10 threats and opportunities for churches as posed by Detached youth work

Recently I was in a conversation with someone who was asking about my working experiences (no it wasn’t a job interview), and having talked a little about my experiences in working in a call centre, then making the leap to begin youthwork and theology training, I then mentioned that I have been involved in detached youthwork for the best part of the last 12 years, in one shape or another, either through coordinating a project, trying to start detached work, or managing and volunteering detached work back in the north east. The person, seeming knowledgeable about detached youthwork (for I didn’t have to explain it, there’s a surprise) said;

Detached youth work, Thats a real threat to the church – isnt it?

Image result for 6 and 9
Picture of image of the number 6 or 9 realised differently depending on how it is viewed

I kind of hadn’t thought of it in this way before. But in the subsequent couple of weeks I have realised that aspects of detached youthwork that are threats to the church, are also aspects that present churches with opportunities. I guess its where it depends on how the threats are viewed, as threats or opportunities.

So, what might these threats/opportunities – or thropportunities be?

  1. Detached youthwork deals with the reality. Countless times I hear about the perceptions of young people in the local community, their behaviours and issues that are occurring. But the reality of being out on the streets is a whole different scenario. Its not always like this, but the reality compared to the perceived reality, or talked about stories is very different. A reality discovered about young people from them, is usually far different to what people who dont know them make it out to be. Especially in terms of situations like ‘boredom’ or ‘alcohol use’. A threat to church is that detached youthwork is about a reality of a situation. Also, it threatens the universalisms of ‘gen x’ and ‘millenial’ thinking for ministry that are used to shape programmes, detached youthwork deals in the local and reality. And this is also an opportunity. An opportunity to learn and listen from the local and real. There are no millenials on the streets of your town, trust me, just young people who want a bit of time and respect, and to be treated for who there are, and not what people expect them to be.
  2. Detached youthwork shifts the big idea. The threat here is that the source of the big ideas about developing work with young people gets shifted from the corridors of power erm ‘youth ministry planning meeting’ which is when adults talk about young people and try and discover an idea to work with them, and shifts the idea making space to the young people themselves. The threat is the loss of power, the opportunity is that young people become invested in and the opportunity for high participation and creativity into the nature, practices and regularity of next provision. Its a threat because the assumed knowledge held in churches gets shifted. ‘Why not find out what young people like, want and could contribute’ is a both an opportunity and a threat, isnt it?
  3. Detached youth work opens up the empty space. The threat here is that pandoras box of the local community may be opened up and the church may feel provoked as hasn’t been as vulnerable or willing to open it before , to experience the reality, or face its own cultural boundaried edges. But this is also an opportunity, of course it is, an opportunity to be provoked into cultural change, an opportunity to listen and respond, an opportunity to realise that the empty space is already a God at work in it space, and therefore an opportunity to join in the party already happening. Image result for empty stage
  4.  Detached youth work makes the relationship ministry. A report the other day suggested that clergy like being clergy because they cant stand being with people, that its a way of being able to stand aloof, now I imagine that might be the same for a number of professions. In youth ministry, with the exception of the summer camp or weekend residentials, there can still be a temptation to the let the game, talk, activity, do all the ‘talking’ and that it not be about personal conversations and educating through them. The Ministry could do all the talking. In detached youthwork, the gloves are off, for, aside from what might be spontaneous activities like a game of football on the park, detached youthwork threatens as it is about personal rapport, personal conversations, and developing a purposeful relationship with a or a group of young people. It is a threat because it asks more than ‘new skills’ but asks that we become closer to who we are with young people, we do the talking (and listening). There is only the possiblilty of relationship that exists in detached work, rather than the offer of a next game, activity or session. Its why young peoples questions on the street, whilst sometimes challenging, are versions of ‘can I trust you?’ Its the young people that are testing us and whether they can trust us in that place. The threat is that ministry doesnt do the talking, and that we as workers and people who are out there do relationship building as ministry. This makes it still an opportunity- doesnt it… ?
  5.  Detached youthwork does not raise any money. Sorry, I had to mention the ‘m’ word. But no its pretty difficult to make detached youthwork pay for itself. Given that its about vulnerability, reality and conversation, its kind of difficult to charge young people for it, unlike subs or tuck shops or other ways in which churches generate small amounts of income from young people in the clubs and groups. But that means that detached youthwork is free at the point of access, and that, makes it an opportunity for young people who cant attend groups, who feel awkward about paying.
  6. Detached youthwork values young peoples group making. Have you ever noticed how group work develops in churches, usually its a mix of people who like an activity, gather together to do it, so the choir, the homegroup, the bible study. In working with young people, often young people have to try and develop group work even though they can be a dispersed group for the rest of the week (not unlike a sunday morning congregation at times) , so any group work is slow because it has only an hour or so a week to occur, and normally most Sunday nights are ‘storming’ events in the group cycle, and only over a weekend residential, or some collective activity does further group work happen. I wonder whether we attribute God to nights when good group work happened… ‘look how they worked well together, im sure God did this’ , it could be more sociology than spirituality as to why a group of young people functioned. Image result for group developmentDetached youthwork meets and tries to work with young people in the groups they have already chosen, spent time with and created for themselves. They are not created groups through a ministry practice, but groups in which young people have already found an identity, role, space and support from, and so detached youthwork if we do it well, forces us to recognise the possibility and strength of this already established group and try ourselves to become accepted as part of it in the way they might want us to be. But detached youthwork values that young people can make their own groups, find sanctuary and space to be in their own groups and as an opportunity to meet and connect in and with them, taking the pain out of trying to force group work upon a gathered group of young people.
  7. Detached youthwork connects churches with the other 95% of young people. (Scripture union suggest that churches are only connecting with 5% of the young people in the UK) I guess that’s the opportunity. It is more of a reality that detached youthwork may help connect churches with the 10% of young people who are out on the streets. It is almost guaranteed that none of these young people are the usual sunday youth fellowship young people. Its also as guaranteed that even if the church is involved in local schools assemblies or groups, there’s likely to be better conversations with young people on the streets, and this is where there’s the greatest likeliest long term ministry to be started from. There are projects in the UK who now have a small number of voluntary and paid leaders who were all the ‘destructive’ kids in school, but who with a dollop of patience, listening and availability for conversation over a long period of time from detached workers have flourished as part of a faith community. Far more than any in the ‘schools groups’. Detached work threatens the church, as it says, young people who no one else hopes for have value. It threatens the church because it asks the church to believe differently about young people and believe differently about the future leadership of the church and where it resides from. Its not the ‘other 95%’ of young people, but the 10% who have been left behind. Detached youthwork can be the standing in the gap people, the borders and margins, the opportunity to lift others and cause them to fly, even with previously clipped wings.
  8. Detached youthwork is a threat, because its unpredictable and open ended. Sadly in a world where the church has opted into ‘value for money’ ministries in which outcomes and outputs have to be tightly negotiated and planned for. Detached youthwork is a threat, for, like chaplaincy, it doesnt play that game. Detached youthwork may be the chaplaincy to young people on the streets, but it is a threat because it challenges the outcomes agenda. Yet it is an opportunity, because it challenges the outcomes agenda. It has the possibility of opening up the space, the empty stage and creating something new, improvised, that wasn’t thought of before, because that’s the tangent that young people trusted us with.  We might want to predict the number of sessions, hope for the number of conversations, plan for recruiting volunteers and measure the training hours, but to know whats going to happen with a group of young people in a period of 6 weeks? hmm… its a threat because it is open ended, but its also a possibility that being open ended might allow a church to follow and not lead, to be responsive and less in control, to challenge ‘value for money’ with values of ministry. It is therefore an opportunity of space creating within existing places instead of planning created spaces of expectations. Its not A + B to make C happen, but A + B and why not C what does…   Being open ended is an opportunity, but its also definitely a threat.
  9. Detached youthwork present a new lens for theology. When we explore, observe and feel the reality of life on the streets, when we’re in conversations and hear stories – we give ourselves a new lens with which to view scripture and the theology we held to. (and I know all experiences will do this) there is something about the fluidity of detached work and the same street occurences that we read about that Jesus and disciples had, that take on a new meaning through the lived experiences of detached work. It is also a lens from reality, from developing new conversations, from being involved in young people where they are, a lens where we ecounter God in the midst of the action, in the dark spaces on the streets. A lens of hope. It makes faith seem a whole load different and different from a Sunday shaped view of buildings, rows and order, or academia, reading and reflection (all valid, just different). Theology from the context of the streets, not just contextual theology for the streets. An opportunity and a threat.
  10. Detached youthwork is everyones game, not just young families and the young leaders. Having bought into the attractional game of youth ministry, where only Mr or Miss trendy can work with young people, detached youthwork is a threat to this. Image result for trendy youth leader

