How The Church Can Combat Youth Crime

As much as Christmas is about celebrating the Messiah’s birth, it’s also a time of reflection, and, for some who have lost a loved one, it will be a time filled with grief. Christmas 2023 will be a particularly bleak one for families who tragically lost their children to knife crime this year.

The issue of knife crime came to the fore in a major way once again in October, following the stabbing of Elianne Andam, aged 15, who, while on her way to school, intervened in an argument between her best friend and her ex. As a result, she was stabbed. A 17-year-old boy has been charged with her murder. In the seven days following Elianne’s murder, three other young people were killed at the hands of another young person, reigniting the ongoing discussion of knife violence, gangs and youth crime in the Black community.

It’s a discussion the Christian community is not immune from. The Church contains people whose children, relatives and friends have died as a result of youth crime, or gun or knife violence, as well as parents whose children are perpetrators of crime or are currently in prison.

The causes of knife violence and youth crime are multi-faceted and, due to their seriousness, numerous Christians are working to address the causes and effects of these issues. Keep The Faith asked Christians who work with at-risk and vulnerable youth what actions churches can undertake to help stem knife violence, youth crime, and gangs in urban communities. Here are their responses:

Churches should develop a theology that actively supports marginalised families – such as those represented in Luke 4:18 – who are unchurched and may not be connected to families from local congregations.

Leaders should not shy away from engaging with youths. Their experiences and narratives may shape or influence the theology of Black-majority churches (BMCs) towards the development of a ‘practical activist theology’ – one that effectively responds to the needs of young Black men and their families.

Black-majority churches in the UK must seek to partner with other groups to challenge and influence internal and external systems regarding the welfare and well-being of our youths.

There must be honest reflection by Black-majority church denominations on whether their traditions, theologies and beliefs have supported or hindered their involvement in dealing with the struggles associated with youth violence.

Churches should critically explore how they can be more welcoming to young Black men associated with crime, violence and other social challenges.

In line with the above, the late James Cone states: “When faith is understood as a commitment to an ultimate concern, then it is obvious that there can be no separation between faith and obedience because obedience determines faith. I know your faith not by what you confess but only by what you do.”

With similar gravity, John Lewis, a Civil Rights icon and member of the United States Congress, suggested: “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to say something, to do something, stand up, speak up, speak out, no matter what part of the world you come from.”

The words of Cone and Lewis both support and challenge us to think about our responsibilities and obligations as Christians living in a period where the lives of our precious youths are at risk on a daily basis.

Rev Dr Carver Anderson is a New Testament Church of God minister, Executive Director/Co-founder of Bringing Hope (Birmingham), www.bringinghope.co.uk

There needs to be wider collaboration between the police, the Church, and the wider community to make our communities safe and secure. It’s not possible for the police to do it alone, even though they think they can arrest or stop and search their way to reducing knife violence, gangs, and youth crime.

The Church is a key part of the community, and needs to be relevant and accessible to those people involved in crime, whether as a victim or suspect, even if unknowingly. Also, they can come from stable, law-abiding families and not from the school of hard knocks.

When I served as Superintendent in Hackney, we were able to learn about the root causes of crime, as we worked closely with a local minister who knew the people involved in criminal activity. Churches need to have their finger on the community pulse, providing intelligence on the state of a family’s trajectory and their young people, getting them the support they need, with relevant early intervention and prevention programmes.

Churches could utilise education to teach young people about their rights and responsibilities; empower them to lead, and direct them into more legitimate activity and work; encourage peer-to-peer mentoring; and work more closely with schools. I’m still pushing this philosophy in my local Hackney church, together with local charities.

Leroy Logan MBE, former Police Superintendent, London Borough of Hackney, founding member of the Black Police Association

Many people are asking what more can be done to help our youth who are involved in serious youth crime. I believe in the saying ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ The village represents our circle of influence and our immediate family, which is our community. We cannot continue to point fingers and blame the government or police – this is not to say they are blameless – but a big part of the solution lies within our village. How are we interacting, engaging and influencing the youth in our village?

The church is a village, a community of believers, with spiritual influence and financial resources. It is not enough to only empower the believers who attend church services; the Church must also empower and influence their communities by leaving the church buildings and being more hands-on. This could mean allocating budgets to employ an experienced youth and community worker who effectively engages with hard-to-reach youth; it could mean using your church/building once or twice a week as a safe space for youth projects and activities, alongside doing what we have always believed in, which is the power of prayer and actively engaging in prayer for our youth.

