8 ways of valuing your youthworker – because, they could be the last your church employs

Lets put a few things into context. The current situation regarding the pay, the training of, and also the sustainability of youthworkers in churches at the moment makes for pretty challenging reading.

It is worth noting, positively that churches who employ youthworkers are more likely to have less young people leave, and if anything do increase their sunday attendances, especially if the youthworker is employed for longer than 3-4 years.

Peter Brierely summarises a report, on ‘have paid youthworkers worked’ by stating

This article was requested asking the question whether paid Youth Workers had proved successful. The answer is positive, but with the recognition that they can’t do everything, and some continuing loss is likely to happen even if a church has a paid Youth Worker (but the loss would likely be greater if the Youth Worker was not present). The same is true for paid Children’s Workers, which suggests that these relatively new types of employment will continue to be needed in churches as the century progresses.
The analysis has also revealed, however, the enormous losses in church attendance being seen at later ages,especially among folk in their 20s, and those aged 45 to 64,the Boomer Generation. Some churches are seeking to offset this by employing Family Workers. The analysis also shows that while volunteers will always be needed, more and more professional staff will be required if church attendance is not to drop even more drastically in the days ahead

The full article is here, one of a number of reports (http://www.brierleyconsultancy.com/where-is-the-church-going/)church12.png

So, there we have it, from the master church statistician himself, churches that dont employ a youthworker are likely to lose young people at a greater rate than those who dont. What i wanted to discover from the article, which wasnt there was quite how many youthworkers the UK church was employing at that time, Peter Brierely is merely looking at church attendance overall at a time when uk churches were employing youthworkers, rather than looking at the precise numbers. So, no official data, by the master statistician himself about the number of UK nhou.

In Danny Brierleys ‘ Joined up’ in 2003, he suggests that in 1998, there was data showing that the Church in the UK was employing 7,900 (seven thousand nine hundred!) Full time paid youth workers. Wow. Stating that the church was now the largest employer of youthworkers in the country (if the church was one organisation)

Fast forward to 2018.

Even though there is still data (here is the anecdote to evidence findings that suggests that youthworkers make a difference) – This reality has not been matched in the number of employed roles in the uk church, neither in the investment of programmes to educate and train, or systematic diocese level employment stuctures, pay and welfare. The drip drip feed of youthworkers leaving the church has been significant and predictable, to the green grass and security (and housing) of parachurch, mission organisation or ordained ministry

In my recent voluntary research, conducted via this site and social media, I circulated a map, to which youthworkers in the UK who were employed by a single church could plot themselves. To date, the map here   has only 300 pins on it. I realise that there will be some deanery, or multi church youthworkers (though theres less than 50 so far on that map). Even if these maps are out by 1/2 – that means that there might only be 700 employed youthworkers in UK churches. Thats potentially a huge reduction in the 7,900 of 1998. (Please do add yourself if you’re not on either)

So, this was a long way of saying.

If you think you might just be able to replace the youthworker you have got, because you dont like them, then I would think again. I would think again, because, in the long run, a church with a youthworker who has been there a while, is likely to help with increasing the attendance (not that this is the only benefit of them), but also that it might be a while before another youthworker might jump into the same role. The stops might need to be pulled out to try and keep them.

It would be easy to talk about salaries, housing, and the financial cost/value of a paid youthworker, a discussion on finances is ongoing at the moment, and yes, a salary without a house for a youthworker will look vastly different, and have different expectations on it depending on the area. If an area is so expensive that living near the church might only be afforded in a one bedroom flat, then guess what, an experienced, qualified, married youthworker isnt going to head too close, at least not without other financial investments or income. There are less college course in the UK, and so new students entering the field (having heard or seen many of the difficult stories of the past) are less. The jobs however are staying vacant .

In a way, though, most of us youthworkers dont do any of what we do for money. But the security and less stress of being able to afford and live in an area does go a long, no long long way. Its not salary necessarily that would cause a youthworker to leave. It is more likely to be the politics of the church, and how they are managed, and what expectations there are on them, this was the findings from Simon Davies in ‘The Management of Faith Based workers’ in Jon Ords book ‘Critical Issues in Youth work management, (2012)

stating that

the reasons frequently cited for youth workers considering giving up were not the young people, but the organised context of the work, and lack of understanding of their role as the main contributers. They also cited good supervision*, supportive colleagues and a sense of personal fulfillment as things that kept them motivated

and going on to say that

the demands placed on christian youth workers by the expectations of the church, are pressurized and lead to stress, isolation, exhaustion and emotional exhaustion

