What does youth ministry look like in a Chinese context?

China (MNN) — Youth ministry does not always mean the same thing in context or by continent.

For example, in African cultures, young people can be up to 30 years old. In China, “Youth ministry to them is really more anything between 20 and 50 (years old),” explains Erik Burklin, President of China Partner. That’s a far cry from the North American understanding of youth ministry which spans the middle school through early college years (11-21 years old).

However, a recent study revealed two things. One, Burklin says, is the depression rate in China. Suicide is rampant. “Young people are feeling alone. The One Child Policy has led to some of that. Young people feel under tremendous pressure to perform, specifically in their educational system.” The second thing revealed in the study is that it’s not as hard to reach them as previously believed. “I think young people are the same, no matter if they’re in China or if they’re in the United States. Young people like to listen to the same kind of music, they like to be cool, they like to be accepted by friends, they experience peer pressure.”

However, “We were kind of surprised that there was very little specific youth ministry (the way we understand it) happening in their churches. We felt like maybe China Partner could do something to maybe encourage that process, give them tools and some tips on how they can do youth ministry, specifically, for teenagers.”

Young people not only have questions about God but want to know God. But Burklin says most of the churches they partner with are traditional in worship. That has its own drawback. “When we ask them, ‘Why don’t you like to go to church,’ they say, ‘Church is kind of boring. My grandmother goes there, and all the old people go there, but there’s nothing for me.'”

(Photo courtesy China Partner)

(Photo courtesy China Partner)

This is precisely why China Partner launched YouthServe in 2013, a training ministry to young pastors in China who have a burden to reach the next generation for Jesus Christ. Burklin says pastors and Christian leaders have invited their team in to train church leaders in China how to do youth ministry. “We do a whole module on what a good small group ministry, or a cell group ministry, can look like. That’s the first stepping stone that we’re right now using.”

Worship is another area to address. Music is an age-old point of conflict in churches. However, China Partner is encouraging church leaders to figure out what is going on in the youth culture today and start speaking the language. “We sense already there that churches could do a lot right now just changing their format of worship to attract young people,” Burklin explains. “Rather than ignoring, embrace what’s happening in their society and doing something very creative. Intrigue these young people to say, ‘Yeah, I want to hear more about God because this church is kind of cool, and what they do is different.'”

Over the last couple of years, focusing on YouthServe has turned into an awesome opportunity to see many more young people experience a personal relationship with Jesus. What’s next? “We would love to help them create good youth camps. English camps, for instance, are already happening. We were thinking maybe we can do these kinds of youth camps in a church setting, where young people–even unbelievers–can come to a place and not only have fun with other kids but then hear the Gospel.”

(Photo courtesy China Partner)

(Photo courtesy China Partner)

As noted earlier, YouthServe is a new branch of China Partner’s outreach. This type of training will enable the churches to reach more young people with the life-changing message of Jesus, giving them new hope, direction, and purpose for their lives and future. But it’s not without its challenges, says Burklin.

“Pray for wisdom as we are creating this youth ministry model on the fly. We do know that young people need to be reached with the Gospel, and we do know that young people are crying out for meaning in life. We have an obligation to help and partner with church leadership to help them see that same need.”

Ask God to give wisdom to China Partner as they continue to develop this important and strategic ministry.