Its that customary time of the year, to look back on the year, its highs, lows, drama, challenges and achievements. As this will be my last post on ‘Learning from the Streets’ in 2018, I thought it would be a good time and interesting to look back over my year of ‘blogging’ about youthwork and ministry and share a few thoughts on it. In context 2018 was my 6th full year of blogging on these subjects, and overall i think i expanded writing into a few new subjects and titles. Some of this reflected my own situation, books that i was reading or conversations I was having at the time with other youthworkers around the UK.
Firstly some of the raw data for 2018:
2018, in Numbers
This post that you are reading now is the 124th I have written this year – which in a rather coincidental round about way, that makes on average 2 posts per week. Its less than 2016 (228) and 2017 (168) , but still….
My posts have received 179 ‘likes’ that’s the ‘like’ button on the bottom of them, that no one really uses…
And, not including this piece, I have written not far short of 169,000 words over the course of the year. This is less than in the previous two years, and but not by much and so, generally my posts have got longer. This could reflect my own studying and reading, the style or writing, the ideas covered, who knows..
Facebook (by a long way) , Twitter and Google search attracted most people to the site. The most searched phrase that caused people to visit was ‘the role of youths in churches’ and this is reflected in one of my most read pieces of the year.
I received alot of traffic from three other blogs, Thank you to In defence of youthwork, Thrive youth ministry and St Albans Childrens ministry for sharing my pieces or linking to them in your own. I know a few other people also did this, and special mention to my friends in Australia, the Ultimate Youthworker team, who regularly comment, share and publicise my pieces down under, thank you.
This is the first year in which more than 1000 people have viewed this blog site each month, and there have been 27,500 views of it over the year. Over 10,000 more than 2017. Thank you big time.
The blog has been viewed by people from 133 countries, with the top ten views from countries after the UK being; Australia, USA, Ireland, Canada, India, Philippines, Germany, South Africa, Singapore and New Zealand, and as wide afield as St Kitts and Nevis, Burma, Andorra and the Kayman Islands, quite incredible, thank you.
So, beyond the views and reads, what was popular, and in the interest of balance, what actually wasnt..? Starting with the more popular in 2018: Heres the top ten, starting with the most read piece of 2018….
Top ten posts:
- Posted at the end of November ; 35 Experiences that every youthworker has done was a sympathetic yet reassuring and humorous piece (so i was told) that many many youthworkers enjoyed, agreed with and could reflect on their own practice joys and failings. This piece went a bit ‘viral’ for a few days, and thanks mainly to the community in the ‘In defence of youthwork’ facebook page for sharing it around the country. This became my most read and viewed piece in 2018 after 24 hours of being published.
- ‘Where are the UK Church employed Youthworkers’ This was posted in June, and was an idea to try and collate a map which would give a snapshot of where the church employed youthworkers were in the UK. I am not sure that it was filled in by everyone who knew information about all the youthworkers in the UK, but if it has been then, there are about 300, and they are mostly in the South East. Probably a classic tale of revealing a reality most of us already knew. However, this got shared as clergy and diocesean staff around the UK passed it around (thank you) To note that 811 people clicked onto the map from this page.
- In January I spent some time preparing a seminar for the Cumbrian Diocese on ‘Participation and Empowerment’ and this meant that I read a number of books on these subjects. One of the key questions that I discovered, and used in the session was this one: ‘What role do young people play your youth group/church? ‘ This became the title of a piece. This has been the slow burner of the year. It got a few reads when published, and a few people read it over the next 6 months, but its gained traction since August, to the point where i think at least 1 person has read or viewed this post every day since the summer.
- Coupled with my own situation of being unemployed, and looking for work in youth work and ministry myself, and therefore looking at job adverts constantly since April, I wrote a series of pieces in June and July about recruitment and employing youthworkers. My 4th read piece of the year raises the delicate question about the pay of youthworkers . And I took an angle of looking back in old copies of youthwork magazine (yes i keep everything) and comparing advertised salaries down the ages, from 1999 onwards. And it is a bit of a quiz, so if you felt the urge to take part or have a go, see how you get on…
- In November, I followed closely and did some social media contributing to the National Youth work week, in the UK. Towards the end of the week I thought it would be good to collate some of the pictures, responses and opinions from youthworkers about : Why is youthwork good for young people and society? and the 50 reasons given are included in this piece. It was another collaborative piece in the year, and again possibly a good reason why it was well received and circulated. Thank you for those who did contribute.
