For as long as I can remember this verse and the phrase ‘incarnational youth ministry’ have been a core ethos behind much of the church-based youth work training I’ve been part of and consequently have informed a lot of my own practice in the 15 years I’ve been involved in youth work. When I was first starting out this often took the form of detached youth work and even schools ministry as we sought to ‘meet young people where they’re at’*.
Fast forward to now and I wonder if it’s time for us to seriously re-think what incarnational youth ministry looks like in our culture today. The Church of England’s General Synod recently discussion a motion that included information on the decline of children and young people attending Sunday worship and so it’s fair to say that if we’re going to seek to meet young people where they’re at we probably shouldn’t find ourselves in a church building.
So, where are they?
According to the NSPCC’s ‘How Safe Are Our Children?’ report from 2019 44% of those aged 5-15 said they owned a smartphone and according to the National Office for Statistics 95% of those aged 16 to 24 own a mobile phone.
If we break this down into usage, the NSPCC say that 90% of 11-16 year olds surveyed have a social media account (with Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, YouTube and Snapchat being the most used platforms). Youth for Christ’s 2016 Gen-Z research said that 81% of those surveyed spent their spare time watching YouTube videos and 74% spent time using social media which contrasted with their statistic that only 2% said a youth club was their favourite place to spend time.
This means that if we’re asking the question ‘where can young people be found’ our answer is often: online.
For those of us involved in youth ministry this poses a very real challenge of ‘how do we safely engage with young people online?’ What does digital youth ministry look like?
This is a question I don’t have the answer to and nor do I think there is one simple answer but the really exciting thing about this question is that it enables us to think collectively about how we can reimagine youth ministry in a digital world.
There are, of course, a number of youth groups with Instagram accounts (check out HTB Youth), Youth for Christ have employed Ben Cutting as a digital evangelist (who runs the YouTube channel Intro Outro), Oli Deeks from Camberley Youth for Christ has been working on their YouTube channel as they explore how to be intentional about reaching young people online and I’m 99.9% sure there is much more being tried and tested across the country.
This is where I (finally) reach the point of this blog!
If we’re going to experiment with digital youth ministry, reimaging detached youth work for the 21st century and meet young people where they’re at then it’s incredibly important that we share our experiences.
At CONCRETE we have set up a Facebook group for our Young People Online Think Tank with that intention. We want to create a space where youth leaders can ask questions, share good practice, reflect on their experiments and encourage each other as we look at what this exciting new youth ministry might look like.
What does it mean for us to ‘become flesh and blood and move into the neighbourhood’ online? Come and join us and let’s explore together – https://www.facebook.com/groups/449223812355695/
*which also happens to be the title of a book on detached youth work by Richard Passmore!