Prosecco, Pizza and Pebbles – The FYT movement gathering 2019

The red kites soar overhead in the early hot summer sky. The sound of geese hooting from the lake, the chime of an ice cream van from a distant estate, the creaking sound of the wooden poles of the yurt holding strong in the breeze.

I am just back from the FYT movement gathering held at the same venue as last year’s, the rock UK centre near Stanwick lakes, Northamptonshire. And like last year, 2 stunning days of sunshine.

Every year is different. Yet every year includes copius amounts of love, of community, of conversation, of challenge, creativity and coffee. Cake, chocolate and this year, prosecco also featured, and pizza… Well, why not celebrate 10 years of being the FYT Streetspace community.

Leaders from within shared their stories. Leaders from within shared their learning, leaders from within shared their hopes and dreams, leaders from within led in worship, leaders from within created the culture. That made everyone a leader, everyone a participant, everyone included.

 

 

 

Someone new to the movement, shared the following poem, wild geese, just as the wild geese hooted on the lakes in the distance.  A poem that sums up the weekend, that sums up what the movement is about.

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things. (Mary Oliver)

Sessions on developing high participation, sessions on smashing the patriarchy, sessions on developing liminal spirituality, sessions on risk, sessions on discipleship. Sessions in between the conversations. Sessions interrupting the general community. Sessions that brought mental exercise that developed the relationships, that developed the community. Prosecco and pizza set the tone, a camp fire developed it, and ending our time with home made bread, and celebration of the fruits of the community.

Someone who was new to the community shared an emotional poem, someone new to everyone on Friday contributed and felt at home to do so. Prosecco and pizza set the tone, so did the conversations, reality and honesty.

A time to ask the questions – like – what next for pioneering? what next for developing equality? what action can be taken? what might participation look like?

And pebbles that were painted to express who we are, what we contribute and what we think of the community, pebbles that caused us to think of ourselves, and.. i admit i struggled. Struggled to think of what i might contribute, and what i could paint that would make it clear. The inner child that hated art feared making a mess, so i played safe. But that was ok. We all bring ourselves the community, including the parts we dont always find comfortable. And then we hold, or held each other through it.

Its a tribe of hope and healing. A tribe of reflection, question and learning.

A tribe of depth, of reality, of respect. A tribe where humanity is prioritised. A tribe that dreams.

A tribe that inspires, A tribe that pushes, A tribe that risks.

A tribe that walks. A tribe that talks. A tribe that makes. A tribe that creates.

A tribe that doesnt have to be good, but it does love. A tribe that wants young people to head home as we head and be home too.  Wild geese, heading home.

Prosecco, Pizza and Pebbles. The FYT Movement gathering 2019.

 

 

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All youth ministry is local.

No matter what the denomination leaders say

No matter what the youth ministry specialists say

No matter what the seminar leaders at the latest conference says

No matter what the trainers at Christian ministries explain.

No matter what the latest generalised view in a book is

No matter what the latest research on a lost generation of young people says.

All youth ministry is local.

Youth ministry is only effective when it is in response to local needs guided by local convictions in the hands of young people. When community convictions and concerns, financial and leadership resources, theological and moral values when tied to ministry vision and passion, shape strategies for reaching young people.

All youth ministry is local.

I bet you thought I wrote this. That these are my words. I bet , probably aside from the reaching young people comment, that you thought that I have found another youth work book that fits a ground-up, community development approach to youth work, a community view of ministry.

But no.

These aren’t my words.

Well.. not quite..

These are written by an American youth ministry expert.

Really?..( I hear the 4 of you who will read this blog say…)

Yes.

When did they say this.. when did American youth ministry realise this..? … is it recent?

Well it is ‘new’… a ‘new’ direction in youth ministry.

A new direction… in 1998.

A voice of American youth ministry, going against the tide (Mark H Senter III) . Criticising the generalised view of youth ministry, cultural assumptions and may be the macdonaldisatuon of youth ministry programmes, resources and faith. Staying that. All youth ministry is local.

In 1998.

Shame books don’t get read much. Or affect the practice of youth ministry much. Shame this book didn’t even get chance to leave the RRC in 20 years.. (yes no one took it out)

So what happened in the last 20 years.. has UK youth ministry recognised this.. ? I wonder..

Of course 20 years later.

I’d go further. Beyond needs to gifts. Beyond programmes to participation. And what does local youth ministry look like… well it looks like conversations, group work and developing and emerging from what you have.

But that’s for another blog.

All youth ministry really is local. So look for the beauty, possibility and spirituality in the young people you have.

Reference.