Pastor Junior Spence, Founder Pray4Youth UK, Founder/Director of Urban City Solutions  www.urbancitysolutions.org.uk

The Church has become extremely isolated from being visible in our communities, and demonic activities have taken over. We are now seeing countless memorial shrines, pictures, and tributes to our children that have been brutally murdered through youth violence, which is not normal.

The Church needs to be visible on our streets. We need spiritual intervention, like consistent prayer walks in areas of violence, and intercession for the police, politicians, and those who work in this field.

Evangelism teams are needed on estates where youth gather, and the evangelistic approach needed is a public health one, where practical needs of the youth are identified and support given.

Churches could have outreach buses that visit estates to support youth that are resourced with practical supplies, provide trauma counselling, and have ministers on board that offer prayer.

They could also join community forums alongside other organizations to support their work combating violence and start praying about the identified areas of challenges. As Christians, we know that we are not wrestling with flesh and blood.

Church outreach patrols can help with visibility during school hours in the mornings and after school on the streets. The lollipop man or woman is not enough. They can also work on the buses by driving on routes during children’s rush hours to be that community support and be praying.

All churches need to come together annually for a mega outdoor prayer and worship meeting to pray and intercede for the peace and prosperity of our communities and offer salvation.

Lorraine Jones-Burrell, CEO, Dwayne Simpson Foundation – Dwaynamics Boxing Club www.dsfcic.co.uk

The Church needs to get into more influential positions and work more with third sector organisations, so that they can get trained and discover how to work with young people at risk. The Safety Box offers training for professionals and community members who want to work with youth at risk.

Once a church has trained its youth ministers/leaders or whoever wants to do this type of work, they should open the church during evening times and create activities for young people, which could help be a diversion tactic for them. In addition, they need to think about how to utilise third-sector organisations to run special knife-focused events at their church and invite the local community.

If a church is based near an estate or they hire a community hall in an estate, they could run knife awareness programmes. These types of outputs would help to address the issues of knife crime. Prayer alone is not going to fix this. However, we need the spiritual warfare prayer warriors who can connect with third-sector organisations, in order to do intercessory prayer against the demonic forces. The other effort is within His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service. If churches can get a team of people to go to the prison every Sunday, every Saturday, or even during the week, working with the third sector to volunteer and serve that would be incredibly beneficial in putting a dent into youth violence.

Nathaniel Peat is Founder of The Safety Box, a social entrepreneur, and an international motivational speaker. www.thesafetybox.org

There are a few steps the Church could take:

Firstly, I think the Church is ideally positioned to empower families. We as practitioners can do all the meaningful work we want with young people, but who’s doing the long-term work with parents, helping them to create the right environment for young people? Also, churches should be facilitating awareness sessions and training on safeguarding and keeping children safe; the challenges that children are facing can no longer be taboo. My new short film, SAVE ME(available on YouTube), has a direct call to action for the community around children; helping wider society become more aware of the early signs that could lead to exploitation and grooming, and giving people ideas on how they can safely intervene.

I also think churches should be nurturing the entrepreneurial spirit that young people have. They are a massive hub of successful business and career leaders. I believe they should incubate the ideas young people have, mentor them, and eventually invest in them. A lot of the time, young people are trying to keep up with their peers and therefore are sometimes willing to cut corners; so, where better to learn about how to be purposeful, servant leaders (like Jesus) than within your church?!

Amani Simpson, award-winning youth coach, filmmaker and campaigner  www.aviard.co.uk 

CHRISTIAN ORGANISATIONS THAT WORK WITH AT-RISK YOUTH 

London City Mission www.lcm.org.uk
XLP- www.xlp.org.uk
Power the Fight- www.powerthefight.org.uk
CHIPS- www.chipspeace.org
HopeUK- www.hopeuk.org
Urban Saints – www.urbansaints.org
Street Doctors – www.streetdoctors.org
PJ’s Community Service – www.pjsgroup.co.uk
4Front – www.4frontproject.org
TLG- Transforming Lives For Good – www.tlg.org.uk
NPV- Football Development – www.npvfootdev.co.uk
Diocese of London’s Pieta Prayer Resource  – a recent project by Compassionate Communities – https://www.compassionatecommunitieslondon.org.uk/themes-of-work/serious-youth-violence/pieta

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