Building an effective youth ministry in a diverse church

The Youth Ministry Team from St John's Parramatta are encouraging youth from all backgrounds to put their faith in Jesus

The Youth Ministry Team from St John's Parramatta are encouraging youth from all backgrounds to put their faith in Jesus

Each week Youthworks Ministry Support team visits churches across the Diocese to encourage and equip teams of leaders as they minister to young people. Last year I had the privilege of visiting the youth ministry team at St John’s Anglican Cathedral Parramatta, led by the Rev Ronaldo Sanchez, who are committed to building an effective and inclusive youth community in their diverse church.  

From the moment I walked in, I was struck by this unique youth group. It gave me a glimpse of the future when Christians from every nation, tribe, people and language will stand joyfully before King Jesus (Revelation 7:9). This multicultural group is led by a team of passionate and capable leaders who want to see young people grow individually in their faith and as the family of God.

Ronaldo kindly sat down with me to share how the St John’s team tailor their ministry to encourage young people from Parramatta in the gospel:

Can you describe your youth ministry?

Engage at St John's is a youth congregation made up of 40 teenagers from school Years 6-12.  We have the globe well-represented, with youth from Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and the Sub-Continent attending each week.  Many of our teenagers were born overseas and arrived in Australia as young children.  Each Sunday we meet for our youth service at the same time as the family service, and after a quick morning tea, we have four growth groups that meet on site. 

What are the joys a multicultural youth ministry?

The leaders are excited about seeing our youth steadily grow into a community of all nations worshipping the Lord Jesus.  Our youth are constantly working out what is traditional and cultural versus what is about Jesus and the gospel.

Each Sunday I watch a group of girls, who have little in common by way of friendship groups and interests, form bonds around Jesus and their life at St John's. And it is so exciting when a teenage boy meets with a leader to discuss how he can share Jesus with his cousin who has just arrived from mainland China.

Overall, it is exciting when we have the awareness and courage to use our unique situation for the advancement of the Kingdom.

What are the challenges?

Our youth face many of the same challenges as their peers from other areas of Sydney when forging a Christian identity in 21st century Australia, as they are exposed to the same temptations.

However, one of our unique challenges stems from the cultural background of parents. Many of our youth have migrant parents who have endured poverty and hardship. Understandably, these parents want their children to embrace the richness and freedoms Australia enjoys, encouraging hard work and discipline in their studies. Therefore many of our youth have deep anxiety about achievement and marks, believing they lead to security and satisfaction.  This also results in our young people coming to Engage, but not participating, because their minds are stuck on studies.  By the grace of God, we ask that He gives a bigger and more exciting vision to teenage life!

What are you and the youth team working on as you disciple this diverse group?

This year Marc Safari, our MTS trainee, and I have simplified and clarified the roles of the leaders to aid us as we disciple our youth.  Our key focuses are youth participation, one-to-one discipleship, parental engagement and youth reflection.

We want to lead growth groups that encourage participation and active discipleship learning. So many of our youth are used to rote learning so they want the ‘right’ theoretical answers. We believe that discovery, peer to peer learning, participation, reflection, and fun leads to much stronger discipleship.  

I have encouraged the leaders to build relationships with our youth based on trust and kindness. This is in the hope of uncovering the issues that affect their faith and obedience to Jesus. We have found that the 15 minutes straight after growth group are an ideal time to have these chats.  

Parental engagement is a key focus area we have introduced this year. We are one of the few youth congregations where our meeting coincides with their parents', and until this year we foolishly never considered to interact! So we now join with the family service for morning tea in a bid to partner with them.

At the end of every teaching series we have implemented a youth-led week where they perform or present something that symbolises what they have learnt and been impacted by as a way to reflect. It could be through a rap, video, photo exhibition, recital, drama. We don't want passive passengers but active participants.  

What do you to thank God for?

We are thankful for Youthworks and their encouragement to build a congregation of disciples, not just to seek to execute a great youth program. 

We are also thankful for the fruit the Spirit has produced. We are soon to baptise a new believer and at the end of the year prepare our youth for confirmation. We are thankful the youth have opened up on the significant issues in their life and seek to bring themselves under the Lordship of Jesus.  

Please join Youthworks in praying for Ronaldo and the team at St John’s Cathedral Parramatta as they partner with parents to disciple this wonderful community of young people to love, cherish and boldly follow Jesus.