New directions in youth ministry. 1998. Rice, Clark, eds

And I Would do anything for God..(but i wont get bored)

In his book ‘Faith Formation in a Secular Age’ (2017)  Andrew Root suggests that the biggest motivation in society, that has infected the church – especially in youth ministry , is what seems the influence of the avoidance of boredom. And in the church this looks like:

Must make this event exciting – or no one will come along

Our new youthworker must be excited and innovative (always thinking of the new)

What will make the programme lively and attractive?

We cant be doing the same songs, we must do new ones every now and then!

Young people wont be interested in coming to sunday church, they must have their own meetings

And, some of this also plays out in worship songs, using screens, countdowns and smoke machines, even in an avoidance of reading the bible or meetings (these are deemed boring).

Is Andrew Root right?

in Faith Formation he tells the following story:

‘ A famous bible scholar was meeting up with a young muscle bound man who expressed to him his deep deep love for Jesus. Judging from his passionate excitement, the professor believed the young mans commitment, so they talked about faith and the bible. When the topic of sunday worship came up, the young man explained that he rarely went, telling the professor that it had none of the adrenaline of the workouts, that ultimately Sunday worship was just too boring.

‘I thought you loved Jesus’ the professor asked

‘i do’ said the young man, and said with genuine authenticity, I really do!”

So, the professor asked, ‘do you think you would be willing to die for Jesus?’

Now more reserved, the young man said ” Yes…yes, I think i would, yes I would die for Jesus’

‘So let me get this straight, the professor continued, you are willing to die for Jesus, but not be bored for Jesus?’  (Root, A, 2017, p7)

The point that the scholar would try and make from this is that is the importance of co-orporate worship. The inconsistency of boredom vs commitment.

But Root seeks a different point in Faith Formation, because in an age where the authentic experience is sought… think not adrenaline junkies of the 1990s, but the authenticity of the farmers market/homebaked bread/real music – then in such an age, anything is deemed disingenuous if it lacked connection to the depth of subjective desires.

Therefore to be bored in an age of authenticity is not simply unfortunate or unpleasant it is to be oppressed and got rid of. if we have responsibility for our own individual journey of spiritual life then why would we consider anything boring to be worthy and part of it? if its boring our needs are unmet… arent they?

On one hand is Root right?

Well hang on just a minute. He goes on:

Because if on one hand the church’s pursuit of youthfulness (see this post  ) has created churches that are having a juvenile tantrum (Roots words not mine), then what an age of authenticity also reveals is that churches are criticised not for too much spirituality and depth, but not enough. It is as if they have somehow lost what they are meant to be. The depth of experience (found in the gym, or found travelling the world to ‘find oneself’) is not found in the church.

There are two issues here, and Im not sure even I can do both justice in the remainder of this piece. So, i will focus on the first of the two.

Has the church, in regard to youth ministry played the ‘avoiding boredom’ card far too often?  and what has been its response..

  1. Make everything louder than everything else? Ie bigger and brighter music, churches, buildings, more attractive – keep up with the entertainment
  2. Work out what it might mean when people say that they are bored of church..?

Boredom might mean actually not being involved. Boredom might mean that it is too simple. Boredom might mean that it is not challenging enough. Not that it isnt loud enough. Boredom might mean that it isnt real, or authentic enough. And what might make church authentic… authentic relationships, authentic involvement, authentic respect and faith formation, authentic opportunity to make decisions. (see my post here on developing these) So often boredom has just caused a reaction of adopt technology, adopt fun, adopt noise.

Whats strangely interesting is that the churches that have fared better over the last 50 years are those which retained something of the youth movement of 50 years ago. Possessing the spirit of youthfulness is equated to authentic, because being and staying young is exactly that. In and amongst this is a pretty non existent space for what church is or isnt actually meant to be about. But is that to be the case today? im not too sure…

The possibility of divine action is somewhat minimised for the sake of authenticity, faith is not connected to divine action but meeting in an authentic way. In short, is God more present when im not bored..?

The challenge for those of us who are involved in ministry and youth ministry is not that we cave in to calls to make churches and meetings more youthful, not to cave in to the cries of ‘young people arent going to come to church, its boring’ . The task is not to cave into church being more entertaining, for this will, or has already caused significant problems, where faith formation has almost completely been abandoned for youthfulness.

The challenge is to try and develop opportunities for ministry and gifting, usefulness and meaningfulness, not just a bigger brighter, louder, more colourful experience. If young people want that, they can get it at a coldplay concert. And that might be more authentic. For a coldplay concert does exactly what it says on the tin.

It will take a huge amount of effort to stand up in a culture that prioritised youthfulness as authentic to say hang on, lets do something meaningful, real and faithful. That might take guts to do, yet the hamster wheel of continual youthfulness is only going to have one winner. And it not faith formation, or long term discipleship. It is not experience of God, not the kingdom experiences of generosity, giftedness, gratitude and rest that permeate in church and discipleship, and ministry of the kingdom (Root, p 202) .

