It was the day Jodie might have turned his back on church youth groups. Aged 13, the young Anglican went interstate for a year, taking fond memories of ‘Teens Group’ gatherings in the Sydney suburb of St Ives.

Turning up for a church-run teens program in a new city, Jodie tried to picture what he’d find inside. “I assumed that every single youth group you went to would have a bit where there’d be a talk from the Bible and the youth would be encouraged to pray for their friends, the world and each other.”

Not so, he regrets. “All this group did was just run around and play games.” Jodie never returned to that youth group.

Sadly, for kids genuinely interested in being open to God, such a disappointment might have meant the end of church involvement. But not Jodie. Rather than turning from God and church-run activities, it helped form his views on what a good youth ministry should be.

Now, as a 34 year-old Youth Ministry Trainer and Adviser with Anglican Youthworks in Sydney, Jodie McNeill is putting that memory to good use–making sure modern youth groups turn kids to God while balancing the spiritual message with an attractive, nurturing environment.

“Youth leaders today aren’t just thinking, “Well, how do we give our kids a good night out once a month?””

The ‘Social Influence Upon Faith Development’ report–produced by NCLS, and sponsored by the Bible Society–has found youth groups are now a rising force in pointing people to God.

“Church youth groups are now almost as important as church services in bringing 15-29 year olds to faith,” report co-author John Bellamy explains. “Youth groups have had a much greater impact among younger attenders, confirming their importance in any overall strategy to minister to children.”

When researchers asked churchgoers aged 15-29 years what had influenced them most in their faith, some 38 percent ticked the box next to ‘youth groups’–second only to main church services (42%).

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