Is the problem of absent young people taken seriously enough by churches? (enough, even to read a book?)

If only there were lots of books to read that congregations and churches could read to help them think through the pressing issue of trying to attract, trying to keep, and trying to disciple young people in churches. If only there were just so many, that there would be an exhaustion of so many to choose from.

But faced with the task, no, faced with the pressing need of trying to make church, discipleship and faith real for young people – where do churches and congregations turn? Well, its not books.

Therefore it is not those who think through, and do research about young people. For study

It is not the youthworkers of the past who have written up their experiences, shared their story and reflected it in way that makes it accessible for others.

And, without having an hankering for thinking and theory – what do current practices rely on? – just experience? just the latest fashion? just with the second hand learning of others? the youthworker youre about to employ, the student who is amazing, and just hope they know what to do.

What am i getting at? Whats my problem.

Well, i wish I was surprised. Im just a bit disappointed. I thought churches cared about young people, i really wish, the desire to connect with young people, and understand their world was really like. At least try.

At least engage with actual research. Published , verified research by one of the UKs leading statisticians on church numbers and data.

This is what I am getting at.

Are churches bypassing books to read up themselves and just employing someone to get their knowledge?

But reading a book might solve a lot of hassle.. mightnt it?

The following book was given to me last week for free.

(you can buy it for 1p here: )

I was given it free from the North East Religious resources centre (RRC), as they were having a clear out.

It was in their youth ministry and childrens ministry section, yes it is a title from 2001. But why was it given to me free?

Because it had not been taken out of the RRC for 10 years.

Actually, the last person who did did so in 2007. That is 12 years.

12 years when no one from any church congregation in the north east took out a book that detailed statistics, findings, analysis, reflections on the lives of, the thinking of, the behaviours of young people aged 8-13 in the UK. Statistics and reflections from one of the UKs leading statisticians on churches and church growth. (his website is

12 years where it doesnt appear that churches really wanted to do any difficult work around young people and think through things.

It may be out of date now, but it really wasnt in 2007,8,9, 10…

12 years where something else was more important.

12 years where research about young people hasnt defined or shaped practice in regard to young people – but something else might have done.. And im not saying general research is everything, on these pages you will know that i have issues about such general research and making generalisations. But at the same time, what might it say that this kind of book hasnt featured in any thinking about youth ministry, childrens ministry in the north east for over 12 years.

Maybe it also says something about how many people know about the fabulous religious resources centre, and please do register, connect and make use of the fabulous resources. And the books. The many 1000’s of books. Almost free, with an annual fee to join…

So, when youth work books are being given away for lack of use, what is going on? – what isnt going on?

What priority does youth work actually have ? And who might actually be prepared to graft, to read, to think about it, before embarking on the long term journey of it..

Books may be out of fashion, but come on, leaving them unused, unread and not part of the process of developing youth ministry practice… really?

Im not shocked, just a bit disappointed. When a resource this good has been laying dormant. What a waste.

Get a new qualification in spiritual blog reading! details here:

After lengthy protracted and often difficult negotiations, (and one of the reasons why I’ve been a little quieter on here than usual). I have a little announcement;

Learning from the streets is proud to announce a new partnership with Cleveland college. I can also announce a breakthrough pioneering course that will become available in the north east this year.


After the proliferation of spiritually related blogs, from ‘Babylon bee’ to ‘the gospel coalition’, ‘learning from the streets’ and many others in-between, the time is right for it to be possible to gain accreditation after reading, consuming and learning from all these digitally articulated spiritual web sites. No longer does the sacred myth emanate from ancient texts alone. Image result for blog

And now you can

From September 2019, thanks to Cleveland college and their significantly talented arts, digital and faith department. You will be able to undertake a BA degree in ‘digital articulation (with) superficial spirituality’

In effect, it is a course in which you can study and reference all digitally articulated blogs and articles that claim to be spiritual, including I might add, this one, in order to gain a Bachelor award. Image result for studying

As you might imagine, this is a massive step forward internationally in recognising the spirituality of blog writing and reading, giving us professionals in the field part acknowledgement for the efforts made to spew spiritual recommendations into the online world.

