Peter Brierleys Research : Have Church based youthworkers worked? (in relation to church attendance)

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For an American Audience, this might give you some insight into the context of young people & the British church.

§ 14.5 Have ‘Youth Workers’ Worked? Page 1
r Neil Summertown, Chairman of Partnership, the network of churches of Christian Brethren background,posed an
interesting strategic question – has the advent of paid Youth Workers into the British church scene been successful?
Ever since Robert Raikes started the Sunday School movement back in 1780, there has always been the necessity for a
huge number of volunteers to work with the children in our churches. At its peak (which lasted for about 25 years, 1880
to 1905), some 56% of the nation’s children went to Sunday School every week (see previous article). In 1905 that meant
more than 7 million children in total. The largest, in a Stockport church, had 5,000 children!1
There is no data whatever on the size of an average class, but if it was, say, 25, that means well over a quarter of a million
teachers spread across the 50,000 churches thatwere in the UK in 1905 or about 6 volunteers for every single church –
a veritable army who taught children Bible stories, good manners, honesty, uprightness, faithfulness and doing one’s duty.
A recent book (see Page 14.4) has suggested itwas this teaching on such a wide scale that sustained Britain through two
World Wars and the depression in between .
Nor is there any data on the age (or gender) of the majority of these volunteer teachers, but there is no reason to think that
they didn’t come from all ages of people in church life, since church membership was high at the start of the 20 century th
(almost a quarter, 23%, of the UK population). It peaked at 10.4 million in 1930.
Measuring basic numbers
The first English Church Census took place in 1979 and the second 10 years later in 1989. A comparison of the two sets
of figures showed that during the 1980s a huge number of teenagers had left the church. Church leaders didn’t need the
Census results to be told that– they simply confirmed what they already knew from experience. The question was what
to do about it. The 1989 Census also showed that while the number of those in their 20s coming to church had dropped,
those 30 and over s ti l l cam e in good numbers. It is likely that these (to be dubbed later the “builder” or “booster”
generation), who liked to teach and share their knowledge, were often Sunday School teachers.
But change was already happening, and the Builder Generation was giving way to the Baby BoomerGenerationin the late
1980s and when these folk hit their late teens and 20s they dropped off going to church. There began to be a dearth in
the numbers of volunteers willing to take Sunday School. The next generation of children, the so-called GenXers,were
very different from their parents and grandparents, and the generation gap began to become very real. This was also the
start of the time when going to church twice on a Sunday (still quite common in 1979) was also beginning to change, and,
if you only went once, you didn’t want to spend that “once” teaching in Sunday School.
Thus, in the 1990s, the concept of paying people to work with the church’s young people began, and academic colleges
began to put on courses for aspiring Youth Workers, and later degree courses. The 1998 English Church Census asked
churches if they had a paid youth worker, and some 7,500 churches replied in the affirmative,aboutone church in every
five, although a few churches shared a single individual.Has this battalion (hardly an “army”!) of paid youth workers made
any substantial difference to young people coming to church?
The situation in 1989
It is interesting to see now that in the 1989 book of the Census results no attempt was made to forecast the age results 3
forward into the future, perhaps because there was far too little data to do so. In 1979 5,441,000 people were counted in
church on an average Sunday; by 1989 that had become 4,742,800, a drop of 698,200. Table 14.5.1 shows the actual
changes by each age-group between 1979 and 1989, and what these would have become if those same trends had
continued until 1998, a 9-year period instead of 10 years.
Table 14.5.1: Net change in number of churchgoers by age, actual and projected
Period Under 15 15 to 19 20 to 29 30 to 44 45 to 64 65 & over TOTAL
1979-1989 -229,000 -157,700 -124,200 -64,300 -44,800 -78,200 -698,200
1989-1998E -206,100 -141,900 -111,800 -57,900 -40,300 -70,400 -628,400
The situation in 1998
However, with the actual data of 1998 now available, it is of course very easy to compare the results that might have been
anticipated in 1989 for 1998 with the specific findings. This is given in Table 14.5.2, on the next page, where the first line
simply repeats the last line of Table 14.5.1. The 1998 total of churchgoers was 3,714,700,a drop of 1,028,100 people,
64% above that expected from the total in Table 14.5.1.
