Don’t Kick Toddlers…Youth Ministry in 2017

by James Fawcett January 16, 2017 A

The reports were kicked off by Theos and Canterbury Christ Church University, entitled ‘Passing on Faith’. It claimed that the best way for faith to be transmitted to young people is via parents, or people fulfilling those roles in the lives of young people. Then YouthScape and One Hope produced the ‘Losing Heart’ research (based on conversations with more than 2,000 young people) which said that the Church has lost confidence in its work with young people. These pieces of research were followed by The Church of England report ‘Rooted in Church’, this said young people feel more part of church if you include and involve them. These are just the headline points, and I would encourage you click through and read the full reports.

All this research was launched within the space of a week. Just to offer a little context: the Theos piece was a summary of 54 pieces of rigorous research on young people, spirituality, and church in the USA and UK. The ‘Rooted in Church’ report was launched over two days and was set in the context of four other pieces of research, ‘Baptism Matters’, ‘The Toddler Report’, ‘We Are Family’, and ‘Talking Jesus’. Losing Heart was launched at Lambeth Palace and introduced by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

At the launch meetings for these reports the following themes stood out for me:

The Church also needs to be more confident in its message, that young people are interested in faith and God, and want to have those conversations.

The Church needs to be more confident about its work with young people; the skills are there and they can do it (there are plenty of great examples of working with young people).

The quality of work with young people is a reflection of the whole church. For example, if there is a drop off in children leaving church at 11, which we see a lot in the Church of England, then surely this raises questions about children's work? If parents are the best way of transmitting faith to young people and young people are leaving church in their droves then perhaps we should be asking questions about the faith of the adults in church? If church youth workers are not talking about subjects that young people are interested in (‘Losing Heart’ report) then are we covering the right subjects in Church generally? If we are not talking about porn to our young people, we are probably not talking porn to our adult Church congregation either.

Church by definition is cross generational, we minister from the cradle to the grave, so it is essential to see young people’s presence in the wider context.

It also became apparent that 2016 was a big year for the evolution of blogging in Youth Ministry. There was a squall of blogs that James Ballantyne, prolific blogger and Centre Director at Durham YFC, summarises here. There are others check out Ali Campbell’s offerings here. Together with all the research they offer some important issues to take forward.

So, here are CONCRETE’s headline thoughts on what this means for youth ministry in the UK:

1. Change of Focus:

The research in ‘Passing on Faith’ strongly implies that parents and parental figures are the best at passing on faith, so why do we expect our youth ministers/worker to do that?

What if a youth minister or volunteer youth worker focused 20% of their time supporting members of the church, parents or parental figures and the remaining 80% of their time directed toward young people outside of church?

This working outside the church the majority of their time would be free from the pressure to get ‘bums on seats’ but we need to work confidently, spreading God’s gracious message out of love rather than fear. We can take confidence that this message is one that young people are interested in and Christ’s salvation really is good news. This is takes some shifts in thinking from churches, leaders and parents/carers.

2. Building Confidence:

It’s time to change the narrative and stop talking down youth work and youth ministry. When a toddler (and youth work certainly trained youth workers really is comparable to a toddler when seen in the context of church ministries over the past few hundred years, and in its evolution as a career path) stumbles you don’t shout at them saying, ‘yea, see you are rubbish at walking….I knew it…’. You reach out to them, encourage them, hold their hand you remind them of the times it’s worked and why. You might offer a few tips and you point them in the right direction.

This doesn’t mean that youth worker are ‘off the hook’, we need to remain accountable, professionally and spiritually.

We need stories that are realistic but positive and hopeful. Here’s one: I met a curate in North London who met with three young people in his church, discussed what they wanted to do and planned a trip together. It was is the first time that had happened in his church for 50 years. If he can do it so can you!

3. Whole Church response:

This is long term: it is about investing now for outcomes in 10 or 15 years’ time. It requires building a culture where church leadership consciously think about how young people are included in Church life from the Eucharist and sung worship to sermon content. This needs to be incorporated into our training of church leaders in youth ministry, and in our training of youth workers, who must be able to communicate what they do, and work cohesively with church leadership and children’s workers.

Young people want to and need to be involved in the whole church. This is a blessing and a huge opportunity.

The responsibility lies with us to make room for them and be open to change that we might not like it. Everyone needs to feel part of the family.

This was curated by James Fawcett but is a combined effort by a few youth workers and is a CONCRETE network response.