(CEN) Sorted - meeting them where they are

Friday, 27 August, 2010

The average age of Church of England congregations is 14 years older than the national average. In England 34% of adults (16 and over) have never had a significant connection with any church. Another 31% used to have a connection but don’t any more. The vast proportion of children and teenagers has never had a connection to church. So church needs to connect with them.

Sorted - a fresh expression of church for young people, run by young people - has just received a Bishop's Mission Order, among the first to be granted in the country. Church Army evangelist Captain Andy Milne first launched Sorted in 2004. As a keen skateboarder he got to know the area’s young skaters, many of whom went on to become founder members of the youth church in north Bradford.

Andy says,

It has been good to see a lot of young people come from very different backgrounds to be part of this and I have been privileged to witness young people having experiences of God on a Monday night, come to faith and develop into leaders and disciples.

According to the recently retired Bishop of Bradford, Bishop David James,

Sorted is a bold experiment that has come good. The Church Army has enabled us to create a church out of the people you would least expect to show any interest in Christianity. It has had such an impact at Immanuel College, one of our Church of England Secondary Schools, that there is now an off-shoot at Hanson School, which is a local authority school.

Sorted - graffitiSorted meets on Monday, Tuesday and Friday nights, and sees an average of 130 young people during that time. About 25 to 30 get together for the Monday youth congregation from 7.15 to 9pm. They are very active and help set up the equipment and run the whole thing - including worship, teaching, prayer, and activities in between. The age range is 13 to 20.

On Tuesday night, they meet in a different place and have five different groups with anything up to 35 people there. Each group is led by two young people. Sometimes there is a discussion around a Bible passage and sometimes they work on a fund-raising project but the idea is to try and provide a place where they can talk about their faith and what they can do with that faith. It is more discipleship focused. When they get involved in leadership it really helps their understanding.

If they run it themselves, they really own it and the energy triples,

says Andy.

Fridays involves a short talk for about five minutes and then different activities in the various rooms. There can be 40 or 50 people. What tends to happen is that kids come through their friends or schools to Friday evening sessions because it's very open, accessible to anyone. Then they get to know people and when there is a bit more trust they tend to move into the other two groups.

Sorted - baptismIn June, Bishop David baptised six teenagers from Sorted in the River Wharfe at Ilkley - with an audience of hundreds of sunbathers. The six were then joined by five others to be confirmed and receive communion by the riverside.

Andy Milne adds,

Fewer people than ever before have any meaningful links with the church and its culture so we're meeting people where they are at rather than expecting them to come to church. Sorted helps break down some barriers and the young people can see that we are really concerned about them and the issues they face. We're building a Christian community and family for those who have difficult families at home. We find that the young people often have an experience of God before they follow him. Rather than a gradual intellectual process, they often have an encounter with God and begin to make sense of it later.

We are in the process of setting up Sorted 2 about a mile-and-a-half up the road because we realised that about 80% of those in Sorted 1 were from the same school of around 1200 pupils. The second school in the area is the sixth largest secondary in the country with about 1800 students but it is currently being extended so will be even bigger. It is multicultural and multiracial.

We now see about 30 young people every week in Sorted 2.

Sorted is not the only model for a youth congregation. There are a whole variety of others. But Sorted embodies a vital principle – meeting young people where they are, and then creating church through the relationships made, and the opportunities opened up by the Holy Spirit.

Bishop David says,

It isn't about doing something trendy or relevant - it is about loving in Christ's name.