Building belonging through mentoring

Building community with – not for – young people is one of the main principles of the First Third concept. The idea being that people feel more connected and included while breaking  down the ‘us and them’ paradigm that so often exists between the generations.

In the Metro West Region, Jessica Morthorpe, First Third specialist, is trialling a new path for the region, moving on from the old youth group model and encouraging mentorship through participation in small interest groups.

“The traditional youth group model has been shown by a bunch of research to not work very well,” Jessica said. “There are also issues with churches finding them really hard to run.”

Youth groups require lots of energy from organisers to run and often are hard to keep up unless you have a large amount of kids. Jessica also said that they encourage young people to  only hang-out with other young people.

“It means they’re not actually given the opportunity to learn from other generations,” she said.

Previously, Revive reported on an animal club which started up in the region. Jess has now also started a cooking group and a drama group, with ideas for more groups around creative writing, gardening and anything members of the congregations have a passion for. Young people these days have so many commitments that if they want to be a part of the church they  find it hard to fit in to the church’s schedule. The idea with the interest groups is that young people can be a part of the church doing something they’re interested in and they’re not  required to all be available at the same time.

It also encourages older members of the congregations to share their expertise while, at the same time, getting to know the young people as individuals – not just the ‘youth’.

“We’re trying to create a sense of belonging,” Jessica said. “Through mentorship young people feel like they can belong and learn about faith.”

One of the tricks to organising groups like this, is knowing the strengths and passions of the congregation members. So if a member wants to start a group and they are skilled at  woodwork, then that’s a good place to start.

“You’re looking for things that people are passionate about, that they enjoy, but is not too hard to prepare,” she said.

While the programs won’t include a structured approach to faith, the groups provide an opportunity for the church to show that faith is in everything they do. It’s not limited to a particular time and place, but is part of who the church and its people are.

“The religious element is there, but we’re not pushing it. We’re not forcing it. It’s just part of who we are,” Jessica said. “If they choose to talk about faith, then great.

“It’s about the community aspect.”

For detailed information about these groups contact Jessica Morthorpe at

Heather Dowling

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