Applications can be made for the BA (digital articulation (with) superficial spirituality) from today and do apply soon as places are bound to be filled quickly.

The BA course, internally its being calling BADASS for short, will include the following modules which can be taken up to 360 credits on a flexible two or three year basis, with an essential dissertation to be completed. These details are below:

Diploma- year 1

1. Digital communication and spirituality or ‘how to get loads of reads and views using a controversial title’.

2. The history of blogging in the context of faith based written guidance. From Paul’s letters to the gospel coalitions articles, this will give students opportunities to ask the question: ‘what went so wrong’ with the message of the gospel.?

Each candidate must complete coursework and a final year exam. A number of resources are available. At the end of the first year students, having studied blogs for a year are given a digital detox. And encouraged to read a book. And soak their head in a bucket of vinegar.

Year 2 – Degree level

Module 3. The culture of spiritual blogs and their effect on the church.

Module 4. ‘Is it all ego?’ This fourth module option looks at the psychology of those who write spiritual blogs and what the effect is on them

Students will be encourage in their second year to begin critically analysing spiritually themed blogs ahead of their dissertation submission which can be present in their second or third year.

The principle question for the dissertation will be:

‘How far down a spiritual blog do people realise that it’s an April fool?’

This title will bring to the fore the skills required for critical thinking and recovering truth from bullshit in blogs. Using the annual April fools day japery as as a theme, students will present a 15,000 word essay, and 2000 word blog piece on this subject. To pass the course student must get their blog post read by over 3000 people.

If this interests you, don’t delay. Apply now. For detail ring 0104 0002019 and ask for Dee Gital .

Apply now for your BADASS qualification now!


Detached youthwork stage 1; Observation

Instead of writing a whole load of stuff on observation. I decided to make a film about it instead. See what you think.

Yes I need help with the technical bits.. but enjoy none the less…

Here it is detached youthwork stage 1 – observation

The stages stuff you’ve seen before. And I go into more in detail in Here be Dragons.

Anyway. Enjoy. Cringe or Laugh..

Young people need autonomy and connectedness, can Christian youthwork provide it?

I Saw this on social media the other day:

A great tension for young people is their desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves while making their own rules. Impossible. (Michael Wear)

Think about it for a moment, then think about what being a young person was like for you in regard to these two things. At the point of wondering about an individuals place in the world, comes a desire to also be in control and make their own rules.

It might be fair to say, the more privileged a young person is, the more opportunity they have to make their own rules, or at least have more autonomy about their own future. But that doesn’t take away their desire to be a rule maker, or have autonomy in situations

It might also be fair to say, that the less day to day responsibilities, stress and turbulence a young person encounters in daily life, the more opportunities that they might have to contemplate the ‘bigger story’.  But again, that doesnt mean to say that it is absent. Neither does it mean that it isnt speculated – just often might not be given the opportunity. Thats the Maslow hierarchy, its only when basic needs are met that actualisation can occur – well thats not quite accurate.

Maybe the question for young people might be how they place themselves in the great Universe, do they consider themselves free – to do what they want – or controlled – as if God already knows therefore humanity is merely puppetry. What if these questions are the ones young people are contemplating in their deep recesses of their soul – beyond or during the distractions from technology?

There might be an argument, that there is a lack of coherent stories in the western world that young people can metaphorically attribute to their own existence. Young People  (as they grow, psychologists tell us) form a narrative identity (probably) to piece together all the parts of their life as a story – yet the most common stories about their existence dont hold water, even if they want them too, such as Disney or materialism. For each generation of people, the founding stories and sacred myths lose their half life. The problem here is that once the story collapses, and there is confusion amongst the personal identity, as well as reduced autonomy and connection, then there are higher levels of mental health problems. Young people dont have a story to live by (McAdams, 1997), just a day to day existence in which accumulation of stuff, of popularity or personal display of images is what derives meaning. Its not a story to live by, but a station on the journey that might be full of mirrors., that gets adopted as a story.  Even via technology young people are not setting the rules, its adults who shape the apps, create the platforms, sell the games and keep young people attracted/addicted/manipulated by them. Young peoples autonomy is temporarily met, as might be their connection. If Studies show that getting a ‘like’ or a ‘follow’ is equivalent to a drug hit, then its no wonder alcohol sales have reduced amongst young people. (To be honest, I’m just the same when a person reads one of my articles -its nowt to do with young people.) Its temporary connection repeated often. Everything louder than everything else.

