What are the self limitations of youth ministry?

In his book ‘Church for every Context’ (2012) Michael Moynagh outlines a number of contributory factors which he argues have caused churches to act in a self limiting way that reduces growth, active mission and sustainability; these are:

  1. It (church) has failed to connect with peoples daily concerns; such as the increase in pastimes, growth of feminism and church’s slow response to view women accordingly, it hasn’t changed its approach in terms of delivery in the same way that supermarkets (small-large-delivery-small again- click/collect) might have
  2. It has self limited in terms of availability. It meets at a time set by its own groupings, not those it seeks to serve.
  3. Any worshiping community will put others off, people identify with groups and not with others, so if theres a majority demography in a church (older, intellectual, black, etc) then people not of this ‘type’ might find it more difficult to join, where it might seem strange or different.
  4. Might it be that reduced choice also acts as a self limiting – ie if all the ministrial eggs are put into the one baskets of sundays – what about those who cant make it. Some research could suggest that limited services = limited accesibility=limited growth. Its not proven this one, but might be worth a discussion.
  5. It might be limited in terms of its organisation. Where it occurs, where large buildings stand empty, yet small congregations in small buildings and small parishes have better missional growth. Yes you heard it here. Thus more smaller churches might make mission more effective (p79)
  6. Clergy based mission – rather than congregational mission activity limits the church. rarely did clergy actually bring in more people than the congregation. However the model itself was self limiting as it discouraged congregational mission and left it to the ‘expert’ the professional clergy, who might also control or block lay initiatives.
  7. The church is over capatalised, with more % of its money spent on larger inefficient buildings and maintaining itself.

Moynagh goes on to suggest that the tide has to change within the institutions.

However, the question I ask is what , if we’re honest, might be the self limitations of youth ministry? might some of the above be as relevant for work with young people as it is for the church as a whole. Especially in terms of accessibility, demo-graphs of gathered young people, desire for large groups, instead of investing and equipping in smaller groups (to see their development fulfilled), reliance on the youth minister to act to bring ‘in’ young people. There may be other contributing, self limiting factors for youth ministry,  not that it is declining as such, but it certainly isn’t having the major impact on swathes of young people in communities that it intends to. What might be others?

Might Church itself might be the limitation of youth ministry? ie what it models and endorses, and passes down is a contributing factor in how youth ministry is performed, and thus restricted by..?

Davies (2012, in Ord , 2012) makes the following salient point: “At its worst, Christian youth work (in which he means in this case, church based youth ministry with young people in a church setting) is a context where innovation, creativity and diversity is being crushed because of the weight of established tradition and culture”  So, set within the church, which Davies goes on to say, has a cultural preference for creating safe spaces, for nostalgia and space away from current troubles, may all be at odds with a transforming, innovative practice with young people, especially those from outside of this culture. Might the church self limit youth ministry?

If there are self limiting factors, will the trick be to start to name them, realise them and undo the oppression that the their effect has had on young people and the young persons faith in a faith community?

What might be other contributing factors in Youth Ministry’s self limitation?


Author: James

Currently I work part time for both Frontier Youth Trust (www.fyt.org.uk) and Communities Together Durham (www.communitiestogetherdurham.org) , though this blog is my own personal views. I am also self employed and do various aspects of youthwork consultancy, including training, writing, lecturing, seminars and written pieces, including organisational consultancy, community profiling and detached/youthwork training. Please do get in touch if I can be of help to you in your church, project or organisation to develop your youth and community work. I have contributed to 'Here be Dragons (2013), and two recent articles in the youth and theology journal and 'ANVIL' the CMS online journal. My recent employment includes, working for FYT as a youthwork development adviser, being the centre director at Durham YFC, and before this I was known as 'Mr Sidewalk' as I was the project coordinator for the Sidewalk Project in Perth, where I facilitated the delivery of 5 years of detached youthwork on the streets, schools and communities to engage with young people , and support through alcohol misuse issues. In 2017 I completed an MA in Theology & Ministry at St John's College, Durham, and in 2008 graduated from ICC (now NTC Glasgow) with an honours degree in youth work with Applied theology.

One thought on “What are the self limitations of youth ministry?”

  1. I would also add that some churches limit YM to didactic styles of education rather than relational learning experiences. Even the yp at the church I attend sit (in front of me) and expect to be spoon fed something.
    People are probably sick of me quoting Job, so I won`t, however the last person to speak is a yp called Elihu, he rebukes Job and his “friends” and after God has spoken and Job humbles himself, does God ask Job to pray and sacrifice for Elihu, no! Elihu had it right, he listened, he reflected and he then spoke.
    Let yp speak, learn with them and we do not limit the church (IMHO). 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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