Flexibility, Creativity, Empowerment, Dreams : Legacy
In January of 2001 St George’s (New Thundersley) were approached by Bar’n’Bus (the local para-church outreach project) about the possibility of acting as the supporting church for an outreach mission to be held in the local comprehensive school, The Appleton School. After much prayer and discussion the decision was taken to agree to support the mission including establishing a youth work, based on the existing small group of youngsters meeting weekly in the vicarage, but with a more formal identity. Thus, Legacy was born.
There has been much debate over the last few years about the validity of Youth Churches and Youth Congregations and it is no accident that we have settled on the latter as a description of Legacy. There is only one church and it belongs to Jesus consisting of every Christian community throughout the world. However, each of these individual communities will reflect the wider secular community in which it is located in terms of culture and styles of teaching and worship.
A Youth Congregation is nothing more than the recognition that young people within such a wider community represent just this, a distinct social grouping within society. It does not mean that young people are separated from the rest of the Christian church it just means that for some of the time they meet together just as any other special interest group within the church would do. Legacy remains firmly a part of the family of St. George’s and always will! For more information on this issue we would recommend the Grove booklet EV57 “Youth Congregations and the Emerging Church“ by the Bishop of Maidstone (Graham Cray) who is also Chairman of Soul Survivor.
Within three years the Legacy Youth Congregation has grown to about 40 consisting of teenagers and those in the early to mid-twenties. One of the most exciting things about the group is that the majority of the young people are from non-church backgrounds with no family members attending a local church on a regular basis. Two ladies have come to faith as a direct result of their son’s committing their lives to Christ and many other families have been impacted by the gospel.
In the summer of 2003 several of the young people from the youth congregation volunteered to work at the New Wine summer conference in the children’s work. All four of the lads were age 16 and all were profoundly challenged by the experience. Whilst praying together during the following week’s Soul Survivor festival they sensed a clear call from God to initiate a work among children younger than themselves and as a result Legacy Jnr was born.
Launched in October 2003 it has proved to be an immediate and overwhelming success. Aimed at 10 – 13 year olds the goal of the team working with these children is to help bridge the gap between Primary and Secondary school as well as introducing them to the activities of Legacy which are primarily focussed on the 13+ age group.
Legacy Jnr has proved to be very popular and now has well over 40 children on the books with over 40 regularly attending each week. The children participate in team games, arts and crafts, use electronic games consoles and have access to a tuck shop. During the summer a weekend camp is planned and all of these activities take place in the context of teams in order to build the children’s sense of belonging as well as promoting discipline in a fun environment. Supported by a team of adult “supervisors” the group meets from 6:15 to 7:45 every Tuesday in St George’s Hall, Rushbottom Lane, Benfleet. We would hope to develop a second Legacy Jnr in partnership with a neighbouring Parish by the end of 2004.
Launched in January of 2004 is the next stage in our outreach to the young people of the local community. Recognising the success of the Legacy Youth Congregation we also acknowledge that there is a need to provide an additional vehicle for building friendships with young people in an environment where they do not feel we are imposing any ideas about our faith on them. The intention is to provide youngsters with a safe place to go where we can focus on building good supportive relationships with them. During the construction period of the XS Centre the café will be based at St George’s church hall and will be part of the development of the fully functioning youth centre once building work is complete behind Richmond Hall.
The café is a monthly Saturday night venue (operating 19:00 – 23:00) for young people aged 13+ to come together with members of the existing Youth Congregation who will take responsibility for different aspects of the events running through the evening supported by adults from St George’s. It is a relaxed atmosphere with games stations, dance mats, video wall, pool tables and chill-out area. In addition it will also serves as a venue for local young DJs and bands to try out their skills during the early part of the evening with the music winding down to a chilled vibe towards the end. A coffee bar serving cappuccinos, hot chocolate cold drinks runs throughout the evening.
It is anticipated that the café will transfer to the Legacy XS centre on its completion but up to then will operate on the first Saturday of each month (Jan 31, Mar 6, Apr 3, May 1, June 5, July 10) between 19:00 and 23:00. Staff are be divided into teams which oversee various aspects of the evening and consist of young people as well as adult volunteers from St George’s. Teams include a Coordination team, Coffee bar team, Entertainment team, Design team, Security team, and Relational team.
