Even Americans are saying programmable youth ministry is broken…reviewing an evening with Kenda Creasy Dean. 

But fortunately in the UK the answer is close to hand. 

I have just arrived back from an evening with Kenda Creasy Dean in Leeds, (hosted by the Yorkshire plus region of the Methodist church). Kenda is an American youth ministry specialist, writer and academic. It was probably the first time I have heard directly from an American youth ministry person and an academic at that. That’s outside of the many books or articles I’ve read or reflected on. In a way I was curious about what might be the next trend in UK youth ministry given that it’s usually 10 years behind America,  or decides to ignore it completely. 


Kendra admitted that American youth ministry is broken, it’s programmes and franchises ineffective and that an image of the church as a ship heading for a shipwreck was her opening metaphor. 

Though like the wreckage from the ship, some of its raw resources are still needed to help it’s voyagers still reach the shore. Even as a floating raft.

Fortunately the answer is already being practiced.

So we’re ahead in the UK. There’s practices, thinking and an emerging history of it UK already. 

It’s asset based entrepreneurial youthwork.

Kenda contrasted ministry ‘done to’ young people, suggesting that young people in churches needed to be given space to have their creativity and ideas harnessed. So, not the programme but the person and their gift. Create the right kind of culture in a church that harnesses young peoples ideas, a space that is able to accept their improvised offers.

Kenda suggested that young people need to be supported, empowered and listened to. That a ministry of youth leaders deciding programmes has finite appeal. It’s what the values of youth work look like. Young people first. Young people as the primary clients. (Sercombe 2010)

Kenda then showed case studies of young people using the resources of the local churches to develop their own social enterprises. From cakes and pies, to aids for ppl with disabilities, from cafe churches with also host sewing to make fun capes for children in hospital. All as the result of ideas young people had, their creativity and the support of a church community to try, to be brave and to support the young people, being courageous, not taking over but providing resources as required. Yes there’s an element of long term investment. But quick instant wins don’t change communities or young people.  And most enterprise didn’t make money, but enough to be sustained or set aside for other ideas. 

In a way it’s using entrepreneurial skills in the church and young people to develop young people themselves. It’s something the church has always done. It’s philanthropic entrepreneurs started sunday schools or charities or housing organisations. Entrepreneurial asset based youthwork only gives it away as an approach to empower young people to be community changers themselves, and be church creators themselves through their connectability. 

If I was cynical I’d ask about theology and faith within this. What this provides is opportunities for sharing gifts,  apprenticeship and task orientated discipleship. But who needs teaching about doctrines if they are being performed? I might also ask whether it is an adoption of the ‘ways of business, and commercialism’ by the church, church accepting culture, but i think that might be trivial given the good that it is doing. 

So. When Key American youth ministry practitioners are having doubts about the inherited patterns of ministry, in the UK we should take notice.We should think twice about Doug Fields and purpose driven programmes. Americans have started to cotton on to youthwork as an educational process, of values of empowerment, of community participation and of justice. As well developing gifts of both the young people and the resources of local communities including what the church has already got. Fortunately in the UK we have the experts in this field. There are 100’s of trained christian youthworkers who understand youthwork, there are emerging areas of churched adopting asset based approaches, and ‘who hasnt got business skills’?

Maybe it just takes the Americans to gift wrap it, to make whats already going on valid in the eyes of those who look to america for the ‘next great thing’ – when it is here all along.

Kenda suggested that churches discover local needs and gifts, something uk community workers, detached workers and pioneers have done for ages. It is local church. Local process and local transformation. It is not a sellable universal programme.


What is coming out of the US as innovation and the innovative answer to young peoples participation in the long term life of the church in action in its community, is what in parts is already going on here in the UK.  We’re already doing it folks or at least weve got the barebones, it’ll be putting it all together.

We know youth work and it’s values and educational process

We know asset based community development 

We know entrepreneurial church. We know church as process through emerging church and fresh expressions. 

We just need to trust young people and open up spaces for them to be creators, leaders and deciders, through which they’ll also be learners. 

Young people to be the solutions to other problems, not the problem to be solved

It is quite literally, going to a place whether neither us or they have been before. But with tools we already have practice of using. 


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