Making church less boring again, may well be a legitimate question. The response to it is one that will shape church for the next 50 years. Yet strategy will kill essence (Mather) , so we might as well get on and do the work of the kingdom, that looks like the ministry of God in the world. Being authentically inauthentic in a world of youthfulness. Do the essence of God.

Oh… and making church meaningful, hopeful and dangerous. A sub cultural movement of justice seekers called by God towards peace and reconciliation, generosity and gratitude. Now – who might find that boring..?

Personal Vulnerability, through the storm

It would be easy to wait until the garden was full of roses, until the stream was calm, and until the struggles of life were over, and a sense of victory, progress or achievement was gained, to write this kind of thing. The ‘salvation’ story of transformation, looking back and how I could chart all the moments, doing so from the point of view of being in a ‘final’ good place. Its like reading into the Easter Story, and forgetting what Holy Saturday might have felt like, in real time. And today, a glimpse of brighter days ahead is looming into view, but im not having in a picnic in the meadow yet.

I am in the middle. But then again, so, most likely are you.

In the past I have written here on the professional challenges I have faced, from thinking through redundancy, from management and also from funding issues. You will also have heard me talk and get angry about some of the structures and narratives that are used as the easy cop outs for a neo liberal ideology to place all the blame of personal reactions, on the individual. See for example, the resilience narrative, and even to some point, some stuff on mental health. And I could do the same again. Get angry.

This isnt the time though. This is the time to get real. With a glimpse of the future light in view, I want to use this space to share with you an number of things.

As one of my line managers said to me about a month ago ( i have 2 jobs, therefore, 2 line managers) ; ‘James, you have had the year from hell’ , lucky for me, it was in a phone call and i was sitting on Middlesbrough railway station at the time and so I held this, and held it together. And holding it together, has been part of the last 12 months. Just at times, clinging on at times.

So, turning up at churches, events, training groups or seeing people and they say to me ‘You’re looking well’ , could be a mixture of the increased fitness, being outside alot and getting a slight tan, or copious amounts of nivea cream to stop my face from drying out. Im sure a disclosure about using nivea creme moisturiser (for men) might be more shocking than anything else. But, guys, if you’re going through crisis and want to ‘look well’ i highly recommend it… But maybe I can look well. Maybe I can look well, because of a number of factors. Maybe I can look well, because I have been also able to feel quite well during some of the challenges. And I have been able to feel well because of a number of factors too. But as I say, I am acutely aware of being ‘in the middle’ of stuff. This isnt a boast, a ‘look what ive got through’ piece.

I was so hoping that I could write a piece about dealing with a significant amount of personal challenges in the last year without using what seem cliches. But I cant. I will write about a number of specifically other aspects of the last year over the next few weeks. What follows is a snippet of it all, and in Mental Health Awareness week, an attempt for me to share some of it. It wont be coherent.

I discovered 3 months ago, that I am more of an introvert that I had given myself acknowledgement for. Though one of my friends pointed it out to me 2 years ago, I hadnt given it much thought. Or wanted to deny it. This aspect of my learning and self awareness, I will explore another time. In her book ‘Quiet’, Susan Cain describes how the internet, and especially social media, has become a haven for the quiet creative, the introvert, the thinker, and I agree.  It is funny, whilst social media at the moment is getting an absolute bashing for the offensive stuff. I counter this and say that it is only a tool. And if it is used by tools then it will reflect that. Social media for a good many number of people, including myself, is a safe space where friends gather. A space to start off being vulnerable. A space where like minded friends are, (also known as an echo chamber) who I, and others are able to share stuff with, like written pieces, but also share and request the need for prayer, for help, for advice. As a tool, social media can be as uplifting, as supportive, as positive. When you know that 100’s of people are praying for and with you, from all over the world. Yes, that. (thank you)

So, getting back to the personal bit, much of which I have still avoided to talk about, one of the first things that I did over a year ago, was realise and use social media, (specifically twitter) to express personal vulnerability, to ask for help, to ask for prayer, to also give me a space where i could ‘talk’ in text, could give me the first few experiences of being able to talk about what was starting to go on in my life, without speaking verbally. They say the hardest thing is to admit you need help. What i did, and trusted early, because I had prayed for the many others, was use that space to begin being real, to begin acknowledging need, and to begin the process. It gave a number of people, and they are heroes, the opportunity to hear me, and make the connection with me to not only pray, but also stand and stick with me through to where I am today, that wouldnt have happened without social media first. I thought it might mean that people would treat me weird, but they didnt at all. Metaphorically, they just held my hand.

