same church as you, if they don’t wish to. If there’s a more youth-based or student kind of church in their area, that might be more effective for their faith; so perhaps encourage them to check it out.
Clearly, it’s very hard for us really to know the answers, and, in Portsmouth, we’re lucky enough to be blessed with many churches that cater for all kinds of people. But, through prayer and petition, God will work in your teenager’s life.