Has Youth Ministry hit ‘peak’ research on Youth Culture?

A few years ago, i got started in the cycling bug. Before the Olympics and Sir Bradley, a few years before. To the extent when I actually started buying a monthly magazine. Mostly for a free pair of cycling glasses for the subscription, but hey, not bad. Still got the glasses now as it happens. Until one day I was talking about it to another cyclist and they said they didnt bother with the magazines, as they said that ‘every magazine is the same, its just about riding faster’. And I stopped reading the magazines and being slightly too obsessed, and just enjoyed riding the bike. I didnt need the same magazine every month to tell me how to ride faster.

I wonder, a bit like the pursuit of speed on a bike and having 2 years worth of magazines to tell me the same thing, whether Youth Ministry has hit peak research.

2016-2017 has felt at times to be the year of research in youth ministry.Image result for research

In the last year alone, of UK youth Ministry; Youthscape released ‘Losing heart’ and the church of England ‘Rooted in the church’ and Theos ‘Passing on Faith’ – Ali Campbell has summarised all them pretty well on his Blog Here: http://theresource.org.uk/3-youth-and-childrens-ministry-research-reports-what-do-they-tell-us/

Passing on Faith is here: Passing on Faith

Rooted in the Church: https://www.churchofengland.org/media/3775547/rooted-in-the-church-summary-report-nov-2016.pdf

Losing Heart is here: https://youthscape.co.uk/research/publications/losing-heart

Then not that long ago this piece of research appeared from the Fuller Institute, in which they had conducted surveys from 1000’s of churches in American that managed to keep young people, a link to this is here: https://fulleryouthinstitute.org/blog/young-people-want-in-church – if you google ‘future trends in youth culture’ youll find buckets of articles…

About 3 years ago, The fresh expression/church growth research was published, in which it commended that churches with youthworkers and 1 vicar/1church were likely to ‘grow’.

Before that, in 2007, A report was published by FYT into the future of Christian Youth work in the UK.

5 years before that in 2005, the oft quoted ‘Soul Searching, by Christian Smith was published, again several 100 young people across the US were interviewed about their faith adherence in a local church or youth group. Its fascinating, get a copy.

Before that, and my first foray into discovering that youth ministry liked its research, was being given a copy of ‘Rick Bartletts 1997 YFC report on ‘Future trends in Youth Ministry’ a report which i know i still have somewhere, but cannot find. However, in looking for it I discovered the following article on the state of youth ministry in south Africa in 2003 and alot of the essence is the same: http://www.futurechurchnow.com/2010/07/28/challenges-facing-youth-ministry-in-the-21st-century/. I know I will have missed other reports and research.

But have we reached Peak research in Youth Ministry, especially on ‘generalised youth culture’ ?

I mean what else is there to know about being in contact with young people, building relationships, engaging them in an authentic way about faith, via their needs & interests, and helping young people maintain an involvement in their local church and have ongoing faith & discipleship.

What is it about youth culture, for example that is so revolutionary to know about – just so that youthworkers can have a conversation with a young person?

How do we reach young people in the year 2017? the same as 2010, and 2006, and 1999 – find a contact point and talk with them. the school, the streets, the parks. Youll not find them all, and thats fine. Do you need to know what year they were born in to be able to have a conversation and build rapport? nope.

Is awareness ofBaby boomers, generation Y or Z, or millennial generation, or generation K – going to give prejudgements and assumptions about young people that arent necessary? could do. And do sweeping statements mean anything in the individual setting every youthworker finds themselves in anyway? It only matters if there can be universal projects, programmes and approaches – none of which put the specific needs or interests of the young people in our communities first anyway. Does youth culture matter in specific contexts when each community might have its own. and if so is there any need for a barometer to measure them up against, better to listen to the specifics and discover needs and interests from the point of interaction. That was said first in 1967 by the way. It might be worth repeating. (Goetschius/Tash, 1967)

Having just read Soul Searching, the Rooted in the church, and Fuller Institute research all point in the direction of thinking about how young people connecting in faith in their local church. From developing the family and actual biblical theology ( Soul searching), A healthy place and challenges (Fuller Institute) and from Rooted in the church, ‘welcoming places’, ‘intergenerational worship’ and greater participation. – Nuff said – how do we make this happen- and how might youth ministry be part of changing to this – rather than perpetuating relevance and attraction.

Is there anything else to be said, that need to be said now? Does there need to be any more research on youth ministry, or youth culture? or young people in church? Have we got enough information to make the necessary changes in practice, or try things out.

The question also is, how much of the research finds its way into changing practices anyway? Has Soul searching caused a shift in US youth ministry to deeper theology? Did rick Bartletts research affect youth ministry organisations? What change will rooted in the church bring? (hopefully lots)

If deep changes are required in the cultures of local churches to keep young people – is producing research the right way to go about it, or does culture in church shift in a different way to external prodding?

Of course the other thing about research, and producing it, is that it sets a narrative about itself and the organisation for a few weeks, theres good publicity, and people writing and blogging about it, responding and challenging it, none of which is unimportant to getting messages out there – but are those who create change actually listening? Will anything said about youth culture today, actually be so different (technology aside) to that of 1997? Do young people still desire authenticity, long term relationships, challenge, and hope? – well same as generation x, or y.

There will be no doubt more research produced in the next few months, another youth ministry organisation will probably follow suit, Maybe its the trendy thing to do, to be relevant in youth ministry in 2016-2017. It is noticeable that a culture of research seems not to be in youth work, not in the same way.

But has youth ministry hit ‘peak research’?


Author: James

Currently I work part time for both Frontier Youth Trust (www.fyt.org.uk) and Communities Together Durham (www.communitiestogetherdurham.org) and 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.

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