If your church has more than 9 children then they need to be shared around with smaller churches. (and 6 other ways to get young people in church)

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. Image result for children

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? 

  1. 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…
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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)….
  5. 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…
  6. 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.


Guest post welcome here!

I have been inspired, no reminded, and provoked recently that there is a need within the practice of youth work and ministry that it benefits from a range of contributions to the ongoing conversation. It can be that those who hold power within organisations, or specialities or publishing might miss or choose to avoid some of the difficult questions, or hear stories, or see things through a lens of resourcing, growth or conformity, that the question or story isnt heard. I am also acutely aware of my own particular privileges, perspectives and ideas, and make a point of promoting them.

New Voices in November

Of course, this neednt happen just in November, but at the moment, this website and blog gets around 500-1000 hits and views per week. It is a platform for ideas, conversation, and contributions within the field of church, youth work and mission, and it is a platform, that for the next month I am going to hand over for a month of guest stories, blogs, articles, theological thoughts, inspiration, poems?. anything that you might want to share with others to help, inspire, challenge, provoke or give.

The field of youthwork, ministry, mission and church may need to hear your story, your question, your experience, and this might be a space in which you can share it. And contribute to conversations, from your place of practice, from your place of understanding, from the barriers you might be facing.

If you have a story, a question or thought that requires anonymity then great, please use it. If thats because you work within structures that need to be challenged, or you work with young people whose plight is to be hidden, then anonymity can be granted, Ill just print your words have no reference to you, your location or personal details. If you want to write about hidden matters, difficult subjects, or unanswered questions, then please use the space, to ask, provoke and tell a story.

If you are a young person and are in positive or negative experiences within youth work / ministry – then hearing your story, your questions and contribution would be amazing, as would the volunteer youthworker who has been in a church 50 years, your longevity might be wisdom to everyone else. Or you’re a parent, a spouse, volunteer leader, manager, funder of someone in youth ministry – then please do take this opportunity.

Do not be put off if you think no one will want to hear it, they will, if it is too painful or difficult, if you want to share a positive story, or one that doesnt have a positive ending yet, then dont worry, this could be just a space to share, process and contribute. If you have scars from ministry that need sharing, or stories of harm, that you are willing to share and do so anonymously, others may benefit, but its more important that you also look after yourself and get support.

So, If you have a burning question, story or reflection to share, and of course you can share it yourself via any platform, but this is an opportunity to contribute in a space that is read by other youth workers, church leaders and practitioners across the world.

If you want to write a piece, then please do so, anything between 500-1000 words or more, and send it to my contact details above, or use the form below.

I look forward to hearing from you and sharing your story, and contributing your voice, perspective and questions to the ongoing conversations on the future practice of youth work and ministry in the UK.

Thank you, many people or just one might be inspired by you, please do share and make a contribution.

To email me privately do so via : jamesballantyne1978@yahoo.co.uk


We shouldnt knock NCS, its the only good thing this government has done for young people in 7 years.

Earlier this week I was having a pretty down sort of day, nothing major in the major sense of the word, fed up, half way through a fairly quiet/dull week off annual leave and hadnt really done anything, then a few money worries added to this, and I played and lost a game of tennis against my son, less out of physical inability just mentally not in the right place. And in that ‘place’ I wrote my previous piece on the pending demise of NCS, and it was a brilliantly executed piece of prose, full of humour, wit and intelligence that was then shared around the place a bit. However, it was also hugely critical of NCS, a programme that has already taken a substantial knocking from the youth work fraternity. That post is here: https://wp.me/p2Az40-17V  

And, as a i reflected i realised, that, like many programmes, franchises and projects that are subject to funding outcomes and objectives, they are often delivered by people who try in the main to do a good job, despite circumstances, who have livelihoods, and who are doing what they can despite this to help young people. So, on the record, its not the persons who deliver or work for it that are in any way the problem.

Theres a long standing tradition also, for youth workers, teachers, social workers to be critical of government policies, funding and strategies that dictate the nature of, or termination of their work with young people. And so, in the spirit of trying to provide a balance, of criticism which is easy, and praise in the current circumstances, which might be more difficult. I put out on social media earlier, the following question:

How has this government in the last 7 years have improved life & opportunities for young people in the UK. Are there any examples? 