As a youthworker I might encourage a young person to ring childline, as a youthworker, I needed to find similar avenues. I also needed to then find people who I could do the real vulnerable stuff and begin to talk through it all in detail. (and no thats not for here)

The second thing I want to say. Is that 6 months into trying to work out stuff, even, having the most supportive friends, pray (ers) and beginning to reflect on myself, my relationships, work situation, emotions, reactions and health. I referred myself to counselling. If nothing else, that having the year from hell in 2018/9, required some healing from and giving myself that opportunity would do me even more good. I know it may not be for everyone, and its not affordable to many, but I would highly suggest not making counselling a last resort. It has been an additional critical and reflective space, that has been really helpful, more than that, crucial, for me in this process. Its not a weakness to admit. It really isnt. And yes of course i would say that.

I didnt want to use cliches, like ‘dont struggle alone’. Talk to someone, talk to anyone. But I cannot avoid them. Where you find community, safety, and friends, and you need to do not be afraid of being or looking weak or vulnerable. I have found, and cried when realising this, that it gives other people the opportunity to help, to support, to give, and to create a place where you can feel strong, cared for and thought of. Even in the midst of the storms.

This week is Mental Health Awareness week. I was reminded of this when I saw Alistair Campbell interviewed on BBC breakfast this morning. Details of the programme, talking about his own personal journey (through mental health) is to be found here:  This piece is not to try and work out what my personal challenges have been, though unemployment was certainly one of them, more to share something about how from the perspective of the middle point, I am able to look back a bit, and reflect on the ways i found strength, found community, and support, from the very beginning, or maybe the part of that process was an earlier middle. As I said, this is still the middle, and so do continue your prayers, and thank you.

I could end this piece about talking about self care. And it would be appropriate to talk about ‘how in ministry we need to look after ourselves’ (and i have written about that here ) but what I also needed to do was look after me, and realise that it was okay to look after me. And so might you.

3 questions that are critical to ask of all our youth work and ministry practice.

Shall we start with a reality check?

There is no magic answer, solution, gravy train, resource, method, model for youth work and ministry. There really isn’t. Anyone telling you this is merely on the hard sell, of their particular brand, style, event or model. Anyone telling you this is is hoping that they have it, that they experienced it and they’re clinging on to keep their particular dream alive. Or organisation. And i have been as guilty or complicit in this too. Though Id hope not because id peddle my own faith upbringing as the only path for others to have..

But I know you’re probably reading this because you want an answer, a style, a method or a model to solve the current problems, concerns you may have about your youth work practice. Whether it is about children leaving messy church, or young people on the streets, or the YF being boring and running out of ideas.

And running out of ideas is one of the main issues isn’t it? A key factor in youth worker burnout. They run out of ideas.

Yet, youth ministry isnt an entertainment industry… is it..?

If you are reading this hoping for the magic answer, then you may well end up being disappointed, but well done for getting this far. The questions are coming.

Because on one hand I am slightly tired of the models and methods, the research, and the moaning, about why people leave their faith, or why a model didn’t work because it worked elsewhere (or in 1983), yet without looking at what is going on at a deeper level with young people, then models, methods are still unlikely to work. But they kept being tried… Working doesn’t mean attendance, or young people paying for something. Because.. its not the values of the entertainment industry that we’re looking for.. is it?

So, what are the 3 questions that we should ask of all our youth work and ministry practices? And ask repeatedly and all the time. They are:

Does what we do/are about to do increase young peoples belonging?

Does what we do/about to do increase young peoples autonomy?

Does what we do/are about to do increase young peoples sense of competence?

 

What you say – no  mention of Jesus?  no mention of values? no mention of ………(fill in the blank)

Yes. Agreed. No mention of those things. Because, look closely and you will find those things in these three questions.

Belonging. 

Relationships have been front, centre and under pretty much all of youth work and ministry practice. You really dont need me to pull out all the references for this. But relationships are one thing. A sense of belonging and connection is another. If we hope that ‘our relationship’ with a young person as a single youth worker or volunteer is crucial, we may be misguided, because its a sense of belonging that young people crave, (secret: we all do).  So… do young people feel they belong in the church family, do they feel they belong in their school, do they feel they belong in their public park, do they feel they belong in their town. Our relationship with a young person might be critical, especially if it helps to help them have a greater sense of belonging.

How might the whole church help a young person (s) belong? How might the town help young people belong who also want to express their anger at austerity through anti social behaviour?

So – how might what we do/ what is bout to be done – help young peoples sense of belonging?

 

Autonomy

This may seem to stand in contradiction to belonging and connection. But it isnt. Autonomy may mean that young people can make their own decisions, and as an individual, however, autonomy can also become something that our youth work and ministry should create, in order that young people can have a say in decision making processes, in decisions that affect them, affect the youth ministry/work itself and also the wider faith community and organisation. Autonomy is a key motivator for us all, we all like to be kings of our own castle. Yet at the same time, reflect on the situations where young people in the group, or organisation had any autonomy over the activity, process, style and nature of the group.

