Lets put a few things into context. The current situation regarding the pay, the training of, and also the sustainability of youthworkers in churches at the moment makes for pretty challenging reading.
It is worth noting, positively that churches who employ youthworkers are more likely to have less young people leave, and if anything do increase their sunday attendances, especially if the youthworker is employed for longer than 3-4 years.
Peter Brierely summarises a report, on ‘have paid youthworkers worked’ by stating
This article was requested asking the question whether paid Youth Workers had proved successful. The answer is positive, but with the recognition that they can’t do everything, and some continuing loss is likely to happen even if a church has a paid Youth Worker (but the loss would likely be greater if the Youth Worker was not present). The same is true for paid Children’s Workers, which suggests that these relatively new types of employment will continue to be needed in churches as the century progresses.
The analysis has also revealed, however, the enormous losses in church attendance being seen at later ages,especially among folk in their 20s, and those aged 45 to 64,the Boomer Generation. Some churches are seeking to offset this by employing Family Workers. The analysis also shows that while volunteers will always be needed, more and more professional staff will be required if church attendance is not to drop even more drastically in the days ahead
The full article is here, one of a number of reports (http://www.brierleyconsultancy.com/where-is-the-church-going/)
So, there we have it, from the master church statistician himself, churches that dont employ a youthworker are likely to lose young people at a greater rate than those who dont. What i wanted to discover from the article, which wasnt there was quite how many youthworkers the UK church was employing at that time, Peter Brierely is merely looking at church attendance overall at a time when uk churches were employing youthworkers, rather than looking at the precise numbers. So, no official data, by the master statistician himself about the number of UK nhou.
In Danny Brierleys ‘ Joined up’ in 2003, he suggests that in 1998, there was data showing that the Church in the UK was employing 7,900 (seven thousand nine hundred!) Full time paid youth workers. Wow. Stating that the church was now the largest employer of youthworkers in the country (if the church was one organisation)
Fast forward to 2018.
Even though there is still data (here is the anecdote to evidence findings that suggests that youthworkers make a difference) – This reality has not been matched in the number of employed roles in the uk church, neither in the investment of programmes to educate and train, or systematic diocese level employment stuctures, pay and welfare. The drip drip feed of youthworkers leaving the church has been significant and predictable, to the green grass and security (and housing) of parachurch, mission organisation or ordained ministry
In my recent voluntary research, conducted via this site and social media, I circulated a map, to which youthworkers in the UK who were employed by a single church could plot themselves. To date, the map here has only 300 pins on it. I realise that there will be some deanery, or multi church youthworkers (though theres less than 50 so far on that map). Even if these maps are out by 1/2 – that means that there might only be 700 employed youthworkers in UK churches. Thats potentially a huge reduction in the 7,900 of 1998. (Please do add yourself if you’re not on either)
So, this was a long way of saying.
If you think you might just be able to replace the youthworker you have got, because you dont like them, then I would think again. I would think again, because, in the long run, a church with a youthworker who has been there a while, is likely to help with increasing the attendance (not that this is the only benefit of them), but also that it might be a while before another youthworker might jump into the same role. The stops might need to be pulled out to try and keep them.
It would be easy to talk about salaries, housing, and the financial cost/value of a paid youthworker, a discussion on finances is ongoing at the moment, and yes, a salary without a house for a youthworker will look vastly different, and have different expectations on it depending on the area. If an area is so expensive that living near the church might only be afforded in a one bedroom flat, then guess what, an experienced, qualified, married youthworker isnt going to head too close, at least not without other financial investments or income. There are less college course in the UK, and so new students entering the field (having heard or seen many of the difficult stories of the past) are less. The jobs however are staying vacant .
In a way, though, most of us youthworkers dont do any of what we do for money. But the security and less stress of being able to afford and live in an area does go a long, no long long way. Its not salary necessarily that would cause a youthworker to leave. It is more likely to be the politics of the church, and how they are managed, and what expectations there are on them, this was the findings from Simon Davies in ‘The Management of Faith Based workers’ in Jon Ords book ‘Critical Issues in Youth work management, (2012)
the reasons frequently cited for youth workers considering giving up were not the young people, but the organised context of the work, and lack of understanding of their role as the main contributers. They also cited good supervision*, supportive colleagues and a sense of personal fulfillment as things that kept them motivated
and going on to say that
the demands placed on christian youth workers by the expectations of the church, are pressurized and lead to stress, isolation, exhaustion and emotional exhaustion
Though given the state of some clergy at the moment, some of this sentiment could also apply. Tragically. (* see the above menu if you would like to hire me for supervision)
The reality might be that the youthworker who is currently employed in your church, might well be your last. So, what can you do as a church community to value them, and make better use of them (and not just the clergy, as they also have their own responsibilities, especially supervision and line management -an issue discusses at length on this blog- see the first of 4 pieces here – we need to talk about clergy and youthworker line management). I asked a number of people on social media, clergy and youthworkers alike the following question:
What one thing could a church or diocese do, to make better use of their paid youthworkers?
Because the stories of youthworkers also being the photocopier, the toddlers leader, the caretaker, the deputy vicar on the vicars day off, are sadly endless and too timeconsuming to dwell on, often in the ‘other duties’ part of a job description. As Naomi Thompson suggested, it can too often be the case that the church employs the youthworker just to get on with it alone, or payment by results. So, it is better then, to ask the positive question – how might a church make better use of a youthworker? (especially if trying to keep them is essential)
Here are the responses from the question
- Don’t employ them for expertise then tell them what they should do. When things fail don’t criticise but love them and encourage them. Protect them from criticising members of the congregation. Give them paid opportunities to connect with other pros
- Equip, teach, train their church Leaders/pastors to see the young people and therefore the workers as central to the church therefore involving them in every aspect and at all levels
- Encourage partnership working between churches
- Guess you could add, don’t expect them to do it all. Give them a clear day off and acknowledge that any time where they are in church contact is counted as work time. Like ministers, prayer is also work, so give them time for it.
- Offer opportunities for CPD and not just to be ordained.
- Listen to them properly & take their expertise seriously.
- Provide access to administrative support. Fund CPD. Allow and fund retreats/quiet days/sabbaticals.
- Give them influence in leadership roles -or find ways in which young people can be in these roles (with the youthworkers support if needed)
(thank you to all who contributed, you know who you are, your ideas much appreciated)
Some churches might already be doing some of these things, and creating an environment for a youthworker to feel valued, not without challenges or problems to overcome, come on, lets not make things completely easy for them, but as congregations, and clergy, are these things possible in creating a positive space, and encouraging a youthworker in their role in the local church. If we can make better use of them, especially their passion, their exprience, their approach, knowledge and discernment regarding local mission and community – then this might be also of benefit to the churches as well. And if a youthworker feels and is valued, then there likely to stay , and if a youthworker is likely to stay….then you dont need to think about replacing them, if that option exists, neither do you have upset young people who have connected with them, and you might have the beginnings of a church that is starting to grow. just might.
Value the youthworker, value the church? maybe.
Brierley, Danny 2003 Joined Up
Ord, Jon, Critical issues in Youthwork Management, 2011
Jon Jolly, Christian Youthwork motive and method, in Youth work and Faith, by Smith, N Thompson (Stanton) and Wylie (2015)
Thompson, Naomi, Young people and the church since 1900, 2018