In their narrative identity, should they be able to adapt one that suits their being, the best one that young people choose is likely to allow for them to have autonomy, and probably also give them purpose, its also likely to provide self worth, confidence and also meaning, and it orientates the person into society in a way that enables them to connect, to function and to be purposeful in their history and that they can have consistency in their previous, current and future recognition of self (Bryan, 2016, p95). What is significantly interesting is that areas of stronger folk religion, of tribes and of community history have lower, almost invisible, incidents of mental health issues. (see: Ie they have a story that they can live by that is not subject to constant challenge, crisis or breakage.

This was published today (21st December.) An existential crisis is impacting mental health. 

In a much acclaimed study that discovered that MTD was the faith position of many american young people. What Christian Smith also discovered was that belonging to youth groups and believing in a sacred story that gave young people meaning was a ‘good’ thing in terms of their social, mental and physical health. (Smith, C, 2005) I have sidetracked somewhat. Believing in something sacred might be better than believing in nothing.

The question from the outset was whether young people can have both autonomy and connection. I wonder whether young people leave churches and groups because they feel that neither of these things are met. At a time they want connection, they get passed from group to group, at a time they want autonomy they dont have choice. But that could of course all change. Change because we might begin to realise in working with young people that these two factors, in tension, are at play all the time.

When young people challenge me on the streets, asking ‘why are you here?’ what they actually mean is can I trust you. 

They are searching for connection, a connection they can believe in. When young people give up on church, is it because theres nothing for them, or nothing for them. They spot a rat from a mile off and will protect themselves accordingly. Why invest in something not worth investing in. If playing football gives more value and provides more meaning. Or homework does, because the ‘story’ of school and achievement within education has ‘higher’ meaning. But often no more rule making or connected ness, just a rung to place that might lead to this. ‘Having a job, Having a house’ the promise of future autonomy.

So, what about faith. No Sacred story conveys all the human being might require at least not to what psychologists suggest. If the story does, then often the community that practices it might not do. We have to take seriously that young people, especially young women might not have any autonomy in a church, often ignored for the ‘leader’ privileges within youth ministry.. -so why stay? even if the Bible can be read in a way that values women (because it does) – a limited interpretation and power dynamics might say otherwise in a local congregation. So it is stay and believe it and accept submission, or challenge (which many young people do) not find a ‘home’ where challenge is possible, then leave. Leaving as an exercise of autonomy.

It might be more key that young people, do not just hear stories of the gospel, but believe that they are part of the story, performers of its drama. Narratives go so far. Young people can be connected to the story of the past, and yet also have agency in the drama in the future to act in response to God in the midst. Being connected and autonomous at the same time.

Considering the Christian story as a drama to perform, might provide the Connnectedness and Autonomy that a young person is looking for and needing. Youth Ministry, as i suggested in my previous post, would do well to reflect on the possibility that it has the task of the formation of performers who need to know their part, their location in the drama and to be attuned to hearing the ongoing voice of God who prompts in the midst. If young people feel that they are only a number

or one of many in a queue in the church, then they’ll search elsewhere for the autonomy and connection that being a young person is all about for them. Its what many gangs provide. Can Youth Ministry appeal to young people tense need for connection and autonomy? – it could. Why doesnt it?

Its our role to be witnesses of the Story, and maintain not its believing and telling, but its participation and performing. What might Theodrama offer youth ministry? A whole story to participate in and view the world through, and a task of human flourishing, the reconciliation to perform along with the principle actor Christ in the midst. I see no better way of a young person finding connection and autonomy than that. So how might our practices do the same?

