This article is part of our Is the missing generation’ still missing?” report to find out more click here.

Nick and Marjorie Allen are Baptist ministers who lead The Well, Sheffield, a church mainly attended by young adults. They wrote The XYZ of Discipleship, a book to equip individuals who seek to mentor, parent or lead young adults in discipleship in the every day and church. With a combined background in Christian ministry spanning the past 18 years, they work alongside an experienced team to represent people from all walks of life.

I, Mim, 20s and 30s assistant at the Evangelical Alliance, caught up with Marjorie to hear more about the encouraging stories of hope and discipleship emerging among young adults in her church at this time.


Hi Marjorie! Thank you so much for agreeing to chat to me today. Can you start by telling us a little bit more about your church?

Nick and I planted The Well, Sheffield, in 2015. It was a new congregation right in the centre of the city on the road that has all the cafes and bars, a centre of young people, students and professionals. We’re a young congregation. Our growth has mainly been with students, young professionals and young families, but we do have a congregation of all ages. We set out to be church for the unchurched’ and we’ve seen a lot of unchurched people find faith in God.

Obviously, COVID-19 has changed a lot of things for churches. What have you done differently at The Well during this season?

A huge amount of our response has been around making connection with people, because that’s been a battle at this time. The Father’s heart is never that people are isolated and disconnected. The church is about connection with God and one another.

We’d already started live-streaming services, so we already had things in place. About a year previously, we felt God tell us to invest in better cameras and equipment and then people to work them. We’d set up a podcast with conversations about relationship with God and discipleship in everyday life known as Wise Lives.

We’ve also started morning prayers. We were in a 24 – 7 prayer week, back when the first lockdown happened, and by accident we just started filming it from our building. That was the catalyst to actually having ongoing prayer and worship all throughout the lockdown period every morning. We also started Wake up well’, pre-recording devotions along themes we were following as a church.

Online Alpha was also key. As young people began finding us online, it gave us a channel to direct them to for exploring faith. We didn’t have huge numbers but we’ve been running it consistently throughout this COVID-19 period, and every time we’ve seen people, particularly young adults, connect with God. They’ve found God and found faith.

You’ve mentioned your heart for young adults. Is there anything that you’ve observed specifically amongst that age group during this time?

I think that there’s definitely an increase in young people considering life. The Times recently produced some articles around Generation Z and young people turning to God and finding God online over this time. I think that’s because they’re thinking about life, they’re bored and disconnected from other things that previously had their attention.

So how have young adults have found us or found faith? It’s been different all the time. In some cases, they were in Christian families who were listening to material online and they just happened to end up in the room at the right time. Other times they went investigating, sometimes because their life was in a really low place with mental health and they happen to come upon the church online in that way. Generally, we have noticed over the last two years a growing hunger amongst young adults, so I wouldn’t say this was a dramatic change for the pandemic season specifically, but we’ve just seen the outworking of it online. I think it’s a spiritual hunger that has been there for the last two years being manifest, just in a different context. That would be my experience. 

As we reopened our doors in September for in-person services in the evening, it was mainly young people, young adults and students who came back to church. Much of the core of the church have not come, for whatever reasons, into the physical building and I would say sometimes 80 per cent of our congregation were unknown to us before lockdown. And 90 per cent were under 25.

Incredible! And so, what have you been doing to engage these young adults during this time?

We’ve run these kind of student gatherings in our garden outside. We bought outside heaters and that was our way of doing it in those autumn months, as much as we could outside, to be as safe as possible. We used to have pizza gatherings of sixes on toadstools around the garden. Trying to do everything to be creative, to observe the law; trying to keep it safe, but still do everything for connection. And that proved vital. Those students are now in community and they’re meeting online. They’re spread out now as many have returned to different cities all over the country, but they’re still connecting with their student community that began around that time. 

And how have you encouraged good discipleship amongst young adults? 

One of the things we’ve set up in the last few months is a young adult mentoring programme. We’ve had young adults contact us for that who aren’t even known to us. They’ve just come across us online, or on the livestream. Then also others that are part of the church. Interestingly even within the first hour of us launching it we had requests from young adults for mentors. It shows that there is that hunger we were talking about earlier to be discipled, to meet with older, wiser heads and to be part of church community.

"Other times they went investigating, sometimes because their life was in a really low place with mental health and they happen to come upon the church online in that way."

And what did that look like in practice?

We’ve advised people that it’s a short-term thing, it’s not for the next few years, but maybe for the next few months. We did training around what we saw mentoring was and wasn’t. It wasn’t prayer ministry. It wasn’t professional counselling, but it was from this discipleship culture of coming alongside people. It’s also mutual. We’re learning to walk and talk together, so we’re learning from young people and they’re learning from us. It’s a safe place where they can process life. And always the framework is we’re helping people asking these questions: What is God saying? What will I do? And how will I respond?

I’d love to finish by hearing one story that sticks out most to you about young adults finding faith in this time.

One Sunday night three young people walked into our church who I’ve never met before. One was a young guy who’d turned back to God, from a Christian family. He had shared faith in lockdown with his student work colleague. They’re both student paramedics (what a field to be in right now!) She had come to faith, so she became a Christian in lockdown, and I was meeting her in church for the first time. They’d also brought another work colleague as on Friday they’d said to this work colleague, we’re going to church on Sunday, would you like to come?” and the colleague had said, I don’t do church”. But they replied, how do you know you don’t do’ church if you’ve never been to church?” As a result, the colleague came and really responded to God that night. We gave them a Bible and they’ve been reading the Bible since and we’ve invited all three individuals on Alpha. What I loved about that was the young adult turning back to God at this time from the Christian family, leading another one to faith, then bringing a third one to church who responded to God and the opportunity for all of them to do Alpha together.

But it was the last bit in the conversation that caught my attention. The young girl who had become a Christian in lockdown said to me afterwards in the church garden, can you tell me about what it’s like when the Christians sing?” And I thought that was a really interesting thing. I said Oh, it’s amazing!” She continued: Because I’ve never heard it as I’ve only become a Christian in lockdown, and nobody can sing right now. Just the one lady who sang tonight and she sang over us. But my friend here tells me that when Christians sing out together, they raise the rooftops, and there’s this like thunderous sound, and it’s really powerful, and we’re all in it together and we worship God.”

She finished with I can’t wait to hear that. I can’t wait to hear that. When do you think we’ll be able to have that?” I told our church about that. That’s a glimpse of what it will be like. Young people coming to faith at this time have never experienced corporate worship, but a time will come where they will join us and really worship God. It gave me a hope about what we’ll see.

I suppose it was also a reminder that we don’t know what things will look like. It’ll be an interesting dynamic, people who’ve put their trust in the Lord who haven’t experienced what’s so normal for us in terms of the presence of God.

Incredible — I can’t think of a better way to have ended this conversation! Thank you for that and thank you so much for your time Marjorie. I am so appreciative of the wisdom and insights you’ve just shared and I’m sure those reading this will too!

Is the ‘missing generation’ still missing?

Is the ‘missing generation’ still missing?

Every church wants to make young adult disciples, but many might not know where to begin. Start with this resource, which stimulates thinking and facilitates conversation Find out more