Before continuing I want to remind you of the additional platform that I will be launching in 2019, I will be starting a Patreon Site, at this link: https://www.patreon.com/JamesBallantyne My first post in 2019 will appear on there, so do keep an eye out for it.
Other pieces that made up the top ten included
and with a similar theme, but another post that had a number of contributions from pioneers:
I did do a bit of critical moaning about the government, education and youth work policies (or lack of) in 2018. When i visited a number of regions of the UK there was often stories and examples to reflect on and share about. My 8th most read, on that theme was how the question raised to the Prime Minister about the state of young people due to austerity and budget cuts was laughed off. 8th of the year goes to : ‘Nice try doesnt cut it Mrs May, not when youve lived with austerity for 8 years’
9. My 9th most read post this year, was one that Id written over 3 years ago. I am thinking there must have been a seminar/conference on it somewhere, however, for those of you involved in church based childrens and youthwork, its a critical question: does the future of the church rely on how young people leave messy church? Though I didnt answer the question at the time with too much practical (and three years ago, my writing was very different) I have done so since, and this post does start to think through this, to think about helping young people become ministers not just learners.
10. And finally, my 10th most read piece of 2018 is……. one from 2017.. I wrote this piece because it is so easy to use negative and ‘not’ phrases when thinking about young people ‘ theyre not this, theyre not able to do that’ and was keen to try and start to use langauge about strengths, about gifts, and change this, from nots to strengths. So this, on strengths, not not’s – was 10th in 2018
Thank you to all who read, shared and enjoyed these pieces. Because they were the most read, you probably havent re clicked them, to read them again. (whats the point) – but if you havent or want to share them then do have a look again at them.
As a contrast – these pieces all published for more than a month ( ie so not this weeks) were read by the least people in the year. Many of them so convoluted, deep and theoretical that there’s no wonder, but some really werent that either. However, it might be worth reflecting on why some of the longer deeper stuff doesnt get read and what this might say about the time we have for doing this, the desire to think critically or whether I am actually usually just barking up a particularly crazy tree that no one really wants to participate in… so – my top least read 5 this year are:
5th Least read, published this year was one that I really though might stimulate discussion, and was on how churches might help create a movement for young people to join in with, rather than view themselves as entertainment to attract young people to, I am still convinced this is a shift that we have to make in youth ministry, and how we view the Bible as a guide for social justice, and be something young people can believe in. Oh well… maybe thatll take time.. or maybe that already happens…
4. One of my longest pieces and most theoretical was this one, on Discipleship and Performative pedagogical. And whilst I drew from Giroux, Freire and others to make a well reasons sound argument, it didnt draw many of you in to think critically about discipleship and education. Still, its there if you want a read… but i dont blame you, mostly it was a jumble of randomness and reading..
3. My third least read of the year was thinking about how churches and organisations need to create spaces and opportunities for young people to grow into, using the analogy of seeds and plants needing to be replanted in gradually increasing sized pots. Yeah, I thought it would be interesting… 😉
2. Big surprise, I honest thought this would be a popular one : ‘No ones every given me training to do mission before’ A piece on the helplessness and disempowerment of people assuming that mission activity is somehow just a natural given. (maybe it is)
and the most least read best of the unpopular posts for 2018 was….
- The Drama of the last supper – a piece on on what it must have been like for Jesus to ask each disciple individually that question.
So, clearly not everything I wrote hit the marks, or was really popular, even if all of it was well intentionned to stimulate, advise or reflect. And as the Film Critic Mark Kermode says, just because a film is popular doesnt make it good. And the same in reverse can be said for some of what I and others write. Popular doesnt = good, neither does upopular =bad either. I am aware that there are temptations in this world to provoke using titles or images, and I have fallen fowl to that, yet at the same time, titles with theoretical words seem less received. I would hope I strike a balance but veer closer to trying less to be controversial and popular, but speaking from some experience, speaking from trying to make sense of stuff and trying to be helpful, and yes that may mean it needs to be provocative or probing.
Best of all, is that people have genuinely said to me over the course of 2018 that I have helped them rethink or do their youth ministry differently because of reading one of my pieces. That they have thought differently about young people and wanted to develop something in a way that treats them with respect, this is my hope all along, and so, beyond every view, like or share, this has brought me the greatest encouragement. Thank you for those who have took the time to feed this back to me.
So, it leaves me to genuinely thank all of you for reading, sharing and contributing to these pieces over the past year. I have really enjoyed contributing to the many conversations in youth work and ministry in this time. I wish you, your teams of volunteers, staff, students a happy and restful Christmas, and all the best for your youth work and ministry practice in the new year.