It comes in a week, when there might be many children who have parents who are 6 weeks without income due to universal credit, children who have had their exam grades all changed in the most recent GCSEs, young people who are waiting 18 months for mental health appointments and assessment and the rest, removal of EMA, restriction on housing benefit, increase in youth homelessness…, But what about the good things this government has done for young people?

These were the responses via social media;

  1. ‘Increase in the personal tax allowance. So yes, if young people have a low paid job, they can keep a bit more before tax. ‘
  2. Apprenticeships are better.
  3. ‘im struggling to think of any… NCS?

It is not a scientific survey i realise, but in 3 hours this is all the responses i have had, and NCS was one.

When I thought about it earlier today, NCS was the only thing I could think of.

It gives young people and their parents a 6 week course for £50. It might be easy to say that the tories have rescued the economy, to help young people in the long term with jobs/housing/health but they actually havent, an admission that Theresa May is making continuously, as if she wasnt part of the last 6 years. There may be a few other policies, practices or interventions that have been good for young people that have gone under the radar, but with every service for young people subject to targetted outcomes and inspection, its only young people who lose out, outcomes become the focus, ask every teacher, social worker, youth worker.

NCS is a metaphor in itself of the way in which the government views young people, an economic entity that can be fixed in 6 weeks. Then it reveals much. That NCS is deemed the best thing that this government has done for young people in the UK is an ironic indictment of how forgotten young people are in society. The government is about to wash its hands of NCS and hand it over to local government. Not wanting to be responsible when the ship sinks, currently it stinks.

Maybe the only good thing this government has done for young people, has enraged them. Whisper it quietly, but political youth culture is making a comeback.


Mourning the expected death of NCS

We should be getting ready for the tragic and solemn occasion of the end of the NCS programme, probably by the end of 2018. For, now that the governments flagship programme for young people has been subject to ‘efficiency savings’ in the last three months, been requested that the narked off voluntary sector support it and signpost young people to it. Today it has been announced that the drastically underfunded local councils are being asked to support it, in again directing young people to it. So, council youth workers, who have had to scrimp and scrap to find work since the governments decimation of youth services ( via local funding under allocation of funding), now are now tasked with inheriting a responsibility for a government programme that was initiated as a replacement for youth services in the first place.

The details are here: https://www.cypnow.co.uk/cyp/news/2004389/government-calls-on-councils-to-take-on-ncs-role

I guess it is only one step away from local council having to directly fund the NCS programme. Thats local councils who are happy to plead to national government for rebates for social and elderly care. But do that for provision for young people. Unlikely. And Im not sure there’s a great energy in the country to invest in young people via local council funding, weekly bin collections might be at risk. (A daily mail recurrence). Theyve already had extra, any for NCS might be extra. But oh look, NCS might be in the ‘statutory’ funding category. As important as schools? – really?

So, if local councils have no funding for youth work, and are now not far off taking on NCS, ‘the governments flagship, expensive, £50 per student, 2 week ‘confidence building experience’ for young people- programme’. Then start booking the halls, medals and services for the sad ending of NCS. For anything that overpriced, that under subscribed, that badly organised, that in need of sales staff to recruit young people (still being recruited here: https://www.vonne.org.uk/jobs/customer-service-advisers-3727, if you want a job selling a programme on commission to young people) that subjected to efficiency savings. Is about to have its plug pulled. If we as youthworkers dont commemorate its closure, then its fairly likely that its 4 year tenure is barely going to register in national significance for national mourning. Save a few young people who enjoyed and had a fun time, a few communities that had a few projects start, and a few parents who paod £50 for their kids to have a cheap holiday. But no national outcry, no pleas or marches. No, another neo liberal project that commodified and targetted young people by politicians who have no idea about young people, youth work or community education, young peoples needs, gifts or possibilities – a project with only enforced take up, and limited results, ending without whimper.

Now i may be wrong on this, and theres time for a dramatic comeback. But theres a hammer already starting to knock in the nails to the coffin that is NCS. Its time was never here, before it was already over. Next time government, and local government, treasure what you already had, invest in it, believe that youth workers might know how to help young people flourish, not programmes, but spaces of interaction, and where young people are the focus, not the boxes that other people tick that try and ‘show progression’ or outcomes.

