The adventures of Sweden’s finest volunteer youth worker continue. We’re now half-way through the series which originally ran in Youthwork magazine. You’ll be relieved to know this story does go somewhere. If you’re joining this late, you might want to start here.
How do youth groups grow? It’s a question I’ve been forced to ponder recently, particularly after starting out with the same number of young people as you’re likely to find at a Rod Stewart gig. When I drew up my initial plan of action a few months back, my top priorities in attempting growth were obtaining funding and finding a venue. Then, I thought, I could fulfil my dream of opening a drop-in Europop nightclub in Harley, and watch the young people flood in.
Of course, that hasn’t quite happened yet, and anyhow I’ve since discovered that people here are less fond of lyrics that go ‘bing bong bang’ than those back home. Somewhat by accident, my ‘group’ has grown anyway – after big trendy Dave wandered into the church – so now my focus is split between reaching new people, and keeping him interested in a very small group. I’m sure it’s a common problem.
So far, no money has been forthcoming. I did almost find a solution to the lack of venue issue – Jesper offered me a room in the health club that had been set aside specifically for male-only aerobics and thus rarely saw use – but there was a problem. During a conversation with the vicar, I’d excitedly mentioned that Dave had shown an interest in becoming the church’s youth programme. That was fine by the Rev, but he was unhappy with the idea that we would be meeting alone in a men’s aerobics studio across town. ‘I can’t have you meeting alone like that,’ he said sternly. ‘Sorry – child protection.’
So I came up with a compromise, and it was probably the worst compromise since I traded in my Volvo for a pink moped. We sat on the kerb outside St Eric’s. But Dave was so excited to talk about his new faith that he didn’t much care where we were. The source of his enthusiasm? He’d read another book; one that I’d lent to him. It was ‘Hardcore Evangelism’ by B. Brian, and it had inspired him into a desperacy to reach out to the entire Harley community.
‘We’ve got to tell everybody we can about Jesus,’ he exclaimed. ‘They’re missing out! This is like, the meaning of life!’
I nodded. ‘Yes,’ I concurred, ‘perhaps we could print some flyers and post them through local letter boxes’.
‘No’ he roared, scaring me slightly. ‘We’ve got to TELL people – talk to them.’
I wasn’t quite sure what he meant. In my experience, British people never talk to strangers. And then he illustrated his idea, shouting at two passing girls that they needed to ‘meet the king’. I think they misconstrued this as flirting, but either way, Dave’s luck was not in. He turned to me, instantly despondent after being given the finger by his first evangelistic targets.
‘What did I do wrong?’ he asked. ‘Why don’t they want to meet the king?’
‘I’m sorry Dave,’ I replied, ‘but it’s just not that easy.’
Suddenly a look of realisation struck his face. ‘Wait a minute. I know what I did wrong. We didn’t pray first! B. Brian says you must always pray before witnessing. Come on, quick – we’ve got to pray.’
‘What, here?’ I rapidly started to feel very exposed out there on the kerb. Without giving me an answer though, Dave just led into a loud and very real prayer:
‘God, you are the man, I am loving you. Please bring us some people what we can convert, so that they can know how much you rock…’
And so it went on. I closed my eyes, not so much out of reverence, but out of childishness. I remember when I was a small child in Stockholm, I used to think that doing that meant that people couldn’t see you. Although, even if that were true, everyone would still know we were here, thanks to Dave’s continuing 1000-decibel prayer. He went on for a full five minutes, and I realised that when he had finished, I had curled myself into a foetal position, propelled there (I’m sorry to admit) by embarrassment.
He did finally add a rather conventional ‘Amen’ to his prayer, and when he did so, I opened my eyes in relief… and amazement. Sitting next to Dave was another young man, a couple of years younger than him.
‘Hi,’ said the lad, a chirpy, podgy little ball of undeveloped adolescence. ‘Were you talking to God? Because I’d quite like to be able to do that.’
I didn’t even need to open my mouth. Dave shared the gospel with the young man, Tommy, and I sat back and couldn’t suppress a laugh. Tommy came to faith right there on the kerb, amid much more shouty unconventional prayer, and Dave’s faith doubled in size. As did the youth group.
How do youth groups grow? It’s certainly not all about the youth leader. I’ve done nothing more than pray each night before my meatballs. No, in my experience, it’s got a lot to do with being open to God, and a lot to do with having a small core of fired-up young people. If you’ve got both of those elements, I reckon you’re halfway to a growing youth group. I may not need to open that Europop drop-in club after all.
Hope you and the guys are well. Pray for us (and for Sven),
Bjorn Argen is a volunteer youth worker based in Harley Newtown, in the North Midlands. Not really.