We might use the term participation, and that in a way is a graded scale of how young people do have increased decision making/autonomy.  Because after all, increasing young peoples participation is not that far from helping them to meet some of their self determined goals. Their goals about the club, group, community.. their dreams, visions, their collective passions for these things

I have written extensively on participation, some of these are my most read pieces.. its clearly a need, to think through and reflect.

Though i have suggested this one is second in this list of three. I think its the most important. Especially in churches and youth ministry.

 

Thirdly, Competence

What can your youth work and ministry do – to help young people feel that they acheieved something, they made something happen, they did well?

And it doesnt need to be personal – but it could be

It doesnt need to be social – but it could be

They did well doing the reading in a service is one thing, they did well speaking up at the leaders meeting another. They did well writing to their MP on climate change, they did well showing generosity and grace to others in the group. They did well…..

Nothing like doing well isnt it.

You know what that feels like?  probably not.

Will you only tell young people they did well at something when you get positive feedback for all your efforts, your hard work, your job? Id hope not.  You might have to give and continually give praise, even if you dont receive it.

But its not just the praise. It is the situations in which there is a possibility of being able to. When working on the streets its easy to affirm young peoples football skills, or how they ct with each other. It is their environment. So, how might the space of the youth group, club or project also be a space that encourages competence, encourages risk taking activity that stretches our known behaviours and praises the actions that are taken.

Youthwork that has craft activities are brilliant at this, if we can encouraging the simple making of things that are fairly easy so that everyone can do something well. the same with cooking, or fixing bikes, or sports or video games… its not quite the same with movies.

Its no coincidence that uniformed youthwork organisations with badges and awards continue to be very popular.

How might young people feel, if they are part of a group or project in which they leave each session feeling like they have achieved something, have developed a skill, have something to take home, have created something? Yes.. exactly…

 

 

If you need to think further about these three things through a faith lens, then do so. If you want to think about them in the context of the divine relationship between humanity and God, in terms of divine and human action, in terms of free will, prayer, and being made in the image of God, then do so. I would encourage it. It would be good to have that discussion. if you want to have a look at these things through discipleship or mission, through church then do so. You should also be able to see where these things mirror core youthwork values, like participation, empowerment and valuing the individual. Some of those reflections have already been done by Jocelyn Bryan in her excellent book, referenced below.

So, faith and theology is not my starting point for these. It is psychology.

If this all feels a bit more on the psychological side of things then it is. But thats ok isnt it. Because psychology could help us in youth work and ministry in a way couldn’t it. After all, we’ve tried sociology to death with all the generationalism surveys, and that hasn’t got anyone anywhere. Aside from selling resources.

But, you want to make a real difference in your group, your church, you organisation with young people. Don’t worry about second guessing their interests because they’re millenial. Try instead looking at the deep things that motivate them. Try looking at how belonging, autonomy and competence are part of their lives, try seeing where they find these things already. Try doing what you can to find them in the group, project and activity that you run. Of course this is hard work, of course this might require shifts. Who said this was in any way easy…

The reason these questions are crucial – because they’re the same one we ask of ourselves. Young people, are no different to us.

 

Further Reading: 

Human Being, Jocelyn Bryan, 2016.

 

Accepting rest amid the storm

There are 2 types of tired:

one requires rest
and the other requires peace (anon)

Yesterday morning, it was Easter Sunday and I had got up for the Sunrise service on the Headland, Hartlepool, in north east England. And. Whilst it was stunning this reflection is about some of the sermon during that, and also something I read when I returned, picking up my Bible just a few hours later.

The previous day was Easter Saturday and I had shared this tweet about the reality for the disciples on Easter Saturday

It is fairly obvious that the real trauma of Easter, it’s darkness and the grief of it are not far from my mind this year.

And so on Easter morning, I started to read the following.. in Luke’s account, two words that I hadn’t really noticed before;

Luke 23:56 New International Version (NIV)

56 Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.

I wanted to read all of the Easter account. But got stuck here..

But they rested.

This word rested only appears one other time in the new testament, and refers in Hebrews to the 7th day of creation. That’s not the point (to be fair I only realised this today when writing this)

But they rested.

Why? We are told because the law said so. The law of the Sabbath, given by God for rest on the Sabbath.

Saturday was rest day.

The Saturday of ‘Easter weekend ‘ was a rest day.

So they rested.

They rested in the midst of the trauma, grief, pain, suffering, betrayal

They rested included Mary, whose son was just hanged publically.

They rested from caring, and looking after the dead.

They rested and hid away. Gathered friends and family. Grieved.

They rested from looking after others.

They rested in the midst. They had to. But they still did so.