There might be a few hundred young people with fond memories of being on NCS, though in the future most of them can d a programme at the local YMCA, princes trust, or something else. Private charities already provide this thing. The pending downfall of NCS, might it is hoped cause government and local government to prioritise the youthwork provision that once was. Much of which helped with many of the issues that young people are showing in greater abundance than before, such as mental health, exercise and social interaction – all helped by being involved in local community groups and social groups, and being involved in voluntary play and activity and learning.

Its a long shot, and less certain than the pending termination of NCS. Going but not forgotten. Not forgotten by those whose jobs and careers it brought to an end. Not forgotten by the many who see it as a flagship of neo liberal and economic capability that directs youth work provision by successive governments. Many who are in the ‘we told you so’ camp. Sound the last call, and the final trumpet. The smell of death is stenching around NCS.

 A follow up to this post, ‘we shouldnt knock ncs, its the best thing this government has done for young people’ is at the following : click here

Sometimes you can’t make it, on your own. (On finding a tribe) 

This is going to be my last post for a while, for, as you may know I am hoping to host a number of guest posts during November. Please do send your articles to me, and follow/like this page so that you can read them as they arrive. Just 500-1000 words on anything, theme to do with youth work, mission, young people & youth ministry. All details here: https://wp.me/p2Az40-18a

I have written about feeling alone in youth work & ministry before, and I want to return to it again as a theme before handing over this platform to others for a few weeks.

I wouldnt be the first person to recognise the ‘loneness’ of being involved in an employed capacity in a church setting, whether its the clergy, volunteer youthworker, paid mission worker or in an other capacity. There can be many times, when it can feel like you’re out of step, or thinking differently, or saying things that receive only ‘blank faces’ or ‘thats not the way we do things around here’ type glances. And thats just in a church, let alone an association or diocese or organisation, where the status quo, even in terms of thinking differently about mission, or discipleship or church can be a place of trying to make it on your own.

As a youthworker in a church, there can be seminal moments. For me it was when i realised that as i connected with young people outside the building, that the expectations of those within, and mine became different. I was expected to shoehorn young people outside into existing events, and for this not to upset the applecart. At this point i was searching for a new way. At this point the limitations of the expectations and institutions became only too aware. In other places that might be that believing that the young people ‘off the estate’ might make good leaders in the church. Or that young people can create in a positive way aspects of their own future. Or that it is ‘worth’ spending time with young people who might be LGBT. It is sometimes these small but significant steps that might put us as youthworkers, maybe progressive youthworkers who have a deep concern for young people outside of just faith, to start to be standing against the institutional flow. It might be there where truth and justice might meet, but it might also be a space of feeling alone.

Feeling like alone because the institution might doubt, feeling alone because the doubts become character attacks, feeling alone because others fear respectability (‘we cant have ‘gays in here’) or feeling alone because of reputation (what if someone goes to the papers) – feeling alone, because we feel tasked with compassion to go, to connect and spend time with young people, in ways or approaches that seem odd, or young people who arent ‘easy’ to cope with within an institution. In a way, being alone, can be in terms of thinking, it can also be in terms of doing, of acting in a way that challenges, and hopes that others might follow. But often the party line, the established practice, or ‘what we used to do’ becomes paramount the normative, and stepping out, taking risks, being ‘progressive’ is an alone step. And its not often called progressive, or radical, divisive or upsetting the status quo. Image result for risks

I have talked about being alone in what seems a church situation, but the path to feeling alone can happen elsewhere. Ive been in situations where the need for funding dictates a way of having to do ‘youth work’ – which then takes the practice away from ‘what the church expected- and so it can be ‘change’ or ‘lose job’ – and there can be little support when this decision needs to be made. So, going alone in a busy world of funding can be tricky, because then, usually theres very little experience in a church setting to also be involved in finding funding. You’re alone because you think young people are more important than institutions (and growth of them) and need a voice within them and in broader society. You’re alone because you think young people have been ‘sinned against’ more than sinners, and yet its the latter that they are told, or you’re alone for something else.