§ 14.5 Have ‘Youth Workers’ Worked? Page 2
Table 14.5.2: Net change in number of churchgoers by age, projected and actual
Period Under 15 15 to 19 20 to 29 30 to 44 45 to 64 65 & over TOTAL
1989-1998E -206,100 -141,900 -111,800 -57,900 -40,300 -70,400 -628,400
1989-1998 -479,900 -109,100 -139,900 -174,800 -151,900 +27,500 -1,028,100
It is immediately obvious that, except in two age groupings (15 to 19 and 20 to 29), the projected and actual figures are
verydifferent, simplybecause during the 1990s so many more people left the church than might have been expected. A
better method of comparing would be to pretend that the actual total decline by1998 was the same as that projected in
1989,thatis, to reduce pro rata the various age-group losses in the bottom line so that their total was -628,400. This is
done in Table 14.5.3.
Table 14.5.3: Net change in number of churchgoers by age, projected and made-to-equal projection
Period Under 15 15 to 19 20 to 29 30 to 44 45 to 64 65 & over TOTAL
1989-1998E -206,100 -141,900 -111,800 -57,900 -40,300 -70,400 -628,400
1989-1998 -293,400 -66,700 -85,500 -106,800 -92,800 +16,800 -628,400
The two sets of figures in Table 14.5.3 are verydifferent,which supports the wisdom of not forecasting ahead based on
insufficient data! However, what Table 14.5.3 shows is interesting. If one assumed that the overall trend of losses
experienced in the 1980s had continued in the 1990s, then the actual count shows that many more children left than
expected and also adults aged 30 to 44 and 45 to 64, many of whom were probablythe parents of the children who left.
The number of teenagers who left was less than half what might have been expected, and the number in their 20s leaving
was also less (some of whom would have been in their teens in 1989).
Youth workers by definition work with “youth”, not always interpreted identically, but usuallymeaning those 15 and over
in manychurches. The number of youth who left the church in the 1990s was far fewer than would have been expected
from the 1980s data, suggesting thatyouth workers,who largelybegan working in churches in the 1990s, were making
a real impact in their churches and enabling more young people to stayon in church life than might have been the case.
If the constraining mechanism used in Table 14.5.3 is ignored, and one just looks at the actual full results given in Table
14.5.2, it may be seen thatthe actual number of teenagers who left in the 1990s was still much less than would have been
anticipated from, the 1980s data.
Youth Workers work!
The conclusion is that the employment of youth workers was successful, if “success” means young people staying on in
a church fellowship. That this was also the result on the ground is evidenced by the fact that many churches seeing this
success, but also observing in experience the appalling loss of children under 15 in the 1990s shown in Table 14.5.2,
started to appoint Children’s Workers as well as Youth Workers in the hope thattheytoo wouldsee similarsuccess. Some
churches have gone further and appointed Family Workers to take account of the loss of parents as well as children.
The situation in 2005
Afourth English Church Census was undertaken in 2005. It showed the total number of churchgoers was then 3,166,200
or a loss ofa further -548,500 people since 1998. Based on the actual losses shown in the bottom line ofTable 2 in the
1990s, what might the losses have been if constrained to just 7 years by 2005? Table 14.5.4 shows the actual losses
between 1989 and 1998, a 9 year period, and what they would have been if they had continued at the same rate for the
next 7 years to 2005.
Table 14.5.4: Net change in number of churchgoers by age, actual and projected
Period Under 15 15 to 19 20 to 29 30 to 44 45 to 64 65 & over TOTAL
1989-1998 -479,900 -109,100 -139,900 -174,800 -151,900 +27,500 -1,028,100
1998-2005E -373,200 -84,900 -108,800 -136,000 -118,100 +21,400 -799,600
This time, however, the anticipated drop in the number of churchgoers judging by the 1990s experience is more than the
actualloss of people. This is mainly because of the huge surge in the number of non-whitechurchgoers attendingchurch
in the opening years of the 21 century, which suggests that this fairly simplistic analysis really needs to be done broken st
down by denomination as well. The necessary data is available for anyone who would like to do it!4
1 How f ar this m ight hav e depended on phy sical prov isions such as m eals, drinks, f ood, clothing etc . in an era of extrem e pov erty in the working class is not
2 The Strange Death of M oral Britain, Christie Dav ies, Transaction Publishers, London, 2007.
3 ‘Christian’ England, Peter Brierley , MAR C Europe, London, 1991, C hapter 4.