 I want you to think about when you were a young person. seriously. What kind of person did you want to connect with? Someone like you, or someone who liked you, someone who respected you and gave you time, or someone still trying to find themselves, someone who listened, or someone who wanted to only tell their own story?  Did it matter to you what age they were?  Detached youthwork is a threat, because its not for the young leader. No it really isnt. Its for those who are willing to be vulnerable and take a risk. Its for those who are good at talking and listening, for those who have a deep call to hope for young people. It is not a young persons game, because it is not a game, it is real. It is a threat to the gravitational pull to the attractional youth leaders, and an opportunity to take years of experience, life wisdom and patience, and even deep maternal or paternal instincts out onto the streets. It is an opportunity to be surrogate uncle and Auntie, and respected as an adult for being an adult. The best detached youthwork volunteers i ever had – they were in their 40’s and 50’s. And i have had some good 20 year olds too. With churches that are ageing, 50 year olds – come on, do more than be a street pastor once a month, get out and connect with young people on a weekly basis.

So, 10 aspects of detached youthwork, and maybe also open club work and chaplaincy type work, that feel as though they both present threats and opportunities to churches in the current context of missional practice. The good thing about threats is that they cause us to rise to a challenge, to take a risk, and provoke, the mission field of the streets is still pretty much open, and young people are still there. Some of these threats may help to take churches to a new place, should they be vulnerable to go and learn, some may be opportunities to do good in a local community, just being in the place of reality and opening up the streets as a space of opportunity is an opportunity in itself. Its a threat to often how mission has been ordered before, but thats not a bad thing. Surely?

If you’re up for starting this opportunity, and want some training or help with it, let me know, contact me via the menu above. Thank you for reading and sharing, and I apologise for the adverts below:



Globally; where does detached youth work happen? (plot yourself on the map)

Who goes out in the coldest weather? Does detached youthwork happen in america? Is any one doing detached in the UK at all?

Have you ever wondered any of these things? or do you think that you’re the only detached youthworkers in your whole country or country for that matter?

Even though much of the field of youthwork has taken a knock in the last 10 years, one reason or another, well austerity policies or another. And usually detached youthwork, historically, has been the hardest to be hit. It fell away in the 80’s when buildings needed replacing, and has nearly always played second fiddle to centre based work. However, this does not mean that detached youthwork is not happening across the UK, or across the world.

I thought it might be a good exercise to see where detached youth work is still happening around the world, it might encourage those of us who feel like it is shrinking in the UK, and also help all of us realise quite how extensive the practice is still. We might find out the answer to all these questions, and a whole lot more.