It means that it becomes really important to ‘find your tribe’ – and no tribe is perfect by the way. Sometimes there can be nothing better than a coffee with another youthworker who might just know what you’re going through. It might be a youthworker who offers critical thinking, challenging questions or ideas – someone different. On other occasions its not just one person who might be able to help, a friend might help in the short term, but being connected with a larger affiliation might then bring you into contact with a range of personal resources, support and guidance.Image result for tribe I remember when I first met a youthwork hero of mine, and they suggested that i could connect with them on a regular basis, and that they could learn from what I was doing. they learn from me! Wow. So, no tribe is perfect, but find one that pushes and supports you in the path that you are being called to travel with young people, find one that expects less conformity and tries to push and asks the critical questions, find one who is willing to be on ‘your journey’ and not just trying to fit into theirs.

Theres nothing worse than feeling alone in day to day youth work life, and also feeling alone in the place where you’re supposed to get support, guidance and help from and within. It might not take long to know if you fit, or it might take a while. As tribes can change, or be too static when you change and start to think differently.

Of course, at no point are you ever ‘on your own’ – for me it is about having people around who at least give me opportunity to receive questions, think about thinking, theoretical and theological on youth work, and pushing the possibilities of compassion beyond to challenge structures. But thats how i am wired. However, there is something biblical about ‘not being alone’ as being part of our make up and created identity. It is also well documented that Jesus send the disciples in pairs (a model of ministry that is rarely followed – gospel centred ministry can still be very hierarchical) , the early church met in groups, and only on a few occasions was lone ministry seen as good. Sometimes you cant make it on your own, because actually you arent alone, sometimes you cant make it even with support, because it can be that tough being different, being pioneering, or because the actual support cant take away really difficult or unbearable situations, like bullying, manipulation and/or power struggles. Sometimes you cant make it on your own, but sometimes you might have to go alone before you are joined by others who see a different way, forge the pathway, make the road by walking and all that. Find a tribe and take a few along with you, find a tribe nd have people cheering you on from the outside, along the road, find a tribe who you can share your joys and frustrations. Find a tribe that causes your alone work feel more like a community effort. Find a tribe that you can contribute to.

Sometimes you cant make it on your own, Sometimes you can. Sometimes you might need to. Taking risks and being prophetic might be a lonely place, but find the tribe that doesnt just validate you, but keeps you sharp, challenged and supported. In the grand scheme of things, you might just need it.

Of course at this point I might refer you to Frontier Youth Trust, who for over 50 years have been facilitating a Home for pioneer youthworkers, who needed to find a tribe that enabled them to have a space and voice within a paradigm of church serving youth ministry and ‘big’ ministries, if this appeals, as you face challenges of numbers, or attendance, and like me years ago was scratching for a different way, then please do check fyt Related imagehere: http://www.fyt.org.uk.  Theyre not perfect, no one is, but they might offer you a tribe and community that could help you not feel alone as a youthworker believing in young people, in faith and community, and where change is possible, another way is possible, a home for pioneer youthworkers, might be a place for you not to feel alone.

The one question in churches that, since Sunday Schools, hasnt gone away.

What does the church do ‘next’ with the children in ………Messy church, or Youth Club, or Sunday School, ? 

How can we keep young people in churches? 

For anyone who works with children and young people in a church setting. Naomi Thompsons book contains a stark warning. A warning that it as current now as it was not heeded during a time when the most numerically successful ministry amongst children in the UK was at its peak and subsequently virtually disappeared without a trace. Today in children and youth ministry which is important that lessons are learned from the demise of Sunday Schools.

Records indicate that in the late 1800’s over 2 million children in the UK attended Sunday schools. As Thompson research indicates, this had dropped to just over 500,000 by the mid 1950’s and 60’s. (there is no data for 1970’s onwards) It was a movement that was responding to a crisis of uptake (less children are attending), and a crisis of progression (less children are staying).  Both of which continue to be questions for children and youth workers today.

The key responses to these crisis, within Sunday School Unions, as Thompson indicates, was to blame Sunday school leaders for lack of training, produce even more materials, or to set up follow on groups, such as early youth fellowship provision. In effect the crisis of progression in Sunday Schools was a contributory factor to the dawning of modern day youth ministry. What also is apparent from Thompsons research is that although regional or national strategies for Sunday Schools could be stated, and recommended, these depended on the local church for their implementation, and often this did not occur. A local decision (adopted from a national plea) to increase longevity, and focus on ‘church linked’ children , a strategy that local churches did adopt, may have increased the long term participation of pupils within the church (from 2% to 4%) but this coincided with the same dramatic reduction in overall attendance.