4 See Religious Trends, No 6, 2006/2007, C hristian R esearch, Eltham , London, 2006, Table 5.6.2.
This is an extract from UK Church Statistics 2005-2015, published June 2011, giving an update of
the latest statistics across all denominations in the UK. It is available from Brierley Consultancy. See
website for details or email Peter Brierley at
§ 14.5 Have ‘Youth Workers’ Worked? Page 3
Table 14.5.5 compares the anticipated losses shown in the bottom line of Table 14.5.4 with the actual losses which
occurred between 1998 and 2005. The middle line of the Table constrains the anticipated losses between 1998 to 2005
to the actual total loss by 2005, to enable easier comparisons.
Table 14.5.5: Net change in number of churchgoers by age, projected and actual
Period Under 15 15 to 19 20 to 29 30 to 44 45 to 64 65 & over TOTAL
1998-2005E -373,200 -84,900 -108,800 -136,000 -118,100 +21,400 -799,600
1998-2005E -256,000 -58,300 -74,600 -93,300 -81,000 +14,700 -548,500
1998-2005 -104,200 -64,600 -112,700 -124,900 -131,600 -10,500 -548,500
The comparison in the bottom two lines, as before, is interesting. The number of children who actually left between 1998
and 2005 is way below the number that might have been expected to leave had past trends continued. As paid Children’s
Workers, rather than volunteers, began working in churches during the late 1990s and early 2000s this again would
suggest that their work has been successful.
It may be seen thatthe number ofteenagers leaving is perhaps slightlymore than expected, but it needs to be remembered
that this is a fairly crude analysis and a difference of 6,000 teenagers spread across 37,500 churches is almost certainly
within the margins of error. In other words, Youth Workers can do so much, but they can’t do everything. Some teenagers
will leave the church however brilliant the Youth Worker. Likewise the variation in numbers forthose 65 and over is not
really consequential.
What Table 14.5.5 does confirm, however, is the very serious situation with many more people in their 20s, 30s, 40s and
50s leaving the church than might have been expected from earlier studies.Even taking the full expected loss between
1998 and 2005 (the first line in Table 5) the actual numbers of those leaving in their 20s and aged 45 to 64 is still greater.
The percentage of people in their 20s attending church is the lowest percentage, 3%, of all age-groups taken as a
proportion of the population. These and those aged 30 to 44 roughly form the GenXer generation.
We are also losing those aged 45 to 64, the (Baby) Boomers generation. It should be noted that “loss” in this context
invariably means attending church far less frequentlythan theyused to, perhaps just once a month, rather than actually
leaving the church altogether. Reaching the age when many would expect to take on responsibility in the church (or
Christian agencies) many are simply turning away from that acceptance, preferring a lack of commitment instead. Many
Christian agencies find it very difficult to get new Trustees of people in this age-range for similar reasons, and a number
have closed when the founder retired unable to hand over to a suitable successor. Many of the New Churches have had
leadership problems, precisely in this age range, and the consequence is their total numbers are now declining.
So what?
This article was requested asking the question whether paid Youth Workers had proved successful. The answer is positive,
but with the recognition that they can’t do everything, and some continuing loss is likely to happen even if a church has
a paid Youth Worker (but the loss would likely be greater if the Youth Worker was not present). The same is true for paid
Children’s Workers, which suggests thatthese relativelynew types of employment will continue to be needed in churches
as the century progresses.
The analysis has also revealed, however, the enormous losses in church attendance being seen atlaterages,especially
among folk in their 20s, and those aged 45 to 64,the Boomer Generation. Some churches are seeking to offset this by
employing Family Workers. The analysis also shows that while volunteers will always be needed, more and more
professional staff will be required if church attendance is not to drop even more drastically in the days ahead.


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