Burnie youth on fire
Burnie youth on fire
When it comes to engaging with the teens in the town, Burnie Corps knew it needed a fresh approach.
The small Tasmanian congregation had only four teens when Captains Belinda and Mark Smith began collaborating with several local churches to run Youth Alpha.
Youth Alpha is a creative 10-week course that explains the basics of the Christian faith to young people, who are then discipled in the faith.
Today, the thriving Sunday night Youth Alpha event sees anything from 25 to 70 young people come through the Burnie Corps doors to hear about the lifechanging power of Jesus.
“We had three missing generations in our corps – children, youth, and young adults. So we decided we would run Youth Alpha for the four youth who went to Summer Carnival [an annual five-day youth event held at Phillip Island, Victoria],” Belinda says.
“It’s blown my mind to see what’s happened. It’s actually an amazing journey ... how God facilitated all this to come together. And it goes to show how something small and insignificant can become something so huge and impacting for God.”
Small indeed. It all began when Belinda and Mark reached out to their corps cluster leader to find community.
He recommended they start playing the popular interactive mobile phone game Ingress, which would connect them with locals and familiarise them with the area. After meeting a Christian couple through the game, they were informed about a nearby laser tag business run by a Christian couple from Recharge Church in Burnie.
The couple was already running Youth Alpha at the venue on a Sunday night, so the Burnie Corps teens joined in.
Within a year the laser tag venue was too small for the number of young people attending and the ministry was unable to facilitate spiritual growth past the program. That’s when Burnie Corps offered its building, so they might work together for deeper discipleship and have a greater impact for the burgeoning Sunday night program.
“Because the churches individually didn’t have the resources to run such a big youth program, together we’re able to have a greater impact in the community,” says Belinda.
By pairing the Alpha course with pizza, snacks and a round of laser tag every week, Burnie Salvos, Recharge Church and leaders from three other churches on the North West Coast of Tasmania have created a safe space for more than 90 young people from all walks of life to ask questions and begin a journey in the Christian faith.
In an area plagued by youth homelessness, this has been particularly transformational. “We’ve had youth come to Christ, we’ve had youth experience both physical and emotional healing, and we’ve been able to help youth connect with social services and support them through significant events in their lives. It’s blown my mind how much God is moving in this space!” says Belinda.
From physical healing, to the restoration of relationships, answers to prayer and a change in attitude, each young person has a story about how Youth Alpha has impacted them. And the beauty of this lies in the fact that the stories come from people still coming to faith.
“Some people haven’t come to Christ yet, but they’re on the journey,” says Belinda. “And it’s about building those relationships with the youth. We see them learning how to function in a more healthy way and interact with each other, because a lot of them have not had positive role models in their lives.”
leaders in training
The inter-church partnership was fundamental in the success of the program, due to a lack of available leaders at Burnie Corps.
By partnering with Recharge Church in particular, this gap was filled and the faith community has seen leaders rise up, many young people coming to faith and engaging with the churches.
This includes a young man who committed his life to Jesus at Summer Carnival last year and who has taken on youth leadership within the corps. Two of its Youth Alpha leaders who went to Summer Carnival are so committed to investing into Youth Alpha they travel up to 45 minutes each way to mentor the growing faith community.
What’s more, teens attending the Youth Alpha program are actively seeking out leadership roles, causing the team to create a Leaders In Training group where they can grow in responsibility and take over leadership in the future.
Burnie Corps this year will begin a new stage of the ministry by starting a youth-oriented church service, with the intention of connecting with the families of the teens attending Alpha – a task the combined church leadership team is chomping at the bit to start.
“We just all work together beautifully,” says Belinda. “We are finding youth connecting with Christ and slowly becoming part of our church community. The key is that it doesn’t matter how seemingly insignificant something might be; if you just surrender whatever you have to God, God will do more than we could ever dream or imagine.
“This year we have 24 youth keen and ready to attend Summer Carnival from Youth Alpha. I can’t wait to see what God will do in their lives.”