So, if you meet the following criteria, plot yourself on the following map

  • Your intention is to deliberately meet and connect with young people (under the age of 25) – and not the ‘whole population’ where young people may be part (ie street pastors, street pastors/angels/lights – you do a great job, but please do not add yourself to this map- thank you)
  • You do not have the sole intention of selling to or persuading young people to go to an event
  • You do/could take resources and materials with you, even as large as a bus, or a mobile resource, tent, games, etc
  • It tries to meet young people where theyre at, whether individuals or groups and have conversation with them, that they and you can voluntarily end.
  • The project and delivery happens in public places – parks, streets, outside schools, beaches, under railway bridges, somewhere public and to stay in the public place, unless young people negotiate otherwise.
  • It can be voluntary or done by paid youthworkers
  • It happens at least on 2 sessions per month basis.
  • It can be linked to faith or ‘non’ faith organisations
  • It can be one aspect of your role, ie if you do detached youthwork on two evenings, but other occasions are in schools or a centre. This is just to plot the detached youthwork, not the youth worker, and where detached youthwork takes place.

So, if you can sign up to pretty much these , then plot yourself on the map – link after the instructions:

Heres the instructions – please read

  1. On the left of the map (link below) you will see the different layers depending on the continent that you are in. Click on the continent that applies to you. Ie Europe or Australasia
  2. Then click on the ‘pin’ symbol which is the middle button below the search field
  3. Then zoom into the area your detached youthwork happens, and drop the pin.
  4. You can say who you are and the name of the project if you want to, but that is completely optional.
  5. Click Save
  6. Hopefully your pin is now featured in the layer for the continent that it occurs.
  7. EXIT the MAP. I mean it, it will crash if people stay in for too long watching the pins be uploaded.

Link to Map is here

So if you are doing detached youthwork, for a council, organisation, church please do put yourself on the map, so that we can build up a picture of all the detached youth work still happening across the world.

NB You do not have to name your council, project or centre, just pin where detached youthwork happens.

Likewise, do not pin all the streets that you go to, just ONE pin on ONE town/city/village that the detached youthwork happens. If you go to many villages, or areas over a wide spread, then do add one pin per location if at least 2 sessions a month occur there.

The map is for public view, so if you do not want to locate where your work happens specifically, make a pin on the council building or centre building from where you start/finish from.

I know that Dynamo International, represent and produce resources for detached youthwork across the globe, and produce some excellent materials (link in the blog roll also) , and the federation of detached youthwork in the UK have a whole load of resources, please do check them out.

Image result for detached youth work

Towards the end of 2018, there will be the federation of detached youthwork gathering in the UK, and I am hoping that by then I might be able to share some of the data from this map for interest, conversation and reflection. To give us all as detached youthworkers a sense of where things do happen.

There is more on detached youthwork via the menus on this site. Please do share this post, and map, to try and get as many areas, countries and continents covered as possible.

The work of this site is done for free, if you would like to make a contribution, you can do so via the menu above. Thank you.

10 tips on starting and developing conversations with young people in the youth club

In my recent piece I wrote about how good conversations with young people turn an activity venue into a space of youthwork. Maybe this is a stark claim to a degree, and usually one of the more difficult aspects of working with young people, and frequently asked questions to me is ‘How to developing the conversations?’ , and often that issue resides in us, ie it is our fault young people dont talk to us. Especially if we fear young people or believe the negativity around them.

Whenever I do detached youthwork training for groups and organisations, ‘starting conversations’ in the cold contact moment on the streets is something that we spend ages on. If we’re just setting up activities for young people to do, whilst we stay to one side, or in the kitchen cooking for them, then its no wonder young people leave. On one hand conversations on the streets could be seen as one of the more scary aspects of that type of youthwork, on the other it makes it easy. Why? because Good Conversations happen in an environment where young people feel at home. It is a space that they trust, and we are people they can trust. Young people choose the streets, therefore they’re more likely to feel at home, the youth club or group.. thats a different matter … 

So – in the youth club environment – How do you start conversations with young people?

  1. Good conversations happen when young people feel at home, this includes safety, but it also includes participation, can they treat the place like home, can they make themselves a drink of coffee? Do they trust leaders who stick around (for longer than 6 months)  The environment is key. Giving conversation space is important. How many times do young people ‘just want a space to chat’ whilst we want to make it a space of activity programme and distractions?  What if we heeded this request… what are young people saying..? Image result for conversation
  2. Rely on the context. Starting a conversation with whats in the room and what a young person has brought to the room is a good place. So, What is already happening, what are the young people talking about? Whats the local news, gossip, whats the craze? But also – what might be different about the young person, have they changed their hair? try and notice. The context in the moment is a good key starting point.
  3. Get them involved in a task (not just an activity) and spend time doing that with them, helping set up, deciding on the food, setting out the games, in a club environment the resources themselves can be the setting for the conversation, it helps as it does make it too intrusive or personal.
  4. Opinion Questions;  Try and get an opinion on something – recently this has been easy ‘who do you think will win the world cup’ is an opinion creating question, generating answers and also detailed analysis or a ‘dont care’ – but ‘who do you think’ or ‘what do you think’ type questions are great at getting a response, and giving young people space to share their thoughts and ideas about whatever topic – whether its a local community issue, about an ethical issue, about faith, about future, about something topical. Finding out their opinion and listening to it and using it to reflect on is crucial. Image result for conversation
  5. Dream questions. These are the ‘If you could……..’ type questions. so ‘If you could run the country – what flavour ice cream would be banned’  or ‘if you could have a special power what would you do with it’ or ‘if you could only have cheese or chocolate in the future, which would you keep?’  yes some more open than others, but you see what i mean – questions that pose a possible scenario, or captivate a dream, such as rule making, money spending, world changing – are all positive ways of developing conversations. And hearing about young peoples ideas through these dreams.
  6. Resources can help. The FYT starter cards with pictures and quotations on them might help – used in a way that create conversation and develop thinking. Pip Wilsons blob trees  also work well.
  7. On the Nuture Development site, they have uploaded 25 questions that could be used in a community setting to help develop conversations, these include:

What do you do to have fun?