Though given the state of some clergy at the moment, some of this sentiment could also apply. Tragically. (* see the above menu if you would like to hire me for supervision)

The reality might be that the youthworker who is currently employed in your church, might well be your last. So, what can you do as a church community to value them, and make better use of them (and not just the clergy, as they also have their own responsibilities, especially supervision and line management -an issue discusses at length on this blog- see the first of 4 pieces here – we need to talk about clergy and youthworker line management).  I asked a number of people on social media, clergy and youthworkers alike the following question:

What one thing could a church or diocese do, to make better use of their paid youthworkers? 

Because the stories of youthworkers also being the photocopier, the toddlers leader, the caretaker, the deputy vicar on the vicars day off, are sadly endless and too timeconsuming to dwell on, often in the ‘other duties’ part of a job description. As Naomi Thompson suggested, it can too often be the case that the church employs the youthworker just to get on with it alone, or payment by results. So, it is better then, to ask the positive question – how might a church make better use of a youthworker? (especially if trying to keep them is essential) 

Here are the responses from the question

  • Don’t employ them for expertise then tell them what they should do. When things fail don’t criticise but love them and encourage them. Protect them from criticising members of the congregation. Give them paid opportunities to connect with other pros
  • Equip, teach, train their church Leaders/pastors to see the young people and therefore the workers as central to the church therefore involving them in every aspect and at all levels
  • Encourage partnership working between churches
  • Guess you could add, don’t expect them to do it all. Give them a clear day off and acknowledge that any time where they are in church contact is counted as work time. Like ministers, prayer is also work, so give them time for it.  
  • Offer opportunities for CPD and not just to be ordained.
  • Listen to them properly & take their expertise seriously.
  • Provide access to administrative support. Fund CPD. Allow and fund retreats/quiet days/sabbaticals.
  • Give them influence in leadership roles -or find ways in which young people can be in these roles (with the youthworkers support if needed)

(thank you to all who contributed, you know who you are, your ideas much appreciated)

Some churches might already be doing some of these things, and creating an environment for a youthworker to feel valued, not without challenges or problems to overcome, come on, lets not make things completely easy for them, but as congregations, and clergy, are these things possible in creating a positive space, and encouraging a youthworker in their role in the local church. If we can make better use of them, especially their passion, their exprience, their approach, knowledge and discernment regarding local mission and community – then this might be also of benefit to the churches as well. And if a youthworker feels and is valued, then there likely to stay , and if a youthworker is likely to stay….then you dont need to think about replacing them, if that option exists, neither do you have upset young people who have connected with them, and you might have the beginnings of a church that is starting to grow. just might.

Value the youthworker, value the church? maybe.

 

References

Brierley, Danny 2003 Joined Up

Ord, Jon, Critical issues in Youthwork Management, 2011

Jon Jolly, Christian Youthwork motive and method, in Youth work and Faith, by Smith, N Thompson (Stanton) and Wylie (2015)

Thompson, Naomi, Young people and the church since 1900, 2018

 

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When so many youthwork jobs are staying vacant – whats going on?

And i dont just mean the underpaid roles. Image result for situation vacant

I mean good solid, permanent, well paid, interesting roles in creative cities and projects. All going unfilled , all in the last 18 months. Sitaution vacant seems to be common.

This has been relayed to me time and time again over the last 4 years since I have been in the North East, but it was also a problem in the south west.

Are there just no youthworkers around who are looking for new jobs, new roles or are wanting a change?

At Durham YFC we had difficulty filling roles, as have churches, community groups and projects in the north, my surprise also, has been the amount of roles i have heard of not being filled in Scotland also, at projects with very good people. My experience and knowledge does not extend too far in the southern end of the UK, to know the employment scene down there. Though from what i hear its not so different.

