Over this weekend I have been leading training with the EQUIP NORTH EAST students on the Unit entitled ‘working with young people’ (for details of the equip course see the above menu.) One of the questions I asked the students on Friday evening was,
When you were a young person, what were some of the reasons you kept going to the youth activities that you went to?
Most of them went to things like Boys brigade, church groups, sports clubs, music related activities, after school groups, and this list of things was fairly obvious; it was things like;
- I was made to feel welcome
- I met my friends
- I met other friends who i wasnt at school with
- It was safe
- I learned stuff
- I had new experiences
In a way, most of the research about young people and groups, fitted these answers, however, I also wanted to ask them, and develop more of a discussion about why they didnt stay in certain groups, clubs and activities.
These might or might not be that obvious, but are worth reflecting on further:
Responses to ‘why did you leave the youth provision?’
- I was told i had to leave as I was too old for it -ie the max age was 11
- It was boring after a year – It didnt change at all – so i lost interest – it was like groundhog day.
- It was boring after a year – I felt too old for it because it didnt change – unlike Harry Potter films, It didnt grow old with me.
- The groups kept changing and i was forced to go in a group i didnt want to – so i left
- For things like sports activities, cost and travel was mentioned
- I felt like i needed to be taught stuff differently, it felt too much like school.
- The leaders kept changing, so i didnt know who to trust to speak to
- I was the only person that age, so the church decided they couldnt do anything for me, so i left and found a different church to go to.
- Other kids seemed to be favourites and get responsibility.
- I was too busy and had to prioritise, usually school work came first from the age of 15….
None of the group of adults in the training are over 25, so all of these experiences are in the recent past, ie in the last 15 years of being involved in youth activities in churches and sports clubs in the UK, its not an exhaustive survey, by any means, but similarly I would think there is enough even in these responses to reflect on the experiences of young adults in churches. The questions that arise are:
- Does Youth Ministry grow old with the young people – or are young people supposed to make the transitions themselves – ie hop from group to group as they get older?
- If Youth Ministry is meant to be significant to young people – why is it the first, it seems, to go when other things take priority? There is due reason for school work being so, but if sports clubs clash – why do ‘they win’? – if they have more meaning, does ‘youth ministry’ need to find ways to mean more than what could be a free social night and a few games.
- Young people are hugely perceptive of changes, and because they are constructing their identity ( Wyn/White) they make interpretations of the decisions made on their behalf – especially ones they dont control or feel an injustice.
- Young people wont stay to something that makes them feel younger than they are, but are happier to raise their game and be challenged.
- Young people felt quite sad that they have to leave things for reasons out of their control.
- Young people want responsibility and opportunities and find these elsewhere if they’re bypassed from them in the church groups.
- It shouldnt remind them of school, but they want to be challenged, we have got to make our youth ministry and work provision around different educational methods and approaches ( informal), learning styles , and if its a faith group use a variety of ways of forming about faith – can faith be ‘taught’ in all learning styles?
- Connecting with adults on a consistent basis matters. No one said that the person has to be young, trendy, or relevant. Consistency was far more important.
So, a few thoughts on why young people stayed in youth groups & provision, why they left, and reflecting on these. They may not be rocket science. But as youth provision is a voluntary attendance, then its not about always trying to make it bigger and better, but to make it meaningful, consistent and better.