What would you like to teach others?

if you could start a business what would it be?

Some of these might be more appropriate than others in settings with young people, but I would recommend you have a look at the whole list at this link The good life conversation , there are some good ones like ‘ if you and three friends could do something to improve the lives of others in this area, what would it be’ – and from these types of opinion/dream scenarios the group could develop and make plans.

8. The activities help, of course they do, board games, table tennis and craft are what solid youth clubs have orientated around for decades, all with the triple aims of helping develop competance and achievement, develop skills and social development and also to be a space of conversation in the process.

9. Follow dont lead. Let the tangent happen if thats where the young person has taken it, they might have taken it to that tangent for a reason. Follow it through. If its heading personal and personal for them then thats ok, its being directed by them. If its avoiding issues, then again thats where young people want to go with it. Young people in other settings get used to directed conversations, this may be a space where they can develop their own with adults and be more in control. Let it happen, and then see where it takes. Prepare to improvise, and prepare to listen and hold back. Image result for conversation

10. Phrases like ‘tell me more’ , or ‘describe what that was like’ or ‘you must have been ______ (excited/scared/worried) when that happened’ and other similar ones can be helpful as they take us out of questions, and into listening and trying to give more opportunity for the young person to use the space to talk about something and recognise their feelings in it.


So, there we go, much of this stuff is interchangeable from the streets to the clubs, with resources easier in a club setting. Id say that there are a number of things that we may be should try and avoid like, talking about school (if its out of context) , or even talking about ourselves ‘when i was 15 this kind of technology didnt exist’ type of thing as usually young people dont want to talk about school (unless they mention it) or are that bothered about us as adults at all. It takes a bit of guts to really do this conversation thing, because sometimes natural instincts get in the way like ‘how was school today?’ or interrupting or trying to control the conversation, yes maybe avoid subjects unsuitable, but on other occasions following and not leading will help no end.

So, 10 tips to help conversations in youthwork practice- anyone else out there want to add their own for others to share and develop practice? – use the comments below… thank you


Other Resources to help:

TED talks on conversation: https://www.ted.com/playlists/211/the_art_of_meaningful_conversa

Valuing conversation in Youthwork; http://www.infed.org

Developing Cold Contact conversations is in two chapters of ‘Here be Dragons’ – Link above.

How to make your ministry more like Jesus? then sit down

Who are the people who sit down in the public spaces of our villages, towns and cities?

Think about it for a little while, do you notice who it is and why they sit? and is there a difference between those who sit because they have to, and those who sit because they choose to?

The first thing we might do after sitting down in our lounge, then sitting in our car, then walking from the car park space is to find another space to sit down and drink a coffee, or its the reward for an hours shopping, the need to sit down. But how many people might we have walked past who are sitting down not in the overpriced coffee house, and just on a random bench, or piece of concrete.

I was intrigued over the weekend by this sentence, its in John 4; 4-6

He (Jesus) had to go through Samaria on the way. Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave his son to Joseph. Jacobs well was there, and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noon-time’ ‘ (John 4: 4-6)

Aside from the observation that Jesus ‘got tired’ and therefore this reveals a reality about his Human fragility, form and nature. What is more fascinating is that he was tired of the journey, and possibly tired of being with the other disciples on that journey (talking with other christians can be so tiring..) so he left them (they re joined him in a later verse)

Jesus finds strength and renewal by sitting down, being away from his own followers, and being served by others. Jesus didnt arrive in a town with a full on ministry team and try an lead from the front, no he sat amongst those who needed a drink at mid day. The way he showed his disciples, was actually not with them at all, he went alone and sat down.

He Sat down.

How many times do we sit down, amongst others in our ministries? What kind of ‘sitting down’ do we do when we arrive in a ‘new’ situation/town/village? Are we even allowed to?

We might not aspire to ‘be Jesus’ but surely theres something in this for us in terms of practices and attitude.

But ministry is barely like this, at times, at least it doesnt always feel like the default position.

When I first arrived in Hartlepool 22 years ago, it was part of a gap year team with The Oasis Trust, and we, like many other groups and teams of young people were keen, enthusiastic, positive, and full of the desire to ‘do ministry’, to ‘save the city’ and put ourselves in positions to be busy, lead and to save local dying churches who had no youth ministry. And, in the most part, the local church complied with this. We were ‘The Oasis Team’ and given space, time and responsibility – and roles, jobs, activities, groups and stuff to do. We were profiled in the newsletter, photos on the wall, food in the donation box, out for lunch every Sunday, we were ‘it’, and ‘it’ looked like ministry.

But Jesus tired from the Journey, sat down.

When we arrived in Hartlepool, we were up front. Right left and centre. Though we expected it.

Not as long ago, I was tasked, and failed, with being a youth and community worker in a small town in Devon. What i wanted to do was put what i knew into practice, I wanted to sit down, I wanted to be a person who didnt arrive announced and expectant, especially in a small ish town. However, at various times in the course of the year, and before I had even arrived, the local press, church parish newsletters had all circulated that I was arriving, and I was going to ‘work with disadvantaged young people’ and I was going to ‘help kids engage with church’. There was no space to sit down, when I arrived in this new town.

Before I had even arrived, the culture and expectations determined the strategy and approach. And I dont bear any blame, because the culture within ministry is to generally act in this was towards new appointments, new roles, new leaders and be excited to want to tell others and share it. Its part of church culture. Time doesnt often allow ‘sitting down’, culture doesnt either. And its tempting to love the limelight. To be the hero. The pull is all around.

Its one thing being a presence in a community, its another being present.