At the same time, there’s 1000 people, maybe many youthworkers signed up to be going to the national youth ministry weekend later in the year. At least theres 1000 people working with young people there… how many of them are in the employment scene? At least thats a snapshot of some numbers in the scene. However, the curious lack of filling roles recently, causes a few questions to be asked.Image result for situation vacant

  1. Is this universal? Many in the north/north east/north west – talk about being unable to fill youth and ministry roles. Bishop of Burnley talks about a clergy gravitational pull to the south (and this is where, excluding Durham) many theological training courses are. But how common is the ‘unfilled’ youth work/ministry post say in the Home counties, or shropshire or Kent? Or are these posts, with a decent salary filled without a problem?  I literally do not know. But wonder.
  2. Is the reduction in college courses now biting. Less newly qualifieds entering the arena for youthwork employment, therefore less people to employ, also less spaces to advertise. Is there just not the workforce, and can those who are qualified look for roles in hotspots and where they want to, and be picky? But is the gradual reduction in workforce now having an effect?
  3. Has the moving for a 2-3 year role stopped? Its not something I would be willing to do ever again. So if people are reluctant to move, then theres going to be some serious upskilling of local people to fulfill the requirements of job descriptions in some areas.
  4. Those who did move have now got homes, teenagers in schools, feel called to an area, and if there isnt a huge number of newly trained workers, willing to move and take a risk somewhere new, then this could be a major issue.
  5. Is the pay not good enough? Id agree in some cases. But in others, recently there were 4 roles on premier youth childrens work, all over £25,000 – so this seems more than reasonable (just depends on their location) In this post here, there are some shocking low paid roles, and even today on some denomination sites some youthworkers are being paid very little above the living wage. Shocking.
  6. It could be that this isnt a new problem. Theres probably more situations of ‘we need to get a youthworker’ than there are youthworkers around, or at least there was, and so theres a residual over capacity.
  7. Maybe its a problem of expectation – being a first person in a role, following a really good person in a role, working for a church with a ‘reputation’, working for a project that is so ‘out there’ and trying to be ‘original’ and ‘radical’ all the time. It could be too much pressure…?

Related imageFrom the perspective of the prospective new employer, church, organisation, community group, this situation can then cause a bit of a headache. Imagine the example of the church who want to reach out to their community, do a lot of leg work, raising funding, creating employment process and management, advertise, maybe even find accommodation – only then for no one to appear, when this has been the pathway all along. Or, what of the situation in a church where there has been a youthworker to do a lot of activity, maybe schools work, detached or partnership work, and this position remains unfilled. But getting a youthworker, praying for a youthworker, and expecting a youthworker, almost feeling like a place on this basis (dare i say it) deserves a youthworker , when this doesn’t happen, is an issue. Its one thing asking the question what a church or group doesnt when a youthworker leaves, its another when the expected person didn’t even arrive, when many people are gearing up for it.

Stuff would have been held back – we’ll wait for the youthworker to help us with that

People will have been denied a space – the youthworker will do all this for us

Super -person is waiting just around the corner… but doesnt arrive…

And some of this is implied through the actions of trying to find and appoint someone, rather than what is explicit, but and ive said it before, employing someone can have a disempowering effect, when there might be other opportunities to grow and develop those within, taking significant risks.

In her book Young people and the church since 1900 (2018), which no one is going to read because it is £100, Naomi Thompson describes how a capatalist approach is often used when a youthworker works for a faith based organisation, that essentially they are employed on a payment by results, bums on seats. Or, as likely, they get given the stuff no one wants to do, or be trained up in to do – youthwork – and receive few volunteers, support and structures. But those days are long gone arent they, no church treats a youthworker like that anymore do they….(especially not an underpaid one…)  I say this just to reiterate that the crest of a youthwork wave is on its way down… the enthusiastic have become battle weary and some of the markers of its success have faded..

There might be other reasons, too, but from the point of view of the advertiser, what do you do with a constantly unfilled role? 

Options like rewording the documents, re-advertising, trying to advertise in other places are all legitimate and common and a good shout for after a few times of not finding someone, or even getting applicants. (And for a small fee id be happy to have a look through the documents and give you some advice, but i cant magic up youthworkers)

but what if the reality is, is that there just isnt the youthworkers in the mixing pot anymore?  

though the other reality might be that all the youthworkers are concentrated in some areas of the UK. 

It is as much of a reality that, at the same time as churches feeling like a youthworker is needed in an area (because the statutory youthwork has been removed), as the same churches have less resource to do this work, due to aging population and a myth that youthwork occurs be being young, the need stimulates action to act- at the same time the other part is that the courses, colleges and opportunities to train and ‘get qualified’ are reduced. Communities are needing a church based youthworker more than ever, yet at the same time the scene has dropped out with colleges and courses closing.

Might central funding help colleges and courses increase, if demand is clearly there? Go on church commissioners – fund some youthwork training!

Of course, paying someone well, also means asking for qualifications and experience. Its become a bit of a circle.