Maybe values of empowerment and participation are psychologically important after all.




Bryan, Jocelyn, Human Being, 2016

McAdams Dan, The stories we live by, 1997

Smith Christian, Soul searching, The rise and fall of faith of American Teenagers, 2005

Vanhoozer Edification, Volume 4 Issue 1, 2010, The transdisciplinary journal of Christian Psychology. Vanhoozer.

Vanhoozer, Faith Speaking Understanding, 2010.

Why daily life, not data is more important knowledge for the youth worker

Early in youth ministry for me it seemed to be implied that being a good youthworker was about maintaining an ongoing knowledge of popular culture. This was reflected in youthwork magazine (circa 1997) suggesting ‘what was hot’ and what was not. A tool to ‘help’ the beleaguered youth ministry volunteer ‘stay relevant’  by being up to date and have a knowledge of popular culture. That youthwork magazine was printed bi-monthly then, by definition it was already out of date, but never mind it suggested a view that learning is required from popular culture. And as cultural workers who connect with young people this is true. To an extent. But its tiring trying to keep to date. As this photo shows, knowing about David Beckham and Teletubbies was crucial youthwork knowledge in 1997. (and yes I have kept old youthwork magazines..for such a time as this..)

Popular culture has developed a new more recent tool. For a significant energy is invested in the cumulative report and research from culture. It is from this that more general assessments are made, such as generation X, Y or ‘millenial’ . Image result for generation xThere may be learning that can be gleaned from these, though often it is little more than general knowledge, it gives an insight into a culture, if a general culture actually exists amongst young people/people.

Then there is written knowledge, the theories, research and thinking behind youth work and ministry, from education to sociology, politics, from theology to Mission and psychology even. Youth Ministry adopts knowledge from a number  of sources, even business, entertainment and advertising, all wrapped up in Books. Books that are sometimes read, sometimes written essays on, and so, one form of knowledge is that from the books. Books though require time, and considerable reviewing before being published, not all are useful, but at least time has gone into them. Unlike the bloggers. Like this. Just whip out a blog in an hour or so. It is still the sharing of knowledge in written form though. Bloggers might provoke, the odd question maybe.

However, though some of the knowledge might fore-arm you for the task of youth work. There is no hiding the reality that knowledge of the local context is also required.

That local knowledge can be in the form of Data. From to the NHS and Police, you can find many pieces of data about a local area. From obesity in the under 5’s, smoking in the over 65’s, employment, population and households, again, some of this information is revealing. Some concerning. Some, when shared in churches might actually cause congregations to realise that at times they might know very little about their local area. And as a youthworker, all this information is critical for being able to do fantastic youth work in the local area isnt it. You know find out what the community needs, see where the gaps are, think about anti social behaviour from the police stats, alcohol consumption from the health ones, and there you go, project up and running.

But data, doesnt give the full picture.

It points to the consequences, not always the causes. It points to the deficiencies not the desires, the needs not the personalities. The only data found is usually negative. There is no data for musical instrument use, or drama classes, or number of books read ( just literacy issues), or games of football played, jokes told, friends who did something caring.

We need to build up knowledge of the context, from within the context. We might learn the name of the shop keeper by actually using it, the favourite colour of the boy who is on the obesity statistic. What that 15 year old girl who does smoke, what does she dream of, hope for and care about? – what might she be good at? What is her story? what is all their stories? And so – from the streets and in our churches, communities, we need to hear and share stories, hear the buzz of life. Statistics might tell us one thing, stories involve us in another, the heart of the community. There is no such place as no place (apart from the ‘no place’ in county Durham) – because community and society is where people are and interact. There are a myriad of stories every day. As Freire said, all the theoretical knowledge he had was nothing compared to the knowledge of the community that every person living there had.Image result for stories It was only from there, and with people that he was able to create the possibility of change. It is this kind of knowledge that we need, of what is actually happening. No amount of strategising with statistics, consultation without concrete collaboration, planning without people will do anything other than provide a service that people might only reject or reluctantly accept (as a user). It is back to the strategising from the context and shaping possibilities through conversations, thats the knowledge we need. Its knowledge from people, with people and of people. As they really are.  As youthworkers, we need to leave spaces to be trusted to be told stories. Often i hear more stories of life from young people on the streets, than those in schools or churches, the environment doesnt always lend itself. Yet that doesnt mean that we dont keep trying at listening, hearing and provide spaces where we value stories as knowledge more than anything.  As youthworkers we need to be in the heat of the action, and attentive to learning from it.