So, what about now? These two questions still remain for children and youth ministers across the UK. How to address the crisis of uptake , especially as Scripture Union suggest, churches only work with 5% of the UK population of young people, and the crisis of progression, once children and young people start attending – how does a church keep them – what happens next?

The amount of churches I go to when travelling around the country who say, ‘well we have children – but we lose them at 11’.. or ‘once theyre 9 they don’t keep coming to our messy church’. Looking around the country, it feels as though there are more opportunities that churches are creating places for initial interest and connection, from the explosion in churches developing ‘Messy Church’ , or after school provision led by volunteers, or youthworkers. Churches may not have regained the 2 million who used to attend Sunday schools – but the desire to provide spaces and connections with children and families again has become recently more popular, and  children and youth provisions has become part of diocesan and affiliation strategies.

So, if churches have cracked the ‘uptake’ question (relatively) – then what about the progression one?

The answer to the Sunday School progression question, (when children started to leave) was, to develop similar older groups, that still had the same feel and style to the ‘junior’ ones, writes Thompson. For a short time, a few young people retained interest, but they were generally a failure, for they didn’t change as young people themselves changed. A question stemming from this one is – When as an activity is planning for the future needed?

There is no rocket science as to when children or young people ‘start to get bored’ with the provision on offer. For some young people they are bored with it after just a few weeks, for some depending on the age they start it could be 2 or 3 years. It then does not matter how old a child is, it is their longevity in the activity that can determine how they feel about it. So – there is little point waiting until a child is 11 for the ‘next group for them to happen’ is , if a church follows a schooling year– as that be 2 years away.  It is funny how quickly the question of uptake is often usurped by the questions of progression.  We might celebrate 25 families coming to messy church – but theres an air of disappointment that ‘only one’ maintained an interest in the wider church community – or ‘started coming on Sunday Mornings’ . Uptake is often measured through a lens of progression, and can weigh heavily, distracting from the genuine good that is occurring in the moment of every interaction, activity and session.

For something like Messy church, or equivalent afterschool children/family orientated provision, there is significant learning from Sunday Schools that can be accessed. One of the key recommendations from the Sunday School Unions – that was never implemented locally- was to encourage person centred education methods within the Sunday schools. This was an approach back then ahead of its time, but because Sunday school leaders and teachers relied on materials and ‘school’ culture and curriculum had been established, this change was a difficult one to make in local churches. Often when children and young people are bored, they are choosing to reject the curriculum and culture and so adopting person centered approaches before this boredom occurs might delay this – and give children developed responsibility and ownership of their learning a critical aspect of long term discipleship. However, the question of progression never goes away. Not every child in messy church will want to ‘be a leader’ or have responsibility – some have a desire for learning about faith that might not be matched by the programme, for others they just want to be away from the ‘younger ones’. There are no simple solutions, because each young person has a uniqueness, gifting and possibility that our interactions with them needs to acknowledge, harness, and help them thrive within, so it might be persons rather than programmes that need to be makers of any future provision.

Thompsons insight into Sunday Schools is thorough, well research and provides ample questions for youth and childrens workers today, however it is most notable for its price, and a paperback copy should definitely be made available. In a way Thompsons book reassures that the same questions haven’t gone away, though at the same time is a realisation that cultural shifts in the way children and young people are formed through learning within churches are hard to make, as formal approaches – even more interactive ones, remain popular. It is noted that children in primary schools are given the responsibility to spend portions of school budgets through small committees, yet in churches they choices they often have in similar decision making might be the flavour of juice to choose at snack time. If their decision making and autonomy is awakened in one context, then as churches who have children attending groups, might we begin to reflect the potential of them to be deciders and decision makers of their own discipleship within the faith community?  Progressing children from one group to another is not really the question we need to ask, it is how might we help children use the full gifting, character and abilities they have in how they discover a long term life of faith?  And if this is the question – how might we plan for this through all the wonderful, creative spaces that churches current create that engage children and young people in Messy churches, youth clubs alike.