One of the deeply theological practices of detached youthwork, is the ongoing action of observation and being present in the spaces of the community, and learning through the process of being a presence in it. And sitting down can be part of this. In their book, ‘Working with unnattached youth’ George Goetchius and Joan Tash detail how their YWCA mobile youth work project spent 3 years walking around and being part of the community, gathering evidence, sharing observations, learning from and listening to what was going on… 3 years! wow – some youthworkers have burnt out in that time… most detached youthworkers get 3 minutes prep time on google maps…

Its part of sitting down. Its an attitude of sitting down. Its not a standing up attitude, its a sitting down attitude. A process of learning, of reflecting, of listening, of watching, it is slow.

Paulo Friere says this: ‘Always we have to look. Today suddenly a flower is the reason for your surprise. Tomorrow, it may be the same flower, just with a different colour, because of the age of the flower’ 

So, when Jesus arrived at a Village he sat down. He did not lead the marginalised and confused from the front, he sat down. He waited.

When he told his disciples to go to villages, he told them to ‘find a person of peace’ and wait to be served. Ie, have the attitude of sitting down. Go and find, not go and do. Not even go and lead and make a song and dance, but go and find. I remember part of the oasis training was to try and do ‘balloon modelling’ in the streets, so it would attract a crowd, cause a scene, and this would give an opportunity to invite people to an event. (it was the 1990’s dont judge me) Maybe that would be ok in some cities, but Hartlepool? hmmm. Jesus didnt stir up the crowds when he went to a new town, not just for the sake of it.

Some 19 years later Ive moved back to Hartlepool, been back 4 years now. And sat down this time. Lived here, shopped here, walked the dog here, living here. In a way, arrived here tired and weary after some challenging previous experiences (only to find a whole host of new challenging experiences). Not arriving with fanfare, or expectation. More recently, having now not being in work and travelling, I have wanted to be more present, and so walking around the town, sitting in the town centre, being present in the space. When I sat down in the open area a few weeks ago, one of the people who was begging for money, asked ‘why did i look so happy?’ and a conversation followed, and I learned something. And I felt strengthened through the encounter, renewed for the task. And that sounds selfish, but it isnt meant to be. Sat and waited a bit, do I know whats going to happen next, no…

Maybe the pattern of Jesus ministry, to a new place emerged from the experience he had out of necessity at Jacobs well, and where there was time, and not persecution,it was a way of being that the disciples in the early church tried to do; Acts 3, 1-4, though it is more noticeable that Paul spend time with believers and preached the message – rather than sitting and being, Peter very similar (Acts 9; 32-37) they met with believers. It could be dangerous to think that the way of doing ministry is do the same ‘with believers’ as to do in the new context and town.

I wonder if pioneer youthwork, which can often call to question the busy, the activity and the up front stuff – is less pioneering, and more just about trying to do the kind of approach that Jesus adopted when he went to a new community. He sat down. This may be so far from the culture of ministry, that it is regarded as pioneering, so far from an outcomes orientated funded ministry, that it is alien. But for a new person in a new place – sitting down is what was required.

One of my favourite all time songs is this one, in 1991, from James:

I sing myself to sleep
A song from the darkest hour
Secrets I can’t keep
In sight of the day
Swing from high to deep
Extremes of sweet and sour
Hope that God exists
I hope, I pray
Drawn by the undertow
My life is out of control
I believe this wave will bear my weight
So let it flow
Oh sit down
Oh sit down
Oh sit down
Sit down next to me
Sit down, down, down, down, down
In sympathy
Now I’m relieved to hear
That you’ve been to some far out places
It’s hard to carry on
When you feel all alone
Now I’ve swung back down again
And it’s worse than it was before
If I hadn’t seen such riches
I could live with being poor
Oh sit down
Oh sit down
Oh sit down
Sit down next to me
Sit down, down, down, down, down
In sympathy
Those who feel the breath of sadness
Sit down next to me
We are more likely to find Jesus sitting by the roadside and by the well, than standing in front of the crowds. We are more likely to find Jesus in the conversation, and conversation happens when we sit and listen, or are present and take time to listen. Who are the people who sit down in our local towns and cities? The young people, the marginalised, the lost, the waiting, those with little power, or money, (or ok those whove just got their Greggs meal deal)- where does Jesus go and we follow – to sit down with them.  How might we ‘sit’ more in our pioneering, our youthwork, our lives – and learn, and wait and be present? Jesus didnt just make himself lower than the angels (Philippians), he made himself lowest of the low by sitting down when and where others chose to avoid. How might we make time to be amongst and not just fleeting through.
Friere, Horton – We make the Road by walking (1990).

Is Mentoring still the ‘silver bullet’ to solve all society’s problems with young people?

There was a time when Mentoring was the deemed to be the silver bullet, the approach and method that would solve the problems that young people were causing society, from the Big Sisters/Brothers schemes in America since the 1900’s to many school and community projects, funded by the US government in the states, to the voluntary and statutory projects here in the UK. Though in a way it has always gone a little bit under the radar. Though they had expanded significantly up until 5 years ago ( McCleod, p101) And its status under the radar might be one of the reasons why its maybe not as talked about as other ways of working with young people, such as open clubs, detached or programmes. At least that might be my own blind spot, and having been involved in mentoring, managed an mentoring project and written an honours thesis on it a few years ago, it would still trigger my attention a little.

One of the issues mentoring has always faced within youthwork is that it has been seen as the gradual process of changing group work and the facilitation of groups and community education, to the narrowing of intentions to individuals, to the point where the group work disappears altogether for the individual mentoring projects, these fears were first realised in Jeffs and Smith’s piece individualisation and youth work and so, many a critique has been written about what mentoring is within a youthwork philosophy, how it could encompass youthwork approaches and values, but that generally ultimately it begins to veer towards an individual therapy approach, aka counselling, guidance or life coaching which is fine, but its not then as easy to quantify as youthwork per se. Its maybe why as a youthworker its dipped below the radar. Though some of the larger mentoring networks have closed down in the last 6 years, victims themselves of the wider financial constrains within youth provision.