Our vision is to build on the success of the existing Legacy Youth Congregation through a new Youth Centre to be constructed in Benfleet. Focussed on a specific people group, in this case primarily though not exclusively young people in or on the edge of the skater/BMX community, the Centre will be called Legacy XS and will incorporate a drop-in café and skatepark to be open 7 days a week. Acting as the base for the Legacy Youth Congregation it will help facilitate the elements of any healthy community becoming a focal point for the social and worshipping life of the youth community in Benfleet. On Sunday evenings the centre will be a venue for evangelistic focussed gatherings incorporating creative worship sessions and including the Legacy worship band.
The key aims of the project are to meet the Physical, Emotional and Spiritual needs of the young people of the community. We will seek to achieve these goals through a purpose built centre to be called Legacy XS. Our approach will be a holistic one meeting needs either directly, through services and facilities provided at the Centre, or by acting as a network enabler between a variety of agencies including schools, social services, police and the local authority. Throughout the project the focus will be upon building a sense of community using leisure activities as the catalyst for deeper involvement and the development of this sense of belonging and inclusion.
The land on which the 8,500sqft centre will be built is a quarter of an acre site within Richmond Park to the rear of the existing community hall. The purpose built centre is to cost approximately £300,000. On the ground floor will be the main office, a quiet room for counselling together with the toilet facilities. The first floor will house the coffee bar, stage area with DJ booth and PCs which will be available for homework support. The remaining two thirds of the space which will be on a single level will house the Park area which will consist of ramps for skateboarding, in-line skating and BMX riding.
More detailed information about the XS project is available and would be delighted to have an opportunity to discuss this exciting vision with you and your home church so that you can decide how you might get involved.
How does it work?
By now you may well be wondering how this all works. Well the first thing to say is that, as a church, St George’s probably doesn’t have many more resources than lots of other churches in the Hadleigh Deanery. We are not a “wealthy” church financially and though we do have a good number of outward looking, enthusiastic and committed people we are not a group of “experts” in the field of Youth work. Secondly, St George’s is not a particularly “young” church in terms of age profile. We do have a number of families but it is probably fair to say that the majority of people are into middle age and older.
It perhaps goes without saying that the main reason why we appear to be having some success among young people is our dependence upon God through being empowered by the Holy Spirit. We have tried hard not to get bogged down in programmes but, rather, have looked for ways of being creative. For example, when we launched Legacy we envisaged a “youth service” with which the youngsters could engage. Within a few weeks it became apparent that this model was not going to work so we reverted to a much more relational approach until the group were ready to engage in more recognisable forms of worship and prayer.
In developing a youth work (almost) from scratch these are probably some of the keys;
Flexibility – The willingness to try new ideas and adapt quickly to changing circumstances.
Creativity – To develop new and experimental forms of communication and engaging with the gospel, worship and prayer. We try to be brave and keep looking for new ideas to try out. You must be aware from day one that what grows among the young people as their expression of church will almost certainly look very little like yours!
Empowerment – Absolutely vital is giving authority and decision making to the young people involved. Doing it all for them is the quickest way to disaster. As quickly as the Spirit reveals them to you start investing in the key “leaders” and empower them to lead. Listen to them and spend time with them.
Safety – As leaders our responsibility is to ensure a safe environment in which young people can develop patterns of church that connect with their culture. We are there to provide a framework in which such developments can safely flourish.
Continuity – We are not here to re-invent the church. Established and even rediscovered aspects of the church’s rich heritage can be enormously helpful in making connections between congregations which may seem very different but at whose heart is the worship of Jesus as Lord and Saviour. The Eucharist forms a vital connection to the rest of the church family and ensures that the central focus of the community is never lost in a sea of projects, creative ideas and initiatives.
Patience – The model of “belong, believe and behave” is absolutely central to all of this. Among the youngsters who are part of Legacy are those who have made a commitment to Christ, those who are on their way to doing so and some who (at present) have no idea what that means at all! But they all belong. No-one is set on a pedestal as being further advanced than any others and, sometimes, you would be hard pressed to spot which category a particular young person falls into. This is because changing behaviour as a result of a walk of faith is also a work of Grace that needs time to be nurtured and to develop.
Dreams – It is vital that as the church we dream big dreams. We have too often adopted a “hold the fort for I am coming” attitude rather than believing that God can transform a community or people group through his Spirit and through his people here and now. We must open our minds to the dreams that God wants to give us. He wants us to dream His dream of a community where His Kingdom comes and His will is done on earth as it is in heaven.
There is probably much more that could be said about growing a work such as Legacy and we would not claim to have all the answers. There will also be much that has been missed out of such a brief summary of what is proving to be such an exciting adventure. Our encouragement would be to pray and to listen for what God is saying, for what He is telling you to do.