When young people use technology for Bible study
Since Samuel Benjamin joined the BLMF apprenticeship scheme in 2015, St Hugh’s Northolt has seen a dramatic transformation in its engagement with young people. With just three teens in the congregation and no youth provision less than three years ago, some would say the growth has been explosive, with over 40 young people now engaging in weekly activities at the church, including Bible study. There’s also a solid group of volunteers from the church community now helping to run these activities.
Led by Samuel, the youth ministry activities include a weekly youth service on Friday afternoons after school, a Saturday bible study, Sunday school provision and a monthly youth-led church service, as well as termly Messy Church services, day trips, and weekends away.
But perhaps the most interesting of all the new activities at St Hugh’s, is the teenage-led Bible study that came about, thanks to a group of young people who wanted to explore its contents together more regularly.
A growing hunger for the Bible…
The area in which St Hugh’s is based is one of fairly high-deprivation. The majority of young people in the youth group are previously unchurched, and come from broken and difficult home lives. They are vulnerable to a substance misuse and gang life culture, with older siblings and parents engaged in and struggling with these things. The parish is also in the top 6% for child poverty rates in the country.
Despite this, in the last three years, the community at St Hugh’s has seen many of the young people they work with find faith in Jesus, and they hold regular services to hear the young people’s stories of transformation.
This has led to a growing hunger amongst the young people who want to explore their new-found faith for themselves — and the Bible from which they’re being taught.
A weekend away…
One of the ways this growing hunger has been stirred in the young people at St Hugh’s is through weekends away together, where the team use pre-made teaching resources to cover a particular theme. This year, the group had been working through the Just10 series by J John. They took the last two sessions on “Love the lord your God” and “Love thy neighbour” and turned those into a single theme for the weekend away, which had a profound impact on the young people. They were encouraged to start reading the Bible together outside of the youth group sessions.
What happened next is quite something: a few of the young people told Samuel they were going to try studying the Bible via a group call. Samuel encouraged them to go for it and waited to see what happened next.
A different way to be together…
The group found a free app which could help them talk together via video, called HouseParty. They held a few sessions together and the group grew as they meditated on the words and shared what they were learning. Soon, they came back to Samuel and asked if he would input and help them go deeper.
The great things about this idea is accessibility — the app is free and they are already confident using a video chat system. It means that anyone can join, regardless of where they are, as long as they have a decent internet connection. There is even a friend based in Leeds who struggles to connect with his own youth group, but joins the online sessions and comes to their weekends away.
Samuel has been amazed at how the group has sustained itself over the year and keen to make sure he doesn’t take it over — staying in the loop but letting them own their idea.
“I almost felt I didn’t want to intrude — this was their thing and I wanted them to keep it going. I would just encourage them, pray and leave them to get on with it, but they kept inviting me back to add to what they were doing. I thought it was a brilliant way to have a Bible study and a great way to use technology to keep the fire burning that they had experienced at our weekend away.”
This year, those in the group finished GCSEs and A levels. After a short break to focus on exams, they have continued meeting and have started praying for each other after another weekend away going through The Prayer Course (free). They mostly phone each other to do this on a one-to-one basis.
Prior to starting as an apprentice, Samuel hadn’t been in youth work and didn’t have anything to do with church. He became a Christian about a year before getting involved in youth work, after having a radical experience of Christ which led him to pursue the Christian faith every day. When his pastor also became the Vicar at St Hugh’s, Samuel started engaging the young people there and was encouraged to become an apprentice.
“I believe the church should tap into some of the things on offer from technology, to reach and grow young people. I had never thought of video calling as a way of meeting — the fact that they had the idea showed me how important it is to listen to young people. Their ideas will continually surprise us and show us new ways of doing great things.”
When the youth group meet each week, they have an anonymous question box — every two weeks, they open the question box and discuss what’s there. Doing the question time helps the team focus on what’s on the minds of the young people and prioritise teaching for the term ahead.
Because young people are now coming from families who aren’t part of a church, their families also have started coming to St Hugh’s out of curiosity and the change they are seeing in their children.
How to run an online Bible study
We asked Samuel to explain a bit about how an online Bible study breaks down, to make it easy for you to have a go too. Here’s a basic pattern you can try, or give to your young people as a template:
- Check who’s free at the time agreed (HouseParty can send a notification to ask people)
- Leave the room ‘open’ so people can join any time, but once the group is in the flow of things or praying, you can use the ‘lock’ feature to stop new people joining
- Choose a passage together — read separately, but stay connected to the call
- Come back together when everyone has finished and share what you learned and experienced reading the passage
- End with prayer, but stay and chat afterwards
- Keep it laid back and focused on building relationships
Share your stories
If you’ve got a group of young people doing something unique in your community, we want to hear from you. Drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or find out more about Capital Youth here.