They rested. Because that’s what the law said.

They rested.. so they might have some energy to cope with the Sunday. So.. was this planned all along? .. probably. Finding rest for your souls is what Jesus had already shared (Matt 11;28)

Was resurrection Sunday, found only after rested Saturday? Did all the event of the Sunday appearances gain credence because of the day of rest, of quiet, of reflection and devotion, the day before. Because, post good Friday, the first one, back to normal.

Normal included rest. Sabbath, and what was known. That Sabbath now took on more meaning, because the promised saviour had just died. So actually, returning to established patterns was a comfort. (The disciples went fishing.. )

But they rested.

Where their weary hearts found peace. Peace after the trauma, but with no expectation of the future glory. Easter Sunday wasn’t coming for them, not that they knew it.

But they rested

And this is still the promise. You will find rest for your souls, said Jesus. You need to rest. Elijah finds God after the chase, and God feeds him. Jonah the same. The promised rest is not avoidance nor is it comfortable. It’s the continued hearing of the voice of God in the midst.

But they rested

They had to. By law. Who put that law there..?

But they rested.. Jesus said.. I will give you rest.. it is a gift. Resting is a gift given. We have to receive it, embrace it, treasure it, accept it, find it. It is there, already, God already is.

But they rested. What about you? What about me?

They rested on Easter Saturday.. surely you, and I can too. We need to.

In church attendance statistics; should there be an ‘away goals count double rule? ‘

Not for the first time I find myself pondering a football and faith crossover piece. In the past I have written about a youth worker transfer deadline day, and also thinking about the theatre of football as a performance.

This time I’m heading to the slightly sensitive area of church attendance and growth statistics.

But first, a reminder, for those of you who aren’t sport inclined, what the ‘away goals count double rule’ actually is. It’s particularly relevant today on the day of the UEFA champions league quarter final draw.

The logic of the rule (And I’m not going to give you the official line) is that in some football competitions, mostly games where teams play other teams from a different country, there has always been and will be a home advantage. The home team don’t have to travel, they play in their own stadium on a pitch with dimensions they know, with all their home fans, their dressing room etc etc. It has long been recognised then that an away team (especially after long distance travel) is at a disadvantage.

Further details of this can be found here BBC article

For this reason, where a two game the is level on goals, any away goals scored by either team count as double. Their value is worth more. 1 goal counts as 2.

An additional meaning is attached to the number.

It crosses my mind that a similar weighting or value might be useful in thinking about church attendance, growth and mission statistics and success.

Put it this way,

The middle class already Christian family who move into the area and start going to the church might be recorded as ‘5’ on the figures.

And almost no effort might be made to find, work with or accommodate them, except being welcoming and hospitable. (Yet there are many churches/parishes where this is an unlikely reality)

The same 5 might be said for the family who start attending who have become known to the church via the foodbank. And whilst the same hospitality is recognised and evident, the effort and investment required might be more intensive.

If young people are really anti church and a youth worker has been employed- do the 5 young people who start attending chug h, also going as 5?

We may have real incentive as churches to do mission, youth work and community work in our churches, parishes and deaneries. But it might be as equally said that results by numbers might only implicitly cause churches to go for the ‘easier’ groups.

‘If we can get 1 of our friends to come along’

‘If we can attract a few Christians to come along by changing our service’

And that’s not to in any way suggest that this is easy. Not at all.

But if homeless people from hartlepool are made to feel welcome and attend because of years of effort changing a culture in a church to be more inclusive.. Then that ‘5’ of them has to represent and mean something more..

It might take 10 fold extra effort to encourage hard to reach groups (to be welcome in a church that often implicitly excluded) , and yet they’re counted as just 1.

It’s far easier if there’s a numbers game to go for the assessed easiest. It would almost be change in culture to intentionally advocate mission to and with the leastest in society.

So could ‘away goals count double?’ Or triple, or even ten fold?

I don’t mean to sound trite, or to try to dismiss the value of persons as numbers, the reality is that this already happens. I’m just highlighting the inadequacy of a numbers orientated system for measuring growth and attendance.

If there was church plant in Hendon, or Burbank, or moss side or fairfields, tulloch or the east end, shouldn’t a church plant of 10 people who became indigenous leaders have higher meaning and value than a church plant where 20 already Christians turned up because they liked the new worship style?

Just a thought.. what would church planting amongst the least communities and areas shafted by successive governnents be measured and justified ? If at all? But maybe not on the same measures of middle class suburbia who shape policy and expectation..

What might a good church look like, rather than a successful one, of a faithfully loving one in such a community. Why would that one need to be measured by numbers at all? And if so, could they count double?

Every new persons or families attending churches takes effort, agreed, but shouldt the extra resources required for the least likely, unchurched, abandoned by churcv/society, but warranted extra value..?

