“Not a mass movement, but one at a time”
Mitcham Baptist Church in London is medium sized Baptist church with a balanced age profile across its fellowship – including a healthy number of young adults
Philip Lutterodt joined Mitcham Baptist Church as its minister in 2009, having previously pastored churches in Ghana and Switzerland. Throughout his ministries he’s always had a passion for young adults, empowering them, and giving them opportunities to lead and grow. Luke 2:52, the only passage to mention Jesus’ years between 18 and 30, is a key scripture for him (“And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man”).
“This is a crucial time in Jesus’ life,” he says, “I’ve always had a desire to see a flourishing young adults ministry.”
This has been the case at Mitcham. More than a decade ago the church Philip was called to operated in a very traditional way, with hymns and expository preaching. Philip took a survey among the congregation and learnt that the small number of young adults there wanted something more contemporary. “They said the services were too formal, not challenging enough, and not really meeting their needs.” Others wanted a mix of contemporary and the traditional.
Rather than rush to act on what he had heard, Philip spent time in prayer and fasting. He kept things as they were for one year. After this time he began to alternate between contemporary, chorus-based worship one week, and hymns the next. Similarly, he mixed up his preaching styles, offering narrative, story telling sermons for part of the year, alongside a more traditional, expository text-based approach. His mantra has always been “Let’s hasten slowly”.
Some didn’t agree with these changes and left, always with Philip’s blessing (“I want people to worship where the Spirit leads them”). However, over time a small number of young adults came back. “They found it more relevant to their needs, and helped them to feel more at home.”
“And with every young adult that turned up, I was so excited.”
Philip has always wanted the church to meet needs, be open to the Holy Spirit and not be dogmatic. Where possible this has meant giving young adults opportunities to lead, to mentor and be mentored.
When he arrived the church had a youth club, and this has been sustained. He’s always tried to encourage young adults to lead it. “When there’s less of an age gap, they can relate better. There is still a role for the older people in supporting it, but we’ve now got a very vibrant teen ministry, which is like a family. The conversations are like talking to an older brother or sister.”
He wanted a fellowship for young adults, and was praying for God to raise up leaders. This happened following the marriage of a young couple. With Philip’s support, training and encouragement, they began a group that met in their home. This group began to gel and disciple each other. When this couple moved up north because of a change in job, Philip was able to identify another young couple with leadership qualities.
“It’s going very well. It meets once a month. The challenge is when they start to have children, they find it difficult to run.
“But God has been good. The number of young adults keeps increasing. When they realise something good is happening at church, they invite their friends. It’s one at a time, not a mass movement.”
He began to sense the different age groups in the church need specific ministries.
One of the consequences of this focus is that Mitcham Baptist Church has a balanced mix of ages, with roughly even numbers of children and teens, young adults, middle adults (40s-70s), and senior adults (70+). There isn’t the same sense of a “missing generation”.
Features of church life include having the different age groups regularly lead services, and times of prayer. Every month there will be a special service that focuses on each of the age groups, which enables the fellowship to know more about each other. Each month the church marks birthdays and anniversaries of both weddings and deaths.
Philip says it’s important there are lots of opportunities throughout the year for the whole church family to come together, and this happens through events like Christmas dinners and visits to the beach.
He’s found that music is another way for different groups to express themselves and serve the church. There are therefore three separate music groups, a teenage gospel band, a young adults gospel band, and middle/senior adult choir. He has resisted calls to amalgamate. “People like to be with people they like to be with,” says Philip, who is also a trained psychologist. “Once they have a sense of belonging, they come, and stay.” Mentoring has an important place in the life of the church: Philip encourages all young adults to mentor – to mentor university students and teenagers in the church.
He recognises challenges. House prices in London for one, alongside lots of other styles of churches, some with a particular focus on young adults. When people start to have children they find it more difficult to sustain the energy to fully participate in ways they previously did. Philip recognises too that it’s challenging to meet the needs of different ages.
Ultimately he wants to empower people to be the person God has called them to be, and aims to creates space in the life of the church to help enable this to happen.
Picture | Mitcham Baptist Church