After all,  Its not as if anyone said – thats the greatest data ever told.

The White elephants within Youth Ministry. 

This month Youth and Childrens work magazine have produced one of their gems. I caught a copy of it at the Religious resources centre in North Shields yesterday. It is based upon 8 of the serious issues in youth ministry that they suggest that youth leaders and churches are ‘scared to touch’, it felt like a top ten run down of the most embarrassing conversations to have with the parents. So included was gender, sexuality, masturbation for example and a whole host of others.

These white elephants in the room were mostly all ‘ things that we think we need to talk about with young people but dont know how to’ . What instead if there were white elephants in the room about the practice of youth ministry that we might need to consider as practitioners, over and above thinking about what to talk about with young people in our groups, schools and sessions? Or on the streets, where discussion about faith, gender, sexuality, ghosts and relationships seem much more spontaneous and frequent, however.

So: Some of the white Elephants within Youth Ministry: 

The first one is based upon a number of recent blog posts of mine. How might the practice of youth ministry – focussed on teaching, telling, groupwork, events and church based activities have deliberately and implicitly excluded the poorer, working class young people in communities? How might this be addressed? who wants to face this reality? (That previous post is here: Youth Ministry has always abandoned the poor)

The second, Can Youth Ministry be a genuine missional endeavour – if it relies on ‘friendship’ evangelism within young people – that barely works for adults. If groups in churches find difficulty ‘accepting’ the estate kids, or fear them, or ‘call’ them chavs. I have had three conversations in the last week alone in which groups fell apart because of ‘estate’ kids trying to attend the ‘church kids fun night’ – and put those reflections here: ‘What to do when the estate kids turn up: 

The Third one – How much funding needs to address the north/south divide in youth ministry resources? And are there ways of allocating resources to young people in some areas in the same way parish share/ministry funds do to focus on areas lacking.

The fourth – Has Youth Ministry focussed too heavily on helping young people learn about faith, worship, and find salvation – and less about how young people perform what faith is all about? Again, this is potentially cultural, as sermons are often heavy on content, less on action. Where might churches help young people enact Gods goodness to the world, beyond that God loves them individually.

The fifth. Has youth ministry become too scientific? predictable? If Making disciples has been the intention of youth ministry, has the ready to use material, tools and resources reduced making disciples to methods, programmes and activities. Instead – what of Youth Ministry as a local art form? The youth worker who facilitates an ongoing masterpiece of creativity, of young people participating and contributing?

The sixth. Do only the strong survive in Youth Ministry? The leader material – rather than the quiet one, those who can hack the youth group, those who have the right parents, those who look and act the part. And if so – what might that say about developing a theology of youth ministry that is ‘for the least’, the ill, the lonely even. Those even who stick their necks out and take risks, those who are provocative and challenge. Can youth ministry house and host the rebellious?

The seventh. The church is only working with 5% of the population of young people. And that includes every pay to go to event, camp, festival, club and group. For every 10,000 who attend soul survivor, there are 500,000 young people who watch on from Bristol, Bath, Exeter and Plymouth, within 150 miles up the road and dont give a monkeys.  If there is a north/south split in the youth ministry, then my guess, especially that even in the Durham diocese churches are in contact with 200 young people – then that is less than 2%. It is not a numbers game. Its a reality game that 98% of young peoples contact with faith is a vicar at an assembly. Youth Ministry has to become a whole church response, a whole diocese response, a whole focus response. There is no other way. And in many areas the ways that will happen will not look like the club, group or activity, it is something else. (want to chat about what this might look like – contact me above). It is not posters but persons, it is not programmes, but presence.