That being said, having a mentor can have a profoundly positive and also negative effect on a young person, with much of the research (by Fairbridge group, now Princes Trust) suggesting that the more positive effects occurs after a year of the mentoring relationship, and where the mentoring relationship ended under 6 months or was terminated this had a negative effect, on the whole.

But the mysterious thing about mentoring is how it works at all?

And this is the fun bit. There seems to be no real logic as to how mentoring actually works, it is a mystery. But then it should be, putting two people usually strangers together.

The relationship can occur within the confines of a school, and be about trying to help a young person with attendance issues. Yet the relationship between the two people might have nothing to do with the purpose of the relationship, they are two people who click, sometimes two people with shared interests dont click, sometimes they do.

Image result for mentoring

One of the pieces of the magic jigsaw, is the how of the interaction.

Commonly known as the process of matching. In one situation i was in i was told that i would be mentoring a young person, they were told that they would have a mentor and then we would meet, week 1 was the initial meeting, and with only 7 meetings afterwards, there was going to be issues, it would feel like trying to rescue the person, and they knew it. In another project, the mentoring, one to one conversations after initially meeting the young people on the streets in detached work, the relationship had already occured, and the young person was opting into the choice referral with a person who they bonded with a little. In another project, the one i used to manage at Durham Youth for Christ, the coordinator would arrange for the mentors and young people to meet each other in a three way meeting with himself and then the two would decide after 2-3 meetings whether they would continue. Often this worked, as it gave both parties to opt in, or out to the relationship (but not being involved in being mentored)

The matching is important then for the magic to occur.

The magic of mentoring is also more likely to occur when the objectives of the relationship are known, and where the young person has the opportunity to shape them, even in a situation where the pressure is on to get ‘results’ the greater pressure on the relationship, the less likely for the relationship to work to its fullest. And its the relationship that the mentor has to attend to and prioritise (Tina Salter, YMCA GW college, Innovations in Youth work, 2014), and the skills required for the mentor are listening, and trying to build rapport and trust, especially if the relationship is going to develop beyond a social status, to increase personal giving away, sharing and any more serious disclosures.

The magic also occurs when the young person has confidence in the relationship.

It is one thing i notice on the streets, theres only so much young people say until they trust the relationship, the purpose and the workers in person. It takes us to give away who we are and our purpose for then young people to know whats going on and make a decision to invest in the relationship. The same for mentoring. This is where time is a factor, for, if young people know its only for a very short term, then its unlikely that they, understandably will invest in it, it will stay functional and practical (despite the best intentions of the mentor to show empathy, the short term nature overrides this, often). If the mentor is promising a better future for the young person, it has to be accompanied by a promise of time for the relationship – ie over a year. So at least the young person knows and is confident that they have space to grow into it and build the relationship.

In the same way a group might undergo ‘storming’- so there is usually boundary testing in the mentoring relationship. Or behaviour that the young person is invoking a reaction, whether sympathy for a situation or shock, or to get an aggressive or disappointed reaction. Or the young person is trying to asses ‘whose side’ the mentor is on, theirs or the school/probation – or neither – and this can make or break. This was always the benefit of being independant from a school in mentoring ( ie who pays for it) but thats not always possible.

An interesting aside to some of this is that in the UK we often assign mentors to young people who are most in need, in the USA many more young people from across the whole spectrum have the opportunity to engage with a mentor. In this way it destigmatises. But also means that the mentor might offer more than coping strategies or support for a problem, it might be support to succeed, or develop critical thinking ( Rhodes, 2002, 46-50). But it means that mentoring has a different focus. And mentoring type relationships do occur in work, apprenticeships and graduate schemes, so its not just about young people in schools.

Image result for mentoring

But how does it work?

Rutter observed that vulnerable children with one good relationship were less likely to develop behaviour problems than others, deeming that good relationships outside the family have as much positive effect as those within. In another study Werner and Smith concluded that resilient young people sought support more often from non-parent adults. One relationship was often enough. Rhodes discusses that social skill enhancement, dialogue and listening and being a role model are the contributory factors to ensuring that mentoring works, or that the mentors influence the young persons development, but none occur without an emotional bond. And it is that emotional bond that needs honing and developing within the nature of the relationship. A purely functional goal orientated relationship is unliekly to develop these development factors. The active, mysterious ingredient, in a good mentoring relationship is a close trusting connection. No bond, no relationship and then limited positive impacts ( Rhodes, 2002, p37).

Looking at Goffmans presentation of the self in everyday life (1960) there is the sense that each interaction is also a performance of the self presented in a way to others, to gain and receive what each individual wants. Yes it could be selfish as a model, but in a way the presenting of the self and the rules of the game being played all occur within mentoring, from the falseness, to the status, and also the deliberate hiding of truth for an advantage, all aspects that affect a persons performance through their interaction. What is revealed on the front stage ( body language, clothing, speech, make up, hair, content of conversation) that affect the performance as well as the back stage ( the objectives, formality, room, time, finances, style). When broken down like this, the mentoring relationship can be viewed as an ongoing performance of persons, developing rapport as they present to each other, giving away truth, reality and falseness in the process of nurturing or forming a relationship that develops meaning and actions. The conversation is a little piece of theatre, and in mentoring the two persons performing might be ‘forced’ together, or find their way to perform together.

The problem with the silver bullet and rescue approach is that the relationship is highly managed, professionalised and the young person targeted, the magical rapport is going to take a long time. Informality, where it is at all possible, and where the young person has at least some autonomy as to who they are being mentored by, will have some positive bearing on this, as will the promise of time, and the skills of the mentor. There is inevitably, as Gina McCleod writes, a crossover in youth work between different approaches and when we become guides, wise, and supportive, and this can be in informal mentoring in whatever context.

