Another set of data on Church attendances hit the ground at the end of last week. And in this one, it said that only 3/4 of churches have got any young people. Or more positively 1/4 dont have any children or young people.
The headline and figures from the data are here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-41720994
Interestingly the report suggests that on average that 9 children attend each church service across the UK.
And think about it, if every church DID have 9 children and young people – then it has the beginnings of a discipleship group. The problem is that for many churches, a large majority in the North east for example (and recent internal audits have shown this) that less than 5% of churches have more than 10 young people in entire dioceses. It means that Somebody, some church somewhere is getting a very large share of the children and young people, and the churches in the North just arent. So what could be the solution?
Have too many young people? Develop a Parish share system
On the other hand, having more than 9 children and young people, might just be too much of a burden for some churches, theres youth ministers to pay for, groups and resources to buy, policies and DBS’s to initiate, and theres the stress of them causing a disruption or leaving. It might well be that a church of england redistribution programme is required, and so, if you are the church leader where you have more than 9 children or young people – just try and encourage them to go to a smaller church where there are less young people – just to share them out a big. Tactics might include Praying for the parents to get jobs in ‘the north’, or to ‘go to their local walking distance church, not the city one with lots of families. It needs a radical shake up, and developing a theology of sharing the families, (not encouraging churches to grow and get bigger) , is what is required, many many churches would bite your hand off for a few extra families, a few young people, a sunday school with more than 2 groups.
But big churches – share them around – help smaller churches feel more positive about themselves because there are children, young people and families. Taking families from them, is leaving the smaller church without its required average of 9.
On a more serious note – what does a church do if it has no young people?
- Steal a few from another church. Yes, the best way. Then the children a pre packaged and ready for a lifetime of conformity, and will be culturally ok with ‘groups’ and ‘teaching’ – all ready to leave by the time theyre 13…
- Pray and wait for a return to the good old days of the 1950’s . Nothing against praying, lots against praying for a return for a bygone era, that wasnt as rosy. When, though it never happened, people would just walk into a church, or see a poster and do it.
- Hire a youthworker. Yes, for £20,000 (+ other costs) – you can just pay for a qualified person to guarantee the little cherubs will miraculously wander into church. Its usually the expectation, though if it actually happened, many churches would have a shock.
- Change a service. Yes, make a service that no families go to, or no families like, a family friendly service. Its like, no one really asks what families actually like, but they must like this, as opposed to the ‘non’ family friendly, where all the families are ignored, poked and spat on. Where theyre not welcome. Its like the non seeker friendly services, where visitors are made to stand up and be noticed. But, yeah, changing a service is immediately going to help a family who wouldnt have gone to church to decide to give up a sunday lie in and turn up instead. Even more so if theres a poster. Changing one service one decade at a time. Might just steal a few families (see suggestion 1)….
- Go to conferences on ‘How to get young people into church’ – write papers on ‘youth friendly churches’ – host ‘conversations’ on being a ‘youth ful church’ , but actually going to speak to young people in the local area.. nope. But at least by having a conversation about it is doing it, right? – well…
- Scattergun. Try a load (one) of new things, and hope one might work. Cafe church, messy church, all age church, coffee church, film church, cell church (the original), have open youth clubs, youth events, services, gatherings, music, sport,; All hoping that one might cause a young person to cross the door, and come in on their own accord. Many of which have been tried elsewhere, work in a few instances (usually cities) and are then copied. The problem – does anyone actually speak to or know any young people – and are they involved ? Usually the best ‘youth worship event’. The only thing that matters is how many of the young people are attending a church service, so, do your best to have the ‘sunday special’ service on the day when theres someone counting…
The research, again guides the church to be thinking that ‘attending sunday services’ is the be all in ‘discipleship’ as a marker of ‘faith’ within the UK. When the reality is far more complex. Faith occurs with people and many are curious but not in an organised way, or who want to attend services. Another result is that shapes institutions to think about absences, or numbers, and the quick wins – which can be more about attraction, than Mission. As a ‘number’ anonymises the ‘who’ of the person. Some of these ideas might sound ridiculous, most have been suggested, tried, thought about and can be ‘the default’ for a church with no young people. Because these have been tried, then maybe we need to have a different way. However, that ‘different way’ is often seen as a magic bullet, a magic formula, and until now, whilst there have been flashes in the pan, or the odd thing that has worked in a local context – that locally created thing is to be created specifically to each context, more than ever. For more ideas on youth ministry and the church, click the ‘youth ministry category tab’ or the tag on the right of this page.
If you want to write a piece for this blog, then see my previous post. Id love to share your story of ‘what works’ where you are, your challenges, inspiration or idea, that might help others.