Can churches take a gamble and try different approaches? might it be good to develop ongoing apprenticeship and learning posts?

is there a different way to employing the full timer? 

Training is possible in areas, and new areas if there was demand for it – and so would one-two day training be possible in roles. What about digital youthwork/theology training for areas where rural/distant travel is too much of an ordeal? Is it better to invest some of the salary on an external person to train up someone who is in the area already and pay for their education fees (if there is suitable courses available). Im sure there could be are other options too. Maybe the trick is not to start with only one option in the first place – the default we’ll get a youthworker to do this

I realise I may not be speaking for all the sector, the country in terms of the availability of youthworkers to the roles. If theres queues outside churches in the south because of the high level of applicants for roles, then this isnt a world that i am seeing, or speaking of.

It is more that trying to make every role seem ‘exciting’ ‘dynamic’ and ‘pioneering’ because every advert for a youthworker says the same. Everything is exciting, pioneering and challenging. Changing the wording isnt going to magically generate youthworkers. And a frustrating time of waiting continues.

They say in housing whether theres a sellers or buyers market. At the moment, its probably a buyers market in the youthwork world, with few youthworkers and much choice. Yet at the same time, there are places where there are youthworkers and limited choice. Like the housing market it has regional variations.

So – whats going on in the scene? And what might the future scene need to look like?

Questions:

Is this a universal problem in the UK?  Are there posts unfilled in every diocese?

Who are the people willing to move to an area for a role – have youthworkers stopped doing this?

On average, if you’re trying to fill a youthwork role – how many times have you have to re-advertise?

Is a north/south divide too lazy – is it more complicated than that?

 

References

Thompson, Naomi, (2018) Young People and the church since 1900.

 

 

Some advert below reminding you that this site is free, but the cost is this advert. Apologies. Also a gentle reminder that if theres stuff i can try and help you with, including training volunters in churches, so that finding the elusive youthworker might not be your only option, then do please get in touch. Id love to hear from you to help you develop sustainable relational youth work.

Renouncing second hand expertise in Youth Ministry

I had been guilty of fake-reading Soul Searching. I think it is a common curse. A friend of mine was telling me about the book a few years ago as he was I think just starting his Phd, and we had a great conversation about it, he even put some quotes up on facebook, when putting ‘notes’ on facebook was a thing.

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But I didnt read it myself.

Fast forward a few years, and I am reading a Vanhoozer book, on the place of doctrine in Ministry, and in an article, he refers to the key conclusion of ‘soul searching’ and considers ways of overcoming this.

Oh well and good I think, Vanhoozer is much more challenging to read than Christian Smith, and he knows what he is talking about, so I neednt bother reading it myself. I even write a great blog on it, well i say great, a few people thought it was great. But I still hadnt read the source material. I had fake-read Christian Smith then proclaimed to be a trusted source myself to talk about it.

I wonder often this occurs in aspects of Youth work and Ministry. Somebody else reads a book on something, then uses the idea from the book to be an expert on a thing, and those receiving it only hear an interpretation and leave trusting that the person has represented it right. That person becomes the expert on Freire, or Jeffs and Smith, or Vanhoozer, and then its the few snippets or quotes that are circulated. I must admit, I still have a few of these blind-spots in my literature closet, but having now read Christian Smith, this is now not one of them. 

There is a task in the ongoing practice of youth work and ministry to be maintaining integrity to what we say we base our practice on, if we do have notions of doing so with theory or theology in mind. The pain of the personal hard graft to read it ourselves is worth it, we are changed through the process of reading. 

It is not enough to be on the bandwagon of someone elses expertise, yes be inspired when someone refers to a book or article – but then get hold of it and read it. This is what I did when Helen Gatenby refered to ‘We make the road by walking’ by Friere and Horton a few years ago in a conference, and what a book it was, to read the whole thing. Deeply inspiring for practice and a view of educating humanity presented in conversation very inspiring. But i could have just taken Helens word for it.

Oh – but when have we got time for reading you say? Its not a matter of time, but a matter of priorities. A conference or lecture might give us a dip into an authors perspective – but in reading it ourselves are we opened to new possibilities and use our skills of interpretation to bear further fruit on and in it. As reflective practitioners we can consume contemporary culture and learn through it, and contemporary culture includes publications in sociology, psychology and theology to inform , shape and bring insight to practice, and to ourselves as persons.

