I can think of a few reasons for this; but starting with some of the evidence in local regions. If you were to look at the following websites : Nomis Age structure Data or ONS you will be relatively easily be able to find out how many young people there are in specific areas of the country. Ive just used the drop down area selection on the Nomis page to discover the quantity of people in age bands for the local authority area of Hartlepool. Its possible to locate LA and regional figures.
Every Anglican Diocese has about 300 parish churches, and most areas will have at least 2/3 again non Anglican churches.
Depending on how generous we’re feeling, let say that whether there are paid/voluntary/professional/ecumenical youthworkers in post in some of the churches/towns, that each church maybe works on average with 10 young people.
So if there are 500 churches in a diocese area, 10 children and young people per church – thats about 5,000 young people. How many young people are in your county or region or area again?
How many service for adults, families and the older people occur in churches?
How much money is being spent on and directed towards theological training to maintain these services? – compared to the money invested in thinking, researching and growing ‘working with young people in appropriate contextual ways’?
So what are the reasons for this?
- Churches have believed the lie that to work well with young people that you have to be young, aware of ‘you tube’ and be personally relevant to their culture.
- Churches have believed the lie that young people are scary, hard work, difficult and challenging. I think if the mirror was held up at PCC meetings….
- Churches have believed since 1960’s that evangelism is the key driver for working with young people, and thus relevance (point 1), and fun/relevence to a gospel message, and church growth as a definable outcome contribute to often poor and unrealistically evaluated approaches being used
- If point 2 is to be believed, then the only way young people can be worked with is by an expert. And if there isnt the resource in the church to fund an expert then there might be a reluctance to start.
- Maybe that young people all leave town to go to Uni at 18 – so whats the point? or is it that they are economically not viable in the short term? (ie they dont give money to the church now)
Maybe one of the main reasons churches arent prioritising working with young people, is the thought that they already are, through establishments, like church schools, ceremonies like baptisms, or the groups that do exist in the church cultures such as BB, Guides or the YF. – but how many young people from the local area of the church are these groups actually affecting? what of the young people who dont/arent able to attend these things?
The National church of England has a responsibility to the spiritual life and well being of people in the parishes across the country, and that includes people who are not yet considered adults (but are considered people).
Maybe working with young people isnt a priority because it doesnt know where to start? Or maybe because it knows what the outcome is (ie young people coming to church) and doesnt know how to make this happen? Maybe the more churches be deliberate in achieving the outcome the less likely young people might be to respond anyway.
Here’s an thought. What if by 2020, there have been 100,000 positive informal conversations between young people and adults in the county, that aren’t currently happening now? and that a large % of these might be about faith, about life about young people and their reflections on faith/life and future. Is that not a positive thing enough? And yes who knows where that might lead, but at least there’s a possibility based on actual knowledge and relationships being created…
What if adults and young people started to have conversations that actively broke down misconceptions about all of 1-5 above… what might that do for society, for faith and for the churches, what if every parish, every town had a team of detached youthworkers, ready to meet young people on the streets, listen, and grow the church from scratch all over again…
the thing about detached is that young people dont care about you (ie how trendy you’re trying to be) they care about how honest, respectful and trustworthy you are to them. They are to be found interesting, not you. It shifts the balance.
No im not saying that detached youthwork is going to solve all of it, but the days of posters, events and invites has so long gone, it went when the steam engines did. Cultures have shifted and the work of the church with young people in local communities has got to start with them, listening to them and in a place where they are more comfortable that we are.
It needs 3 people. 3 people who can walk. 3 people who want to listen to young people. The street pastors have gathered armies of volunteers to be out at 3am, surely in churches and parishes across the land we can begin to develop moments of conversations on the streets, in public places such as parks, shops and skateparks, moments of sharing life and being with young people and discover a new world of already spiritual young people, of God already at work in the life of communities and opportunities to explore, learn and grow together.
Also, with not much training, its bloody cheap, it builds community and says something about the vulnerability and discipleship to which is professed.
If you’re interested in starting this let me, or FYT/Streetspace know- we would love to help you start this journey…