Recent figures reveal that the average Church of England congregation now has just three children attending Sunday services regularly each week. A quarter of our places of worship have no young people at all.
The decline in the numbers of under sixteen year old worshippers is a worrying trend. For as well as being the Church of tomorrow children should be a valued part of the community of faith today. We've witnessed a similar decline in our own parish over the last two decades.
When I came to Oystermouth, two decades ago, we had around twenty young families who came regularly to services and events. Today we have just a handful.
Though we attract more than the average number of young people, like many other Churches we heve been struggling to reach out to the next generation of potential young Christians for a number of years now. So what has happened and how can we respond to this challenge?
It's very evident that our society is changing rapidly. Church is far from the minds of the vast majority of parents and children today. For most people Sunday is now an opportunity to have a lie in; to do odd jobs around the house; to shop and spend time with the family. In Mumbles, the allure of football and rugby, swimming and sailing on Sunday mornings has helped to further secularise almost all of our younger generation.
When I was in my teens, more years ago than I care to remember now, much of my social life was in and around the Church. We had Friday and Sunday evening Youth Club, the Choir and our Sunday afternoon tree planting on the slopes of Kilvey Hill [as part of the Lower Swansea Valley Project]. Going to Church seemed to be a natural part of our coming together and something that many of us looked forward to. Though my generation saw the tail end of the swinging sixties we were quite happy to gather together in a draughty Church Hall, around someone's old cast off stylus record player, taking it in turns to play what we called 'Ping pong' tennis and 'Pool' on a wonky table. The Vicar and an aged Churchwarden opened a tuck shop each evening selling cheap tooth rotting chews and fizzy drinks bought at the local Cash and Carry. During Sunday evening Youth Club we would enjoy the half hour 'God slot', when anything and everything was up for discussion.
Today's young people appear to be much more discerning and sophisticated than my friends and I were half a century ago. They now have 'X-box', 'Facebook', 'Twitter' and a vast array of sporting and leisure activities available to them. Though they have so much and are more secular than their predecessors, recent studies by the Children's Society suggest that they are also among the unhappiest young people in the world.
This is where, I suggest, the Church can play its part. Though the days of open youth clubs, large Sunday Schools and choir stalls full of children might be a thing of the past, what we have to offer is 'community', 'spirituality', and what we dare to call 'life in all its fullness' in Christ.
In response to the problem of attracting young people and families on a Sunday many Churches now offer midweek activities such as 'Messy Church'. We too can fill All Saints' with families for one off services and events, but our calling is to be the Lord's people around the Lord's table, in the Lord's house on the Lord's day.
How we respond to this is something we need to prioritise as a Church. It's also something that we could look at as we work together within the new Mumbles Ministry Area, where we can pool our resources and channel our gifted people to try and turn the tide in our ministry to young people, especially on Sunday mornings.