Thompsons book: Young People and the church since 1900, can be purchased here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Young-People-Church-Since-1900/dp/1472489780/ref=sr_1_9?ie=UTF8&qid=1508666712&sr=8-9&keywords=Thompson+young+people

Christian Today also published the above piece, a link to that article is here: ‘How can churches retain children and young people’?

What do we expect teenagers to be made of, a substance tougher than steel?

Image may contain: text

I saw this quote doing the rounds on Facebook today. Excuse its language. But dont excuse its sentiment.

On one hand we could argue that young people in the 80’s and 90’s didnt have it too badly – and I should know i was one of them. Politicians got headlines for peace deals, climate change caused action, peace was a hopeful reality i large parts of the world. There were EMA grants, nearly free higher education, still a general reality that post university meant employment, house prices were going up, but a 2-3 bedroom house in areas north of sheffield might still be ‘only’ £40,000. And the rest.

And so, those who grew up optimistic in the 90’s, maybe had it too good. or too easy. Previous generations had it easy in comparison. Even those in the 1990’s, at least they had hope. In the main.

Fast forward to today. All the things that might have been an issue for teenagers in the 80s or 90s are still there, but multiplied. There’s double the advertising on TV with its 40 extra channels, online and on screens – with all the worry about life and expectation this causes. The News is an always open door to constant fear. The financial cut backs are extraordinary and yet the expectations on young people are higher – or shall i say the expectations on schools to be performing and have high performing pupils is greater than ever. To the point that those left behind and being actually left behind, left out and notionally excluded. When outcomes and targets rule, then humanity and inclusion falls way short.

Then there’s the cut backs on all the funding for young people to actually get support to cope in this situation. mental health and social work budgets slashed, and open youth clubs eradicated all together. And it is left to the voluntary and faith sectors to pick up the pieces, but doing so whilst also competing for funding and being in a similarly perilous state. (whilst the budget for HS2 or trident is secure seemingly).

So – where does that leave the young person? – Does society view them as the victim in all of this? the oppressed even. 

Nope. If anything the young person is to blame for all this. Those bloody millenials ruining it for the rest of us. Generalise and blame thats the strategy of the media, but initiate self reflection on the current holders of power….

Blame the phone, not blame society that created that need, or the adults who foisted it into existence and made implicit demands on parents to pay for ‘an essential’.

So – what do we think young people are made of to cope in all of this? 

Well – not enough resilience for one. (hence all the resilience classes)

Not enough confidence ( hence all the ‘self confidence classes’)

And yes, these are needed. And not just for the teachers.

as if its all an individual young persons fault. Young people are having to cope with so much more than ever before, and doing so without the hope that things will improve. Society expects young people to cope within all of this. Its not surprising that so many struggle. What if it wasnt just about coping and surviving as a young person.

I wonder if young people might collectively rise up and challenge, critique and get passionate about the systems that are causing so much damage to them and their peers.

Things that help a young person, Goals, Self worth (ability + competance), Purpose and Value (Bryan, 2016) – if any of these start to be affected, then they will start to struggle. So, therapy might help to help a young person talk through coping through these. But fundamentally the sources of these things need to also be dealt with. Blame Neoliberalism, but a new system needs to be created – one that is more human/humane, and the rest. But if a young persons purpose and value is wrapped up in ‘things’ or ‘image’ or ‘popularity’ – then its no wonder that they are stressed, worried. But that isnt new – the only difference is the current speed of change or intensity. The main difference is fear caused by the news, inequality between rich/poor, deficiencies in the education system (especially 16+) but also the efficiency drive, and also limited hope economically – where only the strong might survive…

What might young people be expected to be made of?

Filters that are sensitive to fake news

Resilience to cope with oppression, abuse and uncertainty

An internal buoyancy to be able to react positively to fear

An innocence of humanity to see beyond divisive politics

A Hopefulness of spirit to maintain motivation in school

A self confidence to be both an individual and like everyone else

To be able to glide effortlessly through being a teenager, ready packaged and prepared for the ‘breeze’ that is ‘being an adult.. or alternatively – does any of this really change that much…

Teenagers – Adults, we might need to learn about how they cope with it all, we might need the same lessons. Well pretty much anyone working within ‘people’ related jobs has had to sharpen up their armour in the last 10 years. Coping working with humans and enabling their flourishing in a neo-liberal world, from teachers, nurses, social workers, youthworkers (if any are left) – all subject to ridiculous efficiency, cuts and demands, outcomes – all to the exclusion of breadth, inclusion, time and care. All to the exclusion of the purity of professions and vocations and just bad management and policies. Its no wonder young people are blamed, for to say that society has a responsibility – might mean funding those who work with them properly.