What i found in ‘Soul Searching’ was considerably more than the headline of it that has been oft quoted. That of MTD, (Moral Therapeutic Deism) – and as I am reading it, I am reflecting on whether it is significant 10 years after its publication, and in my context the world of Christian youth work/youth ministry in north east England. Especially in light of two pieces of research regarding the faith of young people and their engagement in churches. What i can use the detail of the book for, and reflect on is far more than the headline, and ill be posting some of the highlights from Soul searching in the next few days, but this post isnt about the content of Soul searching, though what it does say is that young people arent given the critical skills or deep theology as part of their faith, thats ironic – because unless we as youthworkers develop a love of gaining ‘first hand’ knowledge, and the critical skills to go with it, then not only might we sell ourselves short, its likely we’ll do the same for the young people.

 

Where is reflective youthwork practice in the Practical Theology discourse?

One of the real benefits of studying at ICC on the Ba in Youthwork and applied theology, and I imagine some of the other equivalent courses in the UK, was that a deliberate attempt, due to national youth & community work accreditation, for these courses in ‘Christian’ colleges (colleges which adhered to ecumenical Christian values ) to educate and give christian youthworkers a language of their practice which enabled them to be as well versed in community based, council funded, settings as also church related settings, and for this much credit has got to be given. Shared language and practice guidelines were and are exceedingly helpful

And so, many shared aspects between christian faith based youthwork, and non-faith based youthwork have similar characteristics, and some of these i have identified in my #ywaf15 blog which is here http://wp.me/p2Az40-fJ. Along with practice aspects such as reflection (Kolb) , person centered work (Rogers) and liberation ( Freire et al) . This is immensely useful.

However, in my Practical theology lectures for my MA, aside from work by Pete Ward, the overall discourse about youthwork, and youth workers using Kolb, or reflective practice is sadly lacking. I wonder why is this? (many state that professionals such as teachers or social workers use Kolb- but theres barely a youthwork mention in sight..)

Are there youthworkers who are writing in the practical theology field? – well i’m sure there are (other than Pete Ward), but why in all the guide books on practical theology is a ministry that has an 4,500 FTE workforce within the church not even mentioned? Does it not exist? does no one realise that youthworkers who have been academically trained might have insight into reflective practice which might actually help clergy and others studying academically practical/reflective practice?

So, whilst the christian youth workers have strived to keep up with the discourse of youthwork (when i say strived i mean that at least they have been in the main given the tools to from some academic establishments on the course) – the direction of youthwork practice has remained under the radar for clergy in training (who will have to do some practical theology). The ironic thing is that, because of imposed ideologies within other practices, such as teaching and social work (these are often mentioned in the practical theology discourse) these professions have more limited opportunities to develop a true reflective practice, and not that i’m saying youth workers always can either, but youth work might have some good examples of its use, and be a educative practice that could provide clearer insight of its use for clergy. So, i lay down something of a personal and collective gauntlet,  to make further contributions in this field. Maybe youthwork is too new a profession and thus there are few contributors. Maybe youthworkers are too busy to write using a theologically reflective methodology?  and contribute to the field.

What is encouraging is that Practical theology is creatively reshaping the methodology, derived from Kolb, adapting it to include collaborative, and collective voices,  or as in Eric Stoddart (2014), to take seriously the powers at work in the context of reflective situations. These too are an area that youthwork is rich in , as it strives for young people to be liberated, and that forces of power are often stimuli for action in the world of young people. Its enlightening that theology has creatively shaped reflection from Kolb, and so Youth work should in some ways catch up and contribute to the discussion. If it is, and I’ve missed it thus far then great, I clearly haven’t done enough reading on it, or too new in the field. But at the moment the youthwork voice and example is sadly lacking as a profession in the discourse.

So , whilst being able to contribute to professional youthwork has Christian youthwork/ministry not kept up with the educative discourse of clergy in their training, thus is one possible factor in clergy not being able to manage youth workers as effectively because they have no reference as to what they do. Its probable that if you’re a youth worker in a church right now, you might have no idea that your minister (if Anglican) might also know Kolb…(at least its a starting point for shared language..)

This week i am undertaking a practical theology assessment on Thursday, on the subject of management of youth workers in churches. Maybe this is a toe in the water of contributing to the field.

But come on Christian ministry training – give credance and acknowledgement to Christian youthworkers whove been using Kolb, Argyris/Schon, Freire (amongst others) in practice for at least over 20 years now… ignore the youth workers in the midst of the church no longer….