What might the end of Soul Survivor mean for UK youth ministry?

In case you’re not in the evangelical youth ministry bubble, an announcement was made on Friday that in 2019, that summers youth worship festival by Soul Survivor will be it’s last.

The announcement is here http://thechurchsofa.co.uk/2018/05/soul-survivor-good-bye/

Opinions vary about how significant Soul Survivor has been over its 27 year run of summer festivals, as well as the many monthly and weekly services, and all the similar (dare I say it copied) in style events around the country. There is absolutely no doubt that Soul survivor has had a profound effect on shaping youth ministry in the UK.

Though there wasn’t such a week long young person orientated worship event at the time of SS’s inception. Soul survivor was certainly borne out of a burgeoning evangelical demographic in the UK, on a crest of a wave. Whilst some got into trouble for the ‘alternative’ worship service (Think Nine o clock service, Sheffield), the youth worship service scene was common across cities and towns in the UK. Though where many tried it, many also stopped relatively quickly, realising that it was just the christian kids going to them and music, lights and trying to be trendy, and putting up posters in schools really wasn’t connecting with any other young people – much. At least not in the way that they were often hoped to.

Many forgot that the thing they liked to do wasn’t really what others did. But at the time the christian event was the thing. Repackage it and it’s still the same approach.

But what now for UK youth ministry?

In this piece, UK youth Ministrys own Martin Saunders in 2015, effectively said that Youth Alpha and Soul Survivor were virtually the only successful working things in UK youth ministry;

https://www.youthandchildrens.work/Youth-Work/Read/Youthwork-blog/It-s-time-for-a-revolution-or-youth-ministry-is-dead

Whether either works might be debatable, and how something is deemed successful is also a debate. We might point to numbers of young people attending or participating. But we can easily point to the millions that haven’t. But the point is, what now if one of the two principle pillars of uk youth ministry is about to close?

Martin, then in 2015, called for revolution.

Maybe the final ending of soul survivor might herald it.

However it’s as fair to say that large gathering worship is going nowhere. When Stoneleigh festival closed in 2001-2, it spawned many local attempts to replicate it all over the uk. Trauma, grief and loss, for, it formed such an integral part of the identity of faith for so many, was turned into a sense of ‘carrying on’ and activism but on a local scale. The model was copied… for a short while. Maybe Soul Survivor will only be replaced by a Hillsong equivalent, given the expansion of the Hillsong empire, sorry, church, in the UK. The space is now ripe for it. That, the space is still pretty crowded with already many summer festivals, and local worship gatherings, frequent and hopeful in the 1990’s, now almost faded to the big university cities and where there are a few evangelical youth ministers in clusters means that the local is more likely to have already been in existence, or at least tried.

But what of youth ministry in the UK?

Well, given that this itself is ridiculously difficult to define, youth ministry itself might only be what youth ministers say it is. Many other camps and festivals exist, and imaginatively, it might be worth thinking about how young people become participants and contributors of their own, rather than just attenders. But that’s for another day. Youth ministry in the UK will, in 2019, have lost one it’s mainstays of the calendar.

If the scene really has changed. Real innovation is needed. The local church has got to be where it’s at, this is the place where the dangerous discipleship of participating in God’s work will occur for young people. 51 weeks of attending youth fellowship and a summer festival might , just might, not be challenging and radical enough. Not anymore, though it hasn’t been for a while.

Youth Ministry does need a shift, and closing of soul survivor might be the wake up it needs. But then, Think pieces like this have been written in their thousands. True innovation is the stuff no one sees. Calling for innovation is easy. Being knowledgeable about faith, discipleship and ecclesiology is also easy. The culture of evangelicalism, that Soul survivor has been part of, is still here. Whats as interesting is that young people are turning liturgical, contemplative and sacrificial. The spiritual tide is turning.

Whisper it quietly, but the still small voice is still on the move.

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