Later this year, one lucky Ikea store will be inundated with up to 30 youth. They will scatter around the vast Nordic labyrinth in groups of three or four to fulfil an epic quest – a photo scavenger hunt.
Alanee Hearnshaw is the youth and young adults’ pastor at the Glen Waverley Uniting Church. She said the youth group has run the scavenger hunt three times before, and the young people love it.
“It’s a dorky idea that works really well,” she said.
“Our youth group creates an environment where participants can belong, be themselves, and be a bit silly.
“With the hunt, they have to find and photograph obscure products with random names – ‘Go find me a Helsinki/Argang!’
“We go from 7pm until 8.30pm and then we feast on Ikea ice creams, hotdogs and meatballs.”
The younger and older youth vie for bragging rights and the coveted prize of Ikea chocolates.
Previously there has also been a booby prize of having to actually put together an Ikea product for one of the youth leaders.
Alanee has a lively bunch of around 30 youth and young adults, aged from 13-18 in the group.
“They’ve kept me here at Glen Waverley for 12-and-a-half years, with 12 of those years have been spent as youth and young adults’ pastor,” Alanee says.
“At the end of 2013, my role grew to include other aspects, such as working with families and outreach.
“I’m 39, and I keep waiting for when I’m ‘too old’ to keep up; to do the dance moves, or summon the emotional energy.”
Alannee said the best ideas for youth ministry come from young people.
“Our successes have come from listening to our young people, and following the ‘ant trails’ and a wonderful group of dedicated youth leaders,” Alanee said.
“I went with one uni student back to her high school, Glen Waverley Secondary College, and we asked what we could do to help at the school.
“We began putting on pancake breakfasts there and they now feed about 250-300 students every Thursday morning. The school social worker and chaplain also attend and sit down informally to talk with youth.
“The breakfast volunteers from our church are aged from 18 to 80. We don’t always worship well together, as generations, but we can really work well together.”
Glen Waverley aims to be a happy, safe place for youth.
“Youth in our area face a lot of study pressure, and with that comes anxiety, which can lead to depression,” Alanee said.
“They’re teenagers. They want to fit in; they don’t want to stand out. But they also want to achieve, and make the right decisions.
“It gets to the point where they can be overwhelmed about making little, simple decisions. Our youth are swamped by social media and a vast number of choices. And they run the risk of being exhausted and over-engaged.”
That’s where Alanee and the church come into play.
Alanee’s youth ministry has found meaning in building their youth up, listening to them and honouring their lives.
“Teenagers are looking for church to give them somewhere to meaningfully belong – honestly, not prescriptively, where people will help them explore purpose for their lives,” Alanee says.
“Want to keep faith with teenagers? Listen to them, let them be themselves, give them space to be authentic and empower them.
“The young people here love our annual retreats. We hope they know that they are loved and supported.”
Alanee believes that when you treat kids as you want to be treated yourself, you will connect.
“Church runs the risk of being boring or irrelevant to teenagers, and it’s hard when church is also struggling to meet needs in worship for their parents,” she said.
“It’s when you spend time, have a milkshake, or a green tea, or whatever with young people, and listen to what they think and feel, find out what they are going through; that’s when you gain the right to speak into their lives.”
Asked if the wider church is keeping teenagers interested, Alanee’s honest answer is “I don’t think we are”.
“I think we fall into patterns, into what we did before,” she said.
“If we are not careful we can be tokenistic; we have to work out how to productively and meaningfully engage with youth.
“The time when the church had the automatic right to talk into the lives of youth, or talk down to them, is long past.
“The church needs to learn to value young people and invest in real relationships with them. That’s a win-win for everyone.”