Many of us as Christians would have grown up in a youth group, or some form of youth orientated activity club. It played a massive part it my life – so when I read the news report that youth services have suffered a 70% funding cut in less than a decade, it shocked me.

Young people are the next generation who need raising up and investing in just as much, if not more, than before, and I believe it’s wrong to be pushing youth services aside. Leisure, sports and enrichment activities are all based in youth centres. Without these services, where are the young people going to go?

As if this wasn’t bad enough, the statistics show that much of the funding has been pulled from youth services and organisations working with those who are fighting knife crime and keeping children away from threatening situations. These safe, youth club spaces offer a safe environment for young people to be active, social and just kids. They offer a positive outlet for emotion as well as something to do instead of hanging out on the streets.

I know this more than anyone. If it wasn’t for my youth club, I would have gone completely down the wrong road and would not be where I am today. I desperately needed someone to look after me, to offer a safe space and somewhere I could talk.  I am truly grateful for the people who gave up their time to spend running a youth group for me and my fellow peers.

I am now a youth worker myself all because of the one youth pastor who met with me in my mess and walked along side me in my struggles. He championed me when I achieved big (and small) things – and I knew he was someone that would always be there. Our young people need that.

I know that youth workers are and will continue to work with young people, whether they are vulnerable or not – but what can the church do? I’d suggest exactly what I experienced: offering space for young people to develop. Let them speak about their day, really listen and engage. Keep up to date with their lives and check in when you see them. Many young people, especially those on the streets, have broken families, behavioural issues and emotional trauma, and so need people like you and me to step out of our comfort zones and into their mess.

It’s something that Jesus did. He came and met with those who were misfits, discarded by society, and became their friends. He met them where they were at, he didn’t sit them down and start telling them how to love or correct their bad behaviour on the spot – he built relationships and showed them he would be there no matter what. And most of Jesus’ disciples were vulnerable young people. As Martin Saunders explains: “Jesus was the very first youth worker.”

Encourage young people and challenge them; it all flows from love. The Church could step up and fill or support the roles that the government are cutting. Meet in the field each week to play sports, take short trips away, look for what draws in young people in your area. For example, we recently set up a football cage in a town centre to reach out to young people – taking a simple idea saw so much foot traffic. Even though it was cold and tiring, it was so worth it to see the joy among the youth, and for the praise from the local authorities. It was such an opportunity to minister about God and bring him glory. Not just to reach and support young people, but to witness to adults too.

So I’m asking you to STEP UP while everyone else steps down. No role is too small – and you don’t need to be on the front line. Just be willing to put in love and time for the sake of the next generation.

You can read more of James’ story in the April edition of the magazine. Get your free copy of Premier Youth & Children’s Work at youthandchildrens.work/freecopy.