Just a thought…

What Role do you want young people to have in church?

For the majority of churches, the idea of having any young people being part of the church is a bit of a luxury. The task for many is to find them, attract them, and often this task has seemed to have fallen to the ‘christian organisation’ such as YFC, YMCA or FYT – the challenge where this happens is how the integration from organisation to church occurs.

But thats not the subject of this piece. I raised the question about the role that young people play in the church in a piece last year (here is this piece) , a piece that since April has been read by at least 10 people worldwide per day since. The role of young people in church is clearly crucial and something widely needing a discussion on.

So, what about progressing the conversation on a bit:

If its one thing to state ‘What current role do young people play?’ – and consider how passive, consuming, entertained they might be – the progressing question is :

What Role do you want young people to have in the church?

Because there is no point just assessing what kind of role they currently have, its what kind of role those who work with them want them to have, and how this might happen is key. So, this is yet another piece on young peoples participation. So, it might be worth thinking through why participation is important, and what might need to change, from the point of view of the cultural norms of church, of youth leadership and the perception of young people in the church which proceeds the development of their role. I have written before (and so have others) about the various historical perceptions of young people in churches, that needs to be changed in order that participation is increased. From the social rescue of the 1800’s, to the ‘protection and safety’ and creation of alternative culture youth ministry subsequent to the 1960’s. Throughout it all, there remains a high expectation of young people being involved in church to ‘learn’. Nick Shepherd in ‘Faith Generation (2016) suggests that shifting culture from learning to deciding is key. And I agree.

But why is increasing participation required?

On one hand, Theologically, participation is core to faith and the gospel itself. But I dont think I need to expand this here. Just look up ‘Bible Gateway’ and search participate or participation. And where there are no references, think about how God involves humans in the task of his mission, or loving and caring for the world, and developing the work of the church. Participation, and increasing it is core.

I want to look at this from a psychological basis as well. The psychologists Deci and Ryan have suggested that all of us are motivated by, and seek out continued spaces in which they feel they have:

  • Connection/Belonging
  • Competence
  • Autonomy

And, to be reasonable, developing relationships has been one of the key principles of youth ministry over the last 30 years. It may be something that still needs work, but ask a whole load of young people who have had the same leaders for more than 3-4 years, and they will remark on the depth of friendship and the value of them. Developing connections and relationships is undoubtedly key. From a young persons point of view – they will also be seeking out opportunities to create and have these connections – its worth bearing this in mind.

The second of these things is competence. It can take a number of facets, but essentially, being good at something, being confident in it and then also receiving the feedback for it. So think about it – in what ways do young people ‘do’ something in the church, that they can be praised for – that is quite meaningful? Colouring in a picture and showing it, really isnt competence inducing for a 12yr old. (especially when they’ve been in a committee in primary school)

The third is Autonomy. Which on the face of it might infer that they want to be independent, and this is partly correct, but it is a sense that they have responsibility and possibility to make decisions on aspects of things that directly affect them, having influence in the important. So – what about the youth group, or the church that young people might be important that young people could or should have influence over? Well if theyre an integral part of the church, then i might suggest almost everything. Only having a say in whether to play table tennis or indoor football may be a start, but its barely an important one. Chap Clark (Adoptive church, 2018) suggest that young people could have a say in the content or subject matter of the sermons in church. Maybe with that level of participation, young people might invest in church further. With a direct line to my youth pastor as a tennager, the youth group would make some suggestions to him, back in the 1990’s. It was great to hear on a sunday what he knew we thought was important. And not be patronised or ignored.

Think about all the aspects of the youth group, or the aspect of church – what role do you want each of the young people to play?

What might you need to do to open up the space so they can? challenge barriers? challenge assumptions? create spaces where young peoples voice can be heard? (and this not be a one off) If any church is serious about young people being more than token, more than passive consumers, then as adults, youth leaders and volunteers our role is to create the space, it is also to provide the support for developing the risk taking.

As a reminder, here is Roger Harts ladder of youth participation, which helps to give the rungs and grades of participation for young people.

Image result for youth participation

It might be said then, that increasing young people’s participation isnt just a nice to do – its actually what they need. Beyond connection, competence and autonomy are shot through the participation ladders higher rungs, decision making, doing stuff, creating things, taking risks – all deeply connected to a young persons needs (whether they know it or not).

Naturally, there are some areas in a youth group in which young people can have more participation than others (the games rather than the faith content..often) – it can also be said that some young people are more likely to be given roles than others – its usually the:

  • ones with the leadership potential
  • Right gender, race or ability…
  • extroverts
  • the oldest
  • the loudest
  • those known the longest
  • the most well behaved.