Not unlike much youthwork, being able to ‘bottle’ it when ‘it works’ is great, but its really difficult to replicate it at any time. The most formal mentoring might pair the most suited persons, the least official mentoring and short term volunteer could develop a deep bond quickly. In Mentoring there may at least be some ways of shaping the relationship in its structure, to create more of a possibility for the magic to happen, but again thats also the same for the youth club setting too. There are stages in the relationship, and its a relationship to be finely attended to by its participants with small amounts of external influence where possible, but time pressures and objectives and targets affect the relationship too and its possibilities.

Still, What surprises me is that there arent more schools wanting mentoring projects around the country, or that churches and voluntary groups arent setting even more up, especially given how significant they can be at helping young people with the day to day advice of life, and being a supportive person in the mix, that may help in preventing a Camhs referral or be someone to help with pushing, questioning and encouraging. And whilst young people need this more than ever, may be thats also the kind of person we all need from time to time.

Is youth mentoring the silver bullet? maybe its gone out of fashion as a new thing, but as youth workers do less group work and more individual work, then more and more of what is done is closer to a form of mentoring. Maybe it isnt the silver bullet, there isnt any silver left.

Credit for this piece, goes to a friend of mine, John Ristway, who still runs the mentoring project in Durham, whos dedication to develop as informal and participative youth mentoring programme in schools was a source of great inspiration. This project is still being run by Durham Christian Partnership, please do search them out and make a donation or volunteer.

If you would like to receive training on setting up mentoring in your church or organisation, then please do contact me and click the link in the menu above. Thank you.


Goffman, Irving, 1960, The presentation of the self in everyday life.

McLeod, Gina, Advising and Mentoring, in Youthwork Practice, Jeffs and Smith, 2012

Rhodes, Jean 2002, Stand by me, The risks and rewards of mentoring todays youth, Havard

Salter, Tina, 2014, The place and use of mentoring with young people, GW YMCA, Innovations in Youthwork practice.

And theres a piece here : http://www.infed.org/learningmentors/mentoring.htm  on mentoring on the Infed.org page which is a little in need of updating.. but worth a read anyway.

‘You’re a detached youth worker, whats that then?’ And 12 other common questions faced by youth workers

So, im not at many Dinner Parties, but the odd social occasion, like a friends wedding, or even some moments in churches, dont go past without that feeling of slight dread, when someone asks ‘What do you do’? , Often i try and be so interested in other peoples lives, careers, jobs and families ( a good youthworker trick) that time goes by without them asking, but when the time comes and they ask the question, we can often plan ahead to the blank look that you know is coming when they hear ‘Well Im a youthworker’ – and knowing what this reaction is all about, its a safer bet that going for the jugular and saying ‘ Im a detached youthworker’  though at times this generates more intrigue and curiosity – and people then try and relate to other things:

Is that like the community wardens?

Is something that is said , or

So do you help out the police?

But generally, ‘whats that then?’ is the most common response to their new knowledge about my own role as a detached youthworker. I wonder also, whether many roles in the voluntary and charity sector seem to be a bit ‘underground’ rather than clearer demarked roles in the private or public sector.

Anyway – Along with the ‘Whats that then?’ I wonder – what are the other questions that we get often when we let people know that we’re involved in detached youthwork. Heres 10 of the most common

  1. Is that like the Street Pastors? 
  2. Thats great, trying to keep youths (pronounced yooovves) off the streets
  3. That sounds really brave, I could never do that
  4. Dont you get a whole load of abuse? 
  5. So, do you preach to the young people on the streets about Jesus?
  6. Is that like Social work? 
  7. I really enjoyed going to a youth club, but young people nowadays they’re all into technology – how do you deal with that? 

And when on the streets, the questions from young people can include:

  1. So – what are you going to do? 
  2. You must get paid a whole lot for doing that? 
  3. I dont need a youthworker, my life is ok!
  4. Are you going to take us on trips and stuff? 
  5. We used to have youthworkers and they didnt give us what we wanted, just did their own thing! 
  6. Are you going to make us do something? Are you trying to make us go to church?
  7. Are you working for the Police?

Youthwork in its head in the sand moments has often maintained a desire to be ‘unlike’ other things, social work, police, school teacher etc, and I think in the general public domain, though people may have had a youthworker previously, many wont have done. I think one of the dangers in the current knife crime debate in London is that youth workers are seen as somehow the magic answer that couldve prevented these things, the parties to consult, or the magic answer in the future. Its thrusting ‘youthwork’ as a field into the mainstream thinking, at least for a short while (until the news narrative changes, and Syria/Russia still dominates) might have both positive and negative consequences for its public perception. Though i wouldnt imagine it would help the majority actually know what a youthworker actually is, does, or is meant to do. Let alone a detached youth worker.

In a way its not that people have wrong percepetions or expectations of detached youthwork, often its that there is such a small plane of reference for people, that it is something completely new. Having said that, sometimes the unknown is good, people can make up their minds about teaching (they hated school) or nursing (present you with ailments) very quickly. Maybe the mystery is good. Maybe we should discuss our body armour or the dangerous escapes we face on the streets all the time. When the reality theres alot of walking and getting wet.

And at a friends wedding – i really cant be bothered trying to explain, what many take up to three years in university still trying to work out what a youthworker actually is.

What are some of the common questions that you get when you say ‘ Im a detached youthworker?’

And, in case you were wondering, heres a link to a post that gives 12 responses to the question – ‘What is youthwork all about?’  https://wp.me/p2Az40-1h3 

Young people are just Bored? or 6 other reasons why young people are on the streets.