The eighth elephant in the room. One year gap year students. Serve only their own purpose to get experience in ministry, and serve a local church. If youth ministry is trying to be about meeting the needs of young people and develop sustainable faith. The persons who are only present for 1 year will not suffice. It is just not good enough. Neither realistically are two year contracts for youthworkers.

The ninth elephant in the room. We need to name the powers. No not greed, or the government. But be honest about where the pinch points are, where the dominant forces lie in youth ministry, and how those influences are shaping practices in too many ways. Does a business and managerial culture affect youth ministry organisations and their desire for growth? or efficiency? or world branding and fame? Do other groups hold the keys to publishing, to conference platforms, to festivals, to resources even?  Who holds keys, and what is that game all about in the coridoors of power in youth ministry? influence? money? profile? survival?

The tenth elephant in the room. If Theological training for ministers has excluded any references to young people as a distinct ministry, or even the process of community work and development and how this would help in a parish – the the same is to be said on the reverse – Youth Ministry training in the next 10 years needs to include community development (and its tenets from youth & community work), emerging church & fresh expressions, digital and media, detached work (in all seriousness, it is still where young people are, on the streets), working with families and helping older congregations get involved in youth ministry, Youth ministry as a whole church enterprise, youth ministry and developing entrepreneurial initiatives for young people & self funding, and developing asset based youth ministry.

The eleventh elephant. Youth ministry has been too slow to deal with racism. Too slow to advocate anti-oppressive practice. Not sure ive heard much from evangelical youth ministry about condemning the actions of terrorists in the USA over the weekend. (Nb I started this post on charlottesville weekend)

The 12th. Are young people leaving youth ministry with any biblical literacy. So they know more than 10 verses out of context that appear on fridge magnets. Do they know how to interpret it, reflect on it and see it in context.?

13th. Church has always been a problem. Kids from Sunday schools didn’t end up in them (only 4%) so youth ministry has an ongoing battle. It can’t be the end game. But this issue has always been the case.

Not sure which of these is the worst, depends on your perspective. But any serious attempt to ensure that youth ministry disciples young people in the UK. Aiming high that they become followers of Christ and perform goodness in their local contexts. It’ll be radical, prophetic and challenging. But being good is risky.

Abandoning the poor isnt new, Youth Ministry has been doing it for 100 years.

The Bishop of Burnley, Rev Philip North has stirred up a few feathers this week. In a sermon at New wine he criticised the church for failing to invest in the poorer areas of the UK, and also highlighted the popular plight of ‘new churches’ to find a suitable place that God was calling them to be that conveniently is near trendy coffee shops and artisan deli’s. One of the many articles that refers to his sermon is here:

One thing that this avoids is a different complex that the church can often be criticised of having. And that is the white saviour complex. But if the church is only planting somewhere trendy, and full of youthful vibrancy, then at least it is only attracting similar people. The similar people who can cope with courses, activities, groups, and also helping from these spaces to help others. And there are countless ministries who can help. I mean, there’s only so much that you can do in a church nowadays that doesnt require paying money to some ministry for the privilege of using their programme to do it – all of which requires a church to have a resource in the first place.  Of course white saviour syndrome is when a community is ‘targetted’ with well meaning initiatives and intentions without actually being listened to and given the space to create their own forms of community.

What is most surprising is that this seems to be a ‘new’ conversation. The shock being felt around the faith community that Rev North is perpetuating something new. Oh My. Rev North himself has preached this same sermon a number of times, was it only picked up because it was at New Wine? or a larger platform? or a tweeting audience. When preached in the north in his home diocese, it was known but barely raised a glimmer. Because its also where the ‘poor’ is most known.  I cannot imagine what kind of church or country we think we in that we have to be reminded that the church isnt connecting with is urban, or post industrial communities. Yet at the same time, every one of these communities will be part of a parish. Though the last time the CofE produced anything of note that regarded socio economic class with any urgency was the Church in the City Report, in 1987…

In a way though none of this is the point. The point is that this isnt new. It is that the ministry of the church has abandoned young people in ‘so-called’ poor areas for over a century.

