Imaginative Hope for our Youth

We’re hemorrhaging youth from our churches. The kids are missing. Millennials (roughly defined as those who reached adulthood near the turn of the millennium) made news for high attrition. They were mostly raised in church, and mostly left church as they got older. But their successors, Generation Z aren’t leaving; they’ve never been to Sunday school at all.


“It’s a crisis,” says CBWC Children & Families Ministry Coordinator Sherry Bennett. “The majority of Canada’s Generation Z has zero church experience. They have no memories of Sunday school.”



The Canadian Baptists Youth & Family Team, made up of representatives from all the Canadian Baptist denominations, wanted to find out what was happening with the kids. They put heads together for a few days last year to identify obstacles and opportunities in ministering to 10-18 year olds. Their findings are compiled in a report called Imaginative Hope.


They identified seven obstacles to youth engagement with the church.

  1. We, as Canadian Baptists, have neglected our own spiritual health and wellness. Youth and children are looking for substantial, transformative faith. A separate research report, Hemorrhaging Faith that was part of the instigation for CBYFT’s strategy, lamented “that too many youth ministries were ‘holding tanks with pizza,’ even though youth desired a faith that transformed their lives and the world.”
  2. Church structures are resistant to change, which discourages young leaders. “The pace of change is faster than the pace of learning,” Dr. Gary Nelson says. (Dr. Nelson is President of Tyndale University and acted as a key facilitator at the CBYFT summit)
  3. We have not engaged well in the significant issues of our time. I overheard a quip from a well-respected leader the other day who said “I’ll say the same thing about same-sex relationships that Jesus did: nothing.” Witty, but ultimately a cop-out. This approach does not cut it with Generation Z. “Our failure to address these significant issues well has led the younger generation to conclude we are ignorant, apathetic or judgmental,” Imaginative Hope says. The team zeroed in on three key areas that our youth want to engage with: sexual identity, mental health, and the treatment of our Indigenous communities and other marginalized people.
  4. We haven’t built strong intergenerational relationships. In Hemorrhaging Faith, first-person research found that 76 per cent of so-called rejecters (youth who had been exposed to church, but rejected the faith) felt leaders were not able to help them with tough questions. Youth want adults to talk to about difficult ideas and questions.
  5. Discipleship that’s chiefly focused on conforming behaviour doesn’t ring true for young people who are asking if this faith really works, if it really makes a difference in their lives and their world. They need discipleship from people who are changed, and they need guidance toward true transformation from the living God.
  6. Following on this, we the Church have underestimated the true transformative power of God. “We have stopped trusting in God’s mighty, supernatural power through the work and leading of the Holy Spirit and shamefully ignored the impact of the Gospel,” Imaginative Hope says.
  7. Finally, we have embraced a culture of consumerism within our churches. We have failed to model Kingdom values of generosity and compassion.


Yowza. That’s heavy list of observations. Thankfully, it doesn’t end there. The team pushed further and identified five opportunities for our churches to respond.

  1. Build bridges. “This generation is looking for what unites rather than divides. Our churches and denominations need to be places of strong unity, while embracing great diversity. We need to be defined by what we are for, rather than what we are against,” they write.
  2. Connect the generations. This generation wants adults who will speak into their lives, who believe in them.
  3. Let them lead. This is a self-starting entrepreneurial leadership heavy generation. They have opportunities to lead in many aspects of life, but so far not so much in the church. We need to listen to their ideas and dreams, and include them in church doing.
  4. Speak up! Older generations sometimes think young ones aren’t that interested in spirituality, and hesitate to bring it up. But the iGeneration is open spirituality and they want trusted adults to talk with.
  5. Seek biblical justice together. Young people are globally aware, and we can be instrumental at connecting their desire for justice with deep biblical understanding.


The BC Youth & Family Team are calling for disproportionate resources to be focused on youth and children immediately. It’s a crisis situation that won’t get better without an all hands on deck response. CBWC’s Children & Families Ministry has all their hands on the deck, and are ready to support your churches.


How is your church’s children and youth ministry doing? Need help? Have a story to share? Get in touch with Sherry Bennett, the Children & Families Ministry coordinator at or Youth Director, Tammy Klassen at

Download the full Imaginative Hope report here and find other resources on

This article was published in Volume 13, Issue 9 of Making Connections. Subscribe to the Making Connections monthly newsletter here