So goes the common story about why young people might be on the streets. But, aside from those who do detached youthwork, might there be actually other reasons why young people might be there. Even in a much disputed small scale research by YFC recently revealed that a large % of young people liked being on the streets with their friends. And strangely, when I speak to young people about being on the streets, they may say that they’re bored, but this is merely to provoke a conversation about trying to get free activities, especially on meeting them for the first time. It is often just a defence mechansim. watch young people week by week in the same space and its not boredom. The streets have meaning, and are space for more construction, than ‘just because they’re bored’. What it also implies is that other activities are boring to them, and the streets are a chosen space of entertainment to cure boredom. The streets hold danger, creativity, sociability. Why else might young people be on the streets?

  1. A Place of Freedom – to be themselves, without the gaze of adults. It might be the only place they can choose to be.
  2. A place of escape. Beyond the personal choice, young people might find the streets a place of safety to escape from any physical, emotional or intellectual hurt from inside a home, and this needn’t be ‘abuse’ – just family life that causes personal stress and anxiety
  3. A place of power. In this space, albeit usually a public one, young people get to make choices about who, what and when happens, about the resources, activities, and people required, about who is popular, and who is important. About who is in control and makes decisions. It is a power they often don’t get the opportunity to exercise elsewhere. 
  4. A place of Creativity. Where there are possibilities to explore, the encounters with adults, the shops, buses and people around. A place to make up games, to race, chase and play. To make up games, to try new things.
  5. A place of social learning. Where the groups and gatherings form, where people are social (more social than inside).
  6. A place to challenge the social order and to create one. The only space left to make a mark. to gain attention, to cry for help. The public space. Its a place of community where knowledge is shared and community develops that is hidden away.

And these are just 6 reasons. There are at least 6 others. Often young people are more social being on the streets than those inside. They display more sociability that the young people who are transported to sports clubs or training. They use creativity to make things happen, that can often be regarded as disruptive, but only because there are restrictions enforced in the public space like, No ball games, no skateboarding. Yet most of these rules single out young people specifically. Young people grow up ‘not allowed’ and controlled, so the streets might be a space of freedom and place to provoke and challenge, often they are barely enforcebale. just a statement to provoke and discriminate: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/02/no-ball-games-haringey-council-children-play-obesity.    To hide behind a hoodie. To escape being projected on. To create a space where they require power and responsibility within their own chosen group. Sometimes we need to recognise that there is positivity within the space of the streets, that young people might actually benefit from being there. Better to keep them there then, meet them in their space, understand the community they create and recognise the positives it gives them, often contrasting with the rubbish they feel in other areas of their lives.  Moving young people to a building…. nope its not usually what young people want. They want to be free, and free away from them.

12 key advantages of starting and developing detached youthwork in a community

I usually set this exercise in the detached youthwork training that I do with groups, churches and college students – think about detached youthwork compared to ‘centre-based’ work – what advantages are there? Of course, there are disadvantages and I will acknowledge these in a following post. But for a start we should focus on its advantages. After all there must be some, otherwise we wouldn’t persist with it…

In no particular order some of them include:

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  1. We’re likely to meet young people who are unlikely to be in ‘structured’ provision elsewhere. They may not be ‘at risk’ just cant afford, or dont have transport or able to cope in structured youth provision. They may prefer the open informal space of being outside.
  2. Young people are more at ease in the space, they may act more territorial about it, but they have, in the main chosen to be there, and so are more at ease with being in it.
  3. There are certain roles of youthwork we dont have to fulfil – like caretaker of the space, or entertainer, the space takes care of this, we can focus on the conversation, the activities already happening and not be distracted by building management
  4. It is cheap. Pay for me or someone to do some training, and it can be done with few resources.
  5. It can be flexible, establishing patterns for being on the streets is good, but it can vary week by week depending on what is discovered in the observations, of where young people are likely to be, and how often volunteers are available. It is not a club that has to be open every week, same time.
  6. It focuses on Young people as the primary reason for being in the space, they are, with maybe only deliberate informality, the reason for being there.
  7. It gives the opportunity to see young people behaving in their chosen context, and so, outside of establishment control, they may be very different, a powerful leader, but shy at school, someone with resources, who is said to lack resilience. It may help us build a different picture.
  8. Young people can make the decision to accept of reject us. Unlike forced other provision or services, we know that they may choose to opt out, and that is fine. It is up to them to do so, when they know what might be on offer.
  9. It helps us to youth work without buildings, programmes, numbers, targets, and gets it back to the pure stuff of meeting young people, of valuing them in their community, and discovering and learning with and from them, and building something new that they can participate in its emergence.
  10. It is political. By giving young people a space to be listened to and heard, by valuing them, by responding and creating with them, goes against the dominant narratives, it challenges that young people have worth in society. It is political.Image result for federation detached youth work
  11. It can help solve community problems, with young people as identifiers of the need and participating in the solution. They are treated as contributors and creators.
  12. We see something real. And meet the young people in the midst of the drama. They cant, though they might pretend not to be smoking or drinking, but in the midst of the drama we are there. They dont find us or are sent to uImage result for detached youth works to deal with stuff. We meet it head on and in the space. It is a conversation and interaction of reality, we see how they are in the community of the public space.

I am sure, if you have been involved in detached youthwork a while you will be able to add to this, but as I was training a group this evening I thought, again, about what the advantages are to meeting young people in the public spaces of their choosing. Yes it requires us, especially as churches and projects, to be vulnerable, to make ourselves available in the public sphere, and it requires a physicality of walking, and determination. But from our, and from the young peoples perspective it has a number of advantages.

If getting out on the streets and connecting with young people is what you, your church or organisation are about to embark on, why not also invest in some training to give you, practice through role plays, hints and tips and other helpful tools for your kit bag as you head out. Please do contact me for details in the menu above.

What might you add?

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: https://www.christiantoday.com/article/bishops.anger.at.middle.class.church.the.poorer.you.are.the.less.we.value.you/111455.htm

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: http://wp.me/p2Az40-QK , 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: http://wp.me/p2Az40-12Z 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: http://www.fyt.org ,

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: http://wp.me/p2Az40-44


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