12 Questions to help a church get to know its local community

At a time when the church is looking for the next quick easy to implement idea, the call to connect and engage with its actual local community can be a tough one. Its is far easier to ‘host’ events, or to ‘communicate via noticeboard’ rather than create and connect in a local situation. Beyond the noticeboard there are ‘one stop’ shop programmes that can be easily implemented, again using events as a starting point. So, by way of helping, why not take this test to see how well you know your local community. So here are 12 questions, that if you dont know the answer to – might be worth reflecting on how well as a church congregation the local community is known.

  1. What is the population of the ‘Parish/Parliamentary ward’ that your church is in?
  2. The nearest bus service to your church building – what time is the last bus?
  3. What are the names of all the head teachers in the primary schools in the area?
  4. What proportion of children are obese in the local community?
  5. What time does the local supermarket shut- and how much higher are the prices there compared with tescos?
  6. How many people are described as ‘very’ unhealthy as determined by NHS figures?
  7. What is the life expectancy in the community?
  8. Whats the figure for anti-social behaviour in the community- and where are the ‘hotspots’?
  9. Is the employment figure for the area – higher, lower or the same as the national average?
  10. How many people are regarded as ‘smokers’ in the local community?
  11. Whats the average rainfall for the local area?
  12. How many people who live within 1 mile of the church building – attend the church?


How well did you do? Of course, there are no right answers to these questions, because every situation is different. But how many of these questions do you think you know the answer to – or more specifically – know the answer to. Because it is important to know this kind of information in order so that the church can focus on what kind of ‘services’ it can provide, what kind of needs there are in the community, and how it can be useful and serve. Whether its foodbanks, youth clubs, meals, reading or job clubs – getting a handle on this kind of data is crucial for enabling a church to do mission well in a local community.

But actually it isnt. 

Its because, nearly all of the answers to the questions above can be found by barely leaving an laptop. Most of them are found on government websites, in order that services, departments and resources can be allocated – is that the same game that the church is looking to play?

So, instead – these are the 12 questions that might help a church congregation know its local community? 

  1. There was a birthday celebration in the pub down the street on friday night – what was the name of the persons birthday?
  2. What is the name of the favourite book of the child in year 5 who is often missing school due to family issues?
  3. The person who runs the newsagent, what football team does he support?
  4. The people who moved into the local area in the new houses just built, one family has a dog- what breed is it?
  5. Theres a group of residents campaigning for a local issue, whats the name of the fundraiser?
  6. Where do groups of young people sit and chat quietly together after 7pm?
  7. What do people say is good about the area, what makes it strong?
  8. What is already going on, and how might people want to contribute to make a difference locally?
  9. What brings the community together- apart from crisis?
  10. Who are the people in the community who act as its ‘helpers’ and contributors?
  11. Who brings colour and life to the community?
  12. Where might there be signs of faith already in the community?

Instead of responding to need, and becoming like another service, or projecting a view that people are projects to be solved. Being known in the local community is about being knowledgeable in the informal moments, the conversations and gathering points, the cafes and walkways. How might a church get to know its local community, and build connections within it, it needs to be present and communicate at the point of being present. 12 questions to help a church connect with its local community, and 12 that sadly can judge it from afar, and look at it through needs rather than human story perspective.

Is Sunday church attendance still the great expectation of youth ministry?

Youth Ministers and youth workers are some of the most creative, determined and passionate people i know, especially when it comes to doing all they can to help young people to think about faith. but doesnt any of it matter, if the young people dont go to their local church on a Sunday morning? 

