No wonder 19-30’s dont stay in churches, its boring (compared with their old youth group)

Well, isnt it?

Do you remember your time in a youth group, or club with some level of fondness? Didnt you go on trips, play games, sports, go on residentials, use exciting materials in the learning, watch movies, make things, do fundraising, even go on mission trips or to a soup kitchen, or plan things, have responsibility.

And the rest.

Sleepovers, 24hour fasts, movie nights, discussions, productions, festivals, badges, t-shirts, bands,

Also at the same time being when you’re part of a youth group and you go to summer festivals, spring harvest or youth services and the like, you are almost constantly told and told again that you are, or are part of a

Chosen Generation

The ‘future’

The Game changers

Those who will make the difference

High expectation, high hope. Also High Promise, and high importance.

But what happens when a young person ‘leaves’ youth group at 12, 14, 16, 18 or whenever it is, and ‘goes to church’?

Compared to youth group its pretty dull isnt it? 

Its as if from 18 onwards, the drama, excitement, but also drive, energy and passion that is accompanied by ‘being youthful in age’ evaporates.

Where you’re once part of a chosen generation, all of a sudden, you’re one of only a few, and become  ‘lost’ generation. You look around the church and theres no one like you. The age of promise has evaporated.

It wasnt like this in youth group was it?

No one told us then that we were to be so few. Even though our youthgroups were already shrinking. Putting 1500 groups of 4 people together in a field makes the future of the church look good. But 4 people from one town- really? Youth group was about to make faith an exciting dynamic adventure, full of getting involved, exploring faith and creativity but the reality can be then, and subsequently far far different.

Youth group, for those that survive it, can be the best time for being a christian. But is it too good?

But does a good youth group help set up faith for life? or can it set it up for too high an involved passionate adventure that is barely reflected in the day to day involvement in church from then on. It may not have the ‘same’ community feel, the same space to explore questions, the same freedom to try new things, the same gatherings or activities, or even the same creative ways that would be good for anyone, to explore faith.

This is considerably deeper than making Ice breakers part of normal church – and there is nothing worse than Ice breakers or fun games being used for a bunch of youth leaders or 30+’s, its not icebreakers that they hanker after in present day church, its potentially much more profound than that.

Is there a danger by making really exciting youth ministry – that this becomes too much of guiding memory for young people and ‘real’ church doesnt live up to it? ever…

One option would be for churches to be like youth groups and stay like them. But then no one grows up. Though evidence of young people who grew up in youth ministry being the leaders of the church and creating them in youth group likeness is all around. Andrew Root describes it as a process of authentic youthfulness. Trying to stay youthful has meant programme change, but not always community or approach change. And much of this felt more authentic in the youthgroup anyway.

This wont be the case for many people, I realise, not everyone enjoys youth groups, not everyone sticks at church from it, and some peoples first experiences of church community life, is as an adult. But whilst so much attention is on youth ministry and faith formation within it, it is worth having a conversation about what happens to young people after they leave their fun, supportive, exciting, creative youth group – and they then have to find ‘a church’ to go to, as a student, or transition from youth group to something else – ‘leaving youth group behind’ .

Can there still be spaces in churches for 20-30’s who still want to be creative and explore faith? or do collective mission work, or campaign, protest or try and fulfil promises?  (and not need permission from the PCC to do them, or the elders, permission that wasnt needed in youth group)

Maybe permission wasnt needed in youth group, because the PCC didnt think that what young people did was actually that important.

Thats a different issue, and shows im beginning to go on tangents. But, if permission is needed for the 20 somethings to start a ministry, yet a group of 14-16 year olds can give an idea a go, then its one reason that youth groups might seem to be one of the best times to be a christian. Its possibly not the only reason.

This problem is not just for the ‘post-youth group’ its ‘post’ everything.

Its the ‘post-messy church’ kids – a generation that might be the last:

Its the ‘post conformation class’ – more thoughts here:

Its ‘post alpha’- a problem that still occurs.

Its post the time when someone finds faith in a group, finds community in a group, finds a place to feel at home. And then has to move on. Post youth group  and finding a space in church can be difficult. Fortunately theres so few young people in churches today its hardly worth thinking about it. Or is that the wrong way of looking at it. Safe to say that there has got to be something thought through this, even extending youth groups to as fun student ministries is not the only answer, not every 18 year old finds a home in a fun student ministry, or even becomes a student. Some go to FE colleges, where christian groups seem absent in comparison to the universities. But i am not extending the youth group vibe is the answer. It might just be delaying the transition. Might also not be trying to change the culture in churches.

But for many, the youth group was the time their faith grew, and they were able and encouraged to do something about it.

Its not just that church is boring in comparison, and in need of ice breakers. Young people belong to youth groups for more than those things.


Author: James

Currently I work part time for both Frontier Youth Trust ( and Communities Together Durham ( , though this blog is my own personal views. I am also self employed and do various aspects of youthwork consultancy, including training, writing, lecturing, seminars and written pieces, including organisational consultancy, community profiling and detached/youthwork training. Please do get in touch if I can be of help to you in your church, project or organisation to develop your youth and community work. I have contributed to 'Here be Dragons (2013), and two recent articles in the youth and theology journal and 'ANVIL' the CMS online journal. My recent employment includes, working for FYT as a youthwork development adviser, being the centre director at Durham YFC, and before this I was known as 'Mr Sidewalk' as I was the project coordinator for the Sidewalk Project in Perth, where I facilitated the delivery of 5 years of detached youthwork on the streets, schools and communities to engage with young people , and support through alcohol misuse issues. In 2017 I completed an MA in Theology & Ministry at St John's College, Durham, and in 2008 graduated from ICC (now NTC Glasgow) with an honours degree in youth work with Applied theology.

2 thoughts on “No wonder 19-30’s dont stay in churches, its boring (compared with their old youth group)”

  1. I was looking at this just today with my management group – we’re heavily using the research by the Fuller Youth Institute to plan a way forward to lessen the disparity between the sense of belonging in youth group and in church. A really useful time for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

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