How many youthworkers does it take to change a lightbulb?

Image result for changing a lightbulb


Go on: ‘How many youthworkers does it take to change a lightbulb? ‘

Answer: 100.

Well it takes 1 to change the lightbulb, and 99 to write papers on coping in the darkness.

So the old joke goes, and im not sure this is as accurate as it used to be. Youthworkers have at times had to find the reserves to cope in the darkness, and cope and fight for the rights and welfare of young people often left behind or deemed the underclass. However, the joke could almost read, ‘and 99 to write papers on how the darkness came about’.

At times there might the odd lightbulb moment in youthwork & youth ministry. One person reaches up to grasp at an actual solution, and makes a change and the lights could be switched back on. This week, if i was being critical, has been a week of darkness pronouncing. Whilst The church times has ran a whole load of articles on teenagers and young people – mostly written by esteemed colleagues and friends (though they might not be after they read this!) – much of it has been darkness pronouncing. Much of it, with a few small exceptions, has been what has been said many many times before. And I throw my own hat into this ring- darkness pronouncing is particularly easy to write about, sometimes it gets rave reviews under the guise of ‘being prophetic’ or reflective or challenging. Maybe the Church times audience has never heard half the things that the youthworkers are writing about. But i cant imagine any of them are surprised by the correlations between the reductions in sunday school and then exclamations that less than 1/4 of churches have any young people. Many people in churches have lived through this shift, and still go goey eyed at remembering those good old days.

Much of the time, as Pete Ward commented on this week, youthworkers and churches have known the answers – such as family work, generational work and creating positive participative places for discipleship (as ive said in the previous two pieces on this site)  – but has it not been able to happen? or not been able to be a long term change? or something else – not become culturally norm – and when the youthworker leaves this way of being reverts back (as can be the way).  Nothing new is being said, though it might be being said on a different platform. For once the established church might be listening, and not youthworkers circulating the same darkness coping papers around themselves.

As youthworkers, brought up or educated with critical reflection as part of or an extension of our being, can be easily put into find the thing to blame mode. And usually it is not ourselves.

From the point of cause comes the how to fix it mentality – how might that lightbulb be changed?

so from this there becomes 10 things that ‘we need’ in youth ministry or the church needs:

  1. The church needs a youthworker#
  2. The youth ministry needs this resources
  3. The young people need to gather to a large gathering
  4. The ministry needs to be thought about theologically
  5. People need training
  6. Church needs to change
  7. Youth ministry needs a new vision
  8. Your practice needs more of Jesus
  9.  Do you need better self care?
  10. Are you praying enough?

There is some logic and reasoning to all of these, though beware the wolves selling goods and franchises. But fix-it responses to darkness pronouncing, sometimes only skims the surface, (not saying Jesus is a surface thing) but more of Jesus might only be strategic. hmm….

But something does have to change. and its not the lightbulb…

When I used to work in a call centre, one of the things that was said to me was that it only takes 1 bad experience for a customer to leave a shop, tell 10 friends and then you lose 11 potential customers. And that was before trip adviser or amazon reviews were invented. It is easy to argue how much of a detrimental effect in local communities it is when something that people enjoy going to is closed, and this ties back into the sunday schools to a point. But when it comes to the positives that are happening, or positive experiences, people barely tell other people, again from a customer/client perspective.

It feels like it is significantly hard work to make the sort of institutional changes required. It may be that research into what is happening that is good and ‘working’ needs to happen. But on the ground where 1 local youth ministry project has become a faith community/emerging church is really positive, the process of enabling their process to be embedded elsewhere should be as quick as it would be for churches to pull the lightswitch and close the sunday school.  There are positive stories across the UK, about youth ministry ‘on the edge’ the pioneer stuff (and any youthwork could sometimes be pioneering), the risk taking and those living on the edge of their purse strings in order to do it.  Under the guise of Fresh expressions, youth churches in areas are growing and developing, where resource is given to be able to facilitate and encourage it. Messy church is another positive thing.

Whilst there is no quick fix, though there has been a quick decline, and that has been easy to accomplish.

We might have to ask some of the serious questions, beyond how the lightbulb might be changed. If we ask – what might young people want from a church? – or need it to be for them; we might discover a variety of responses:

a safe place

a place that provides space

a place in which i can escape

a place to think through life

a place that feels at home

a place where i am part of something bigger

a place to be listened to

a place to grieve and mourn a loss

a place to socialise

a place to be involved

But dont take my word for it: research, from 1400 churches in the USA, that had young people over the age of 15 as part of their congregations still ( i know a luxury) – pointed to the following things:

  • a Healthy place
  • A place of challenge
  • depth.

That article, one that at least points how the lightbulb shines is here: What do young people want in a church?  – at least young people have been asked.

Every article points to the same things, essentially. Young people need to be more that consumers, and church needs to create spaces where they feel participants, feel at home and be respected and challenged, and they want churches to help them raise their game. Lets change the question to:   ‘Can we do this?  – any what did Bob the builder say?


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