 Over the last few months, may be a bit longer, I have begun to realise the extraordinary amount of work and time that goes into holding sunday morning services in churches up and down the land; from heating, flowers, coffee, preaching, PA, lighting, readings, themes, wardens, communion, song choices, keys, welcome team. And then there is the effort financially, so heating, equipment, musical repairs (organs!). The sheer amount of effort that goes into sunday morning church, that everyone from the PCC. clergy, and countless volunteers across the country put effort into. Its no wonder then, with this level of investment, this level of personal identity and commitment to it, why the congregation might be at first affronted if young people dont turn up, or maybe more the the point, have an expectations that due to making one or two significant changes ( a kids song, or ‘getting a trendy pastor’ ) that young people will suddenly become part of it and attend. It is understandable with such investment why congregations value sunday mornings, and why, despite everything else at times, young people attending can be the implicit or explicit expectation.

None of this is particularly new, but neither has it really gone away.

So, for the youthworker, it doesnt matter if all the young people in a village use the church in a youthgroup on a friday evening and have moments of ‘faith’ – if none of them turn up on Sundays

Or if there are young people who are met on the streets and use a candle to pray for their family situation – if none of them end up going to a church

when the young people and youthworkers create the best late night Saturday church in the town, and many young people turn up and experience faith – because if it means something, theyll turn up on a Sunday

Or if the young people have started to form their own church, doing discipleship and Mission, sharing gifts and spending time in worship – if they can do this on sunday afternoon – why not sunday morning? 

Or if once a month they all leave the church to do a church service elsewhere – if its real faith, they can show it by being here on a sunday. 

Its not just current youth ministry – and there are countless creative youth workers providing a huge range of spaces and alternative churches, faith conversations for struggling or excluded young people- most well outside the church, but there are so many examples where mid week, special, welcoming open spaces that churches and their youthworkers and volunteers already provide, and these occur often in the local church. But viewed through the prism of ‘but people arent coming on sunday’ they can feel a disappointment. From toddler groups, to lunch clubs, alpha (yes even alpha) to Rock Solid clubs, Food banks to Street Pastors (though i think both of these have survived the expectations to an extent), open youth clubs, to messy church. Churches are more and more offering spaces of contact, engagement and activity, even at times on a Thursday evening or Tuesday morning where people feel a sense of community, of conversation and acceptance. Yet at times at the moment, it can feel as if the only thing that might matter after 52 weeks of toddlers, or 12 months of a mens group, is whether anyone from them ‘came to church on a sunday’ 

What if instead we suggested that people could be discipled without going to church on a sunday? (not a new suggestion)  – So what might discipleship at toddlers, or messy church or after school clubs look like if sunday was put to one side- at least until the person even suggested it? And moving further, discipleship at the youth club, the foodbank, or on the streets… And what if this was also communicated to the Sunday congregation… We know the Sunday service is important, for, and far more than just the practical and emotional reasons I suggested above. But without a different way of discipleship – one ‘through’, during and developed from the activities and welcome spaces – then the well intentioned activities carry too much hope and expectation, and ultimately it is a strategy deemed to failure. Reasons being – its not worked for 50 years.

Yet it can also be that a huge amount of effort, creativity and energy is belittled by this one phrase, ‘did any of them come to church?’ or ‘how can we get some of them to….’  The youthworker can be in a tension point, they might know and care deeply about the faith of the young people and also have to care about the local church (often it is the local church who finances the youthworker) – yet they might also know that the young people cant stand church on a sunday- or that their emerging, new faith might struggle with it- though fundamentally, it can be a struggle – because it highlights that churches dont value the effort on friday night, tuesday in school or monday doing admin – if it doesnt translate to sunday mornings. 

At the moment it can feel like nothing is important except Sunday mornings. And as the church shrinks in some areas this can be heightened. Actually nothing matters except that young people, all people have an encounter with and respond to a call of God on their lives.  Of course – how might we tell people that they need to let go of sundays – when its been their social and emotional life for 20+ years? – that’d be difficult. Or might there be freedom in re educating congregations to ‘let go’ of it as ritual/duty and it being the focus of the church activity week- and see it as a rehearsal for the churches real performances on Sunday night to the following Saturday. It is Mondays toddler group, and Fridays after school club that deserve more attention. A Healthy church, might have a healthier view of God being present and active in all of its activities, like creation, God might actually be resting on a sunday….We might love Sunday Church, but causing it to be the implicit destination of the churchs social groups and clubs misunderstands discipleship, mission and the opportunities of faith within the welcoming spaces outside of it.

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