I know this is a big claim. But it has to be said.

It is based on a number of factors. The principle one is that in the majority of scenarios faith has been equated with order, behaviour and attractional methods.

Part of my dissertation is on the writing of sociologist Irvine Goffman. What he argues is that as persons we present ourselves in a number of ways to other people in social interactions, on the basis that throughout these interactions we hope to gain or give information, often for our own or another persons gain. From a faith perspective we might reflect on whether in our interactions with others we embody christian values, but that is a different story. And theres a post on interactions waiting to happen. However, what Goffman also suggests is that performances can be managed by the performer. And critically for this piece, that the performances can undergo dramatic circumspection. What this means is that those who want to give a performance also take into account their audience, and shape the audience to ensure that a performance has the most effect.

In short what this means is that a youth minister who want to to share an eloquent story, or have a detailed programme down to the last minute is likely to select young people who can cope with this type of presentation, or remove young people from it who arent able to cope with this. Dramatic circumspection is rife within the church. It is why it seems inappropriate to to interrupt a sermon, as a culture of dialogue and critical questioning is deterred, for the sake of one person monologues, see any conference, festival or stage performance. Dramatic circumspection is about controlling the audience, the size of audience and the environment to ensure that the performance can be given.

My argument is that since youth ministry became a programmed activity, that dramatic circumspection has determined that young people who cannot cope, for a variety of reasons, have been pushed to the edges of youth ministry.

Anyone with a passing interest in youth work and ministry will know that the 1850-1890’s was a boom time for late victorian philanthropy. Yes it might be ‘white saviour complex’, but in those years philanthropic actions by many heralded the establishment of organisations like Barnados, YMCA and also Sunday schools which had started in the late 1700’s, with Robert Raikes (who made them fashionable and used publishing to spread their universal appeal, but they started with John Wesley (1737) and Rev Lindsey in 1763¹). Ragged schools and Detached work also began from this point, because those who pioneered them realised that the poor were being left behind. They, like Barnados started from meeting young people head on in their communities.

As interest in working with young people grew, especially from Sunday Schools, to colleges and universities, then so also did the more programmed activities and education. SCCU held beach missions, and discussions in the boardroom, and this became Scripture Union as we know today. Uniformed organisations helped with the war effort, including Boys brigades. The advent of publishing and resources enabled universal programmes and activities to be distributed, and SU obviously became influential.

There was no one moment where the church forgot the poor. Whilst it was in a position of strength it could legitimately argue for behaviour adherance. And reports from the methodist churches in the 1950’s suggest that they couldnt cope with broken windows and the trials of ‘open’ youth clubs were banished to the history books. Even in 1960’s statutory youth services were down to meeting 50% of young people, hence why people like Joan Tash went out and met young people on the streets. You can read more about this , in a book review here: a reflection of their work in light of ‘being innovative in youth ministry & meeting needs of young people is here: , 50% of young people were rejecting youth services then.

I dread to think how many then were also rejecting the church. I dread to think, but whilst the churches might have had full sunday schools in the 1960s (of baby boomer children) then it didnt matter. But that wasnt to say it wasnt happening. The church could reject being in the poor areas and develop ways of helping people encounter faith in less circumspect ways, because they had people. And today, ‘having people’ and number of people attending a church service/festival/gathering/ecumenical meeting is all that matters. There is no value in a number, or even any problem that all the people are christians, and all from the ‘costa coffee’ end of the socio economic class, rather than the instant coffee in a polystyrene cup. In a culture of church survival and status decline, there is no point trying to waste resources on the ‘hard to reach’ – efficiency, control and quick wins to get a pioneer church, or fresh expression full and ‘twitterable’ is the key. Doesnt matter who comes to it.

