Why outcomes in youth ministry exclude the poor

Yesterday i wrote a lengthy piece on why it isnt new that the church has abandoned the poor, because youth ministry has struggled with working with young people deemed ‘underclass’ , ‘poor’ or disruptive/challenging, ever since the dawn of Sunday schools. Youth Ministry’s struggle to work with the poor Since writing it i wondered if there was a simpler way of describing the issue. And there is. It is as simple as looking at the outcomes that have deem youth ministry to be successful.

Have a think about all the measurable outcomes that are part and parcel for youth ministry over the last few years and months….

so on..

you have a go….


heres some of them…

  • Keeping the group going?
  • Growing the church?
  • Telling young people about Jesus?
  • Giving them opportunities to share faith?
  • Helping young people mature in the faith?
  • Helping young people participate in the life of the church?
  • enabling young people to be ‘university ready’?
  • Discipling young people?
  • Helping young people be good citizens?
  • Shape young people into good christian leaders
  • Teaching them and helping them be aware of issues in ‘the world’ – sex, porn, racism, ‘the media’ etc etc
  • Safety (ive done this before its here: http://wp.me/p2Az40-Vm)

I bet you can think of several more.

Can anyone see the problem? 

We could make the argument that all young people are oppressed in Society, even the young people given the opportunity of private school are victims of oppression due to their age and also being part of the same targetted demographic that sees young people as a problem. But i think this is a weak argument to make in regard to young people and poverty. Thats not to say none of the young people who have the benefits of private education are not in need of faith. Again, its not the point. The point is that when it comes to taking seriously the oppression and poverty of young people in society, outcomes orientated youth ministry cause only the cream to rise to the top, and be focussed on.

For any outcome to be seen to be successful it needs to be measurable. And this involves numbers and indicators. What this means is that as a result the success of doing youth ministry is based on young people, groups and activities that enable the above to occur. And what becomes outcome orientated becomes focussed on.

As result, even in something as unpredictable as youth ministry, having outcomes, targets and strategies for these, causes a inevitable to turn to enabling these things to happen, in a way that might be efficient, controlling and predicatable. Its a turn to aspects of what Macdonalds has made famous in its managerial and working processes.

Turning to efficiency – will inevitably mean that working with challenging young people might be seen as a ‘waste of time’

Turning to predictability – might cause a shift to manage audiences that are less disruptive ( see previous post)

Turning to control – well if we can get away with the using similar materials year on year itll mean we know what we’re doing.

It mean that something like detached youthwork, an open youth club, chaplaincy, schools work, community work all face the axe, as they arent able to fit within such a neat organised ordered outcome system, at least not very easily. They need to be viewed as counter this culture and good for what they are, especially if they are moments of genuine interaction with young people who actually are poor. It is almost not enough to invest financially in something because it might be ‘good’ anymore.

Thats a complicated way of saying that having outcomes favours working with compliant young people.

Outcomes for youth ministry show that its a numbers game

The bums on seats argument is one that is not going to be repeated here. But Measuring church by numbers is the pastime of the church. Its new appointments within youth ministry are evangelists, and thus concerned with growing a dying church, and looking for models of growth ( again efficiency/outcomes) – not goodness.  Meeting the needs of an institution mean that a numbers game is played, and that reduces completely the value of the human existence. Empty churches and ‘praying for those not here’ dominate. Having a ‘church growth’ midset ( all business speak) , developing ‘leadership’ are all monuments from an outcome orientated agenda, one fixed more on institution that intuition and improvisation, strategy not community salvation.

But if we’re serious about church growth – we dont care who attends – just cause them to come, create an audience, put it on social media!

If we’re serious about youth ministry continuing – keep the numbers up and entertain the young people – its those who fit in..

if we’re serious about young people participating in the life of the church – then we’ll give the opportunities to those who can thrive in that setting.

If we’re serious about teaching young people – then we’ll shape the audience accordingly.

But whilst all of these outcomes are common. None reflect an awareness or desire to genuinely work in areas that might be deemed ‘hard to reach’ , ‘ working class’. Its an outcomes and numbers game that causes those to be left behind. Any numbers game causes a shift in working practices. the evidence of this is in schools who shift around at huge cost the young people who struggle. Because no one wants to invest in young people from the bottom to get to the first rung of an academic ladder, its about a-c. Its also the problem in youth ministry that has a bent towards enabling leaders – leadership looks like what the church regards as leadership, and character, wealth and influence seem to make a greater case for what this should look like. Leadership is not only mostly male, it is also mostly middle class, or post oxbridge.

None of the traditional outcomes for youth ministry have any serious attempt to recognise that the dynamics of mission within abandoned estates, with families facing food bank or debt relief looks substantially different. Outcomes focus on maintaining an institution. Being present and loving a local community, family and struggling young person is what Jesus might have us do i know what youll say, But that doesnt yield results?  **** the results.

We do what we do ‘for the least of these’. So let have youth ministry that has a heart for ‘for the least of these’ and practices that are shaped around this.

2 thoughts on “Why outcomes in youth ministry exclude the poor

  1. Hi James – I am loving re-reading these posts on youth ministry and the poor. I’m a community and youth worker, and live near a small housing estate in Bendigo (large regional town – 100K – in Australia). I reckon this stuff you are writing is just so important for us to hear and do something about – especially when youth ministries are struggling and therefore prone to reach for simplistic solutions to boost “participation” (read = “numbers”).

    Liked by 1 person

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