But what about the others? might a church be setting itself up to be accused of favouring the strongest (rather than the less visible) for participation, – is this theological ? After all – who did Jesus prefer. The irony is that ones who are likely to have participation opportunities in church, are as likely to be those who have them in school. So – the least get left out twice. The opportunities for participation might need to be adapted to the persons in the group. fancy that.

So – what kind of role do you want young people to have in their local church? or their youth group?

You might be content with them only having a token role in the life of the whole church, then dont be surprised if they only seem to have a token faith, or a token investment back. ‘The more we invest in young people the more they are likely to invest in their faith’ is a paraphrase from Christian Smith seminal 2003 book. Do you, does the church have increased and full participation as a main aim – but what kind of participation is actually possible for the 11 year old or 14yr old?

If you want young people to stay, and children beyond messy church and sunday school – then increasing participation in the local church is crucial. Its almost the only way. Its why when they have experienced it, ‘just going’ to a ‘event or festival’ might seem boring in comparison. Its participation free.

Without participation young people might get bored. And thats not because they need greater entertainment, its that they need greater respect and involvement. Relationship, Competance and Autonomy – might churches, and youth groups be places where these deep needs of young people are met? They might only be met through increasing participation. So – what role do you want them to play in the faith community? – what role do they want?

References:

Joined up – Danny Brierley, 2003 ( a chapter on participation)

Human Being, Bryan, Jocelyn, 2016 – On personal motivation/goals and a consideration of Deci and Ryan.

Adoptive Church, Chap Clark, 2018

Faith Generation, Nick Shepherd, 2016

Soul Searching, 2003, Christian Smith/ Denton

The following Anvil Journal has pieces on Participation and Empowerment – might be worth a read.

Are youth ministry books all saying the same thing?

The last 4 books I have read on youth ministry have started sounding like a bit of a

Image result for broken record

or reading them, has been like

Image result for groundhog day

its as if there is nothing new under the sun, or maybe with a twist that:

Image result for nothing new under the sun

Now, it could be that I read the same kind of youth ministry books, and to a large extent that might be true. However, I have also benefited from receiving a number for free, so that i can write reviews of them on this very site. So Nick Shepherd, Naomi Thompson and Chap Clark I am looking at you. But I will also add in this conversation Andy Root as well.

Heres what I mean. The only conversation in town is how to keep young people in churches. It is second to the fact there isnt any in church at all. But lets kind of go with the flow.  See what you think from the quotations below:

Naomi Thompson in her 2018 book ‘Young People and church since 1900’ writes

Young people today view their engagement with organised Christianity as a two-way transaction. They do not wish merely to serve church needs, nor do they expect to be passive consumers in accessing the youth provision on offer.” 

Nick Shepherd in his 2016 book ‘Faith generation; retaining young people and growing the church’ writes

The first area we might consider is the way i which young people move in churches from learners to deciders‘ (p156)

Chap Clark insists that: ‘Sometimes it is not a question of whether students and young people have the ability to serve, but a question of power. Adults have the power. Empowerment is a theological and sociophychological one. We need to transcend participation, and go all out for contribution. A participant is allowed to be with us, a contributor is with us on equal terms, a coworker who is taken seriously‘ (Chap Clark, Adoptive Church, 2018, p146-7)

And from a different angle, Andrew Root suggests that:

Andrew Root in ‘Faith Formation in a Secular age’ (2017) writes that faith in a secular world requires that : “study after study in youth ministry seems to define faith primarily through institutional participation. The youth with faith are those conforming to the youth group through affiliation‘ (p30)  The issue is that faith=conformity.

What all say is that participation is both essential, and yet it is not enough. All four writers identify young peoples decision making, creativity and desire to be part of the proceedings, not just a token gesture. Root and Shepherd also suggest that participating in the church structures really isn’t enough.

Young people want the church to be the place where they can be ministers in the world, and be agents of change in it. Institutional participation isn’t enough, but if this in itself isnt there well.. . Faith is to be Plausible (Shepherd), it is to involve ministry (Root) and it is about developing gifts (Root) in a place where faith can flourish (Clark).

But ultimately. I think they all say the same thing.

Its about identifying young peoples gifting, and created supportive places where young people can use these and decide how they want to minister using them. Its about moving from consumerism to contribution, and giving, or allowing young people to shape the roles they can rise to in the church, and develop faith that is risky, loving, generous and transforming.

Its great when four books say the same. Dont you think…. I mean its not as if youthwork hasnt been about participation for many a decade, has it…

It might be worth checking out this piece, on Youth participation, I wrote in in January last year, and includes Harts ladder on youth participation. ‘What role do young people have in church?’  given that this was a question posed by Danny Breirley in 2003, the same question is still being answered. We know that evidence and research is proving it, so why not any change?

Youth participation – the broken record – well it might be until its fixed…

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