Anyway back to Youth Ministry … when it really took off (Billy Graham im looking at you). It became even more regimented, resourced, controlled and with echelons of efficiency. If messages of the gospel were reduced to 4 statements, then participation was reduced to attendance, and regular ongoing attendance. There was no sense of ensuring that young people from working class background could participate in the christian faith, it was about how to make christianity attractive to those who can cope with the resources and structures of it, and to keep those in it from harm. Hence the christian faith sub culture and its festivals and events that charge people for an encounter with Jesus. It is about managing the conditions of faith.

Yes, but we put on all of these activities for young people surely that means they have to behave… its their fault, they are self excluding.’ If they cant see what we’re trying to do for them….. 

In a way it is not that there needs to be resources within youth ministry in order that it can be present and active in poorer areas, it is that to be able to do ministry in those areas is to abandon resources altogether. It is about being present to develop faith community in the space. Any attempt to shape what that might look like, to make it ‘valid’ or people to adhere, is either disrespectful, or white saviour complex. If our only strategy is to connect with people in working class estates and help them to do ‘our ways’ of church, then this restricts the performance to those who can access it.

Resources are not to blame, because they fit within a culture of programmes, events and teaching that has developed a non formal framework. They also fit within a church and schooling system that dominates the methods of learning, access and inclusion. What is fascinating currently is that whilst SU are hosting conversations about how to work with 90% of the population of young people that the church isnt working with, it is asking churches for whom have only their own programmes and experiences of working with the 10%. People in churches dont know how to connect with the 10% because in the main they havent been able to, or deliberately, or (or less deliberately) unintentionally used resources that have caused exclusion. The formation of disciples in working class estates, now that needs proper resourcing, structure and long term investment. If it is not volunteers with the right guidance and support (from people like FYT) or youthworkers with a 10 year contract, then anything hit and run, will crash and burn.

So, what i am saying is that forms of youth ministry deliberately advocate managing the delivery of youth ministry into those who can cope with structures and programmes and those who dont. By almost definition, those who dont will be rejected from the space, never to be seen again, and what that might leave through a process of elimination is a small group who might be able to cope within a group setting. To eventually become leaders and involved even further. Of course it is far more efficient to work with young people this way. Work with brightest and best. Those who became leaders of 1960/70’s youth ministry are still leaders in churches now.  Dramatical circumspection clearly worked. It is efficient, it controls the performance. It creates leaders in youth ministry.

Tell me again, the method that Jesus used to interact with those who ‘were lesser in society’?  It was availability, willingness to be interrupted, (Zaccheus/ woman bleeding/ Bartimeus) and being present in the space. Yes they may have followed, but they found him interruptable, they found him accessible. It was the disciples that sought to maintain control of the performance ( ‘tell them to go away’) . There is no other solution but availability, listening making faith something people can opt into on their terms.

Performance management leaves others behind. Cast aside. If that happened in one generation, then that legacy continues. In our churches we might moan that these estates have big families, they also have long memories. As church we might need to repair what might be the cause of why that family dont attend, due to an injustice when a young person (now the patriarch) was kicked out the youth club in the 1960s.

Thats why, aside from the pioneers who maintain a presence on the housing estates, and develop church from within (not from outside) we are in the situation Philip North described. But in youth ministry its been going on since the dawn of education, resources and programmes, in stages, stadiums and developing leaders. Accessing Faith becomes to intrinsically linked to being able to behave.

A follow up to this post is here: and is much shorter, and describes how the outcomes in youth ministry reveal an exclusion of the poor. 


¹An introductory History of English Education since 1800, Curtis, Boultwood, University tutorial press, (1960)

Irving Goffman: The presentation of the Self in everyday life, 1960, penguin press

Goetchius & Tash: Working with the unattached, 1967

Brierley, Danny, All joined up, 2003, Scripture union

for more details of FYT, click here: ,

As i pressed publish, i realise that most of the themes of this are in an earlier post ; Sorry young people, church we messed up: which is Here, it is a post which also includes research by Naomi Thompson on how the church abandoned young people: