‘But we ‘only’ have a few young people..’ – is youth discipleship better done small?

Only this, Only that, Only the other, If we ‘only’… 

It is one of my pet hates, got to admit it. As I travel around and have conversations with church leaders, ministers and volunteers. When describing their project, their groups, their young people, there is a tendency to use the word ‘only’.a painted marking on a roadway "only"

It can occur in ‘ we ‘only’ have a few young people in our church , or ‘we’ve only been going a few years’ or ‘we ‘only’ run a few sessions a week’ . And in Ministry more generally ‘only’ is something of a self imposed curse. I think, and it extends to ‘we only have _____ coming to church’ . It especially extends to when people in the same ministry get together. And have a weekend conference where each defines their group as ‘only’ compared to someone else, or that the amazing, mega large youth group is the default ministry size.

Its not about the only. Its about the who. But on the ‘only’- Is ‘only’ a symptom of both a comparative culture – where we assume that everyone else is doing far better than they really are or say that they are, and also a symptom of the dream and desire for something different or more than what is existing. Talk of ‘only’ sort of devalues the actual young people who do attend, the actual families who have taken the effort to make it to the activity, talk of only indicates that numbers not people seem to be the markers of success.  It also means that we stop looking at what is, what good, and the precious that is present. I think we do need to be careful that a desire for more, might cause young people to think that they are only valuable if they have friends and bring them.

Does the use of the word ‘only’ already mean that we have succumbed ourselves to the perils of a numbers game? If so, sadly, our ministries will undoubtedly suffer for it. And so will we, facing personal trial of our ministry by numerical indicators alone.

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Might there be something more with wanting more ?

Of course there is a problem with only having a few young people in a church, the resources dont seem to fit very well. Well guess what, thats the problem with the how of what were trying to do. Maybe because of a few young people there are questions to be asked about materials based youth ministry provision, and finally there needs to be a shift to something else instead. And thats not easy, none of this is, especially with a church only having 1 12 year old, 1 8 year old and three under 5’s. What to do then? good point. But the answer wont be found without a change in attitude and probably a change in approach. First we stop with the ‘onlys’ and probably second we developed practices of higher participation, less teaching, more conversation. Less input, more involvement. Yes a small group might be difficult, so discipleship might need a different form, mentoring, participation in faith practices, training/apprenticeship.

I asked a number of youthworkers around the country to share their experiences of what might considered ‘small’ youth group experiences (under 6 ppl) , in small churches (under 40) – and dont mishear me, I am desperately trying to resist using the word small there. These sound large compared to other churches. So, again, apologies for falling into the same comparison/descriptor trap. In such a culture of comparison, stories of the ‘small’ can be ignored, when ‘ministries’ that have large numbers can dominate and create a gravitational pull towards, and sometimes thats an actual pull. The actual pull of the small youth group thats doing something beautiful, that has to be disrupted so that they attend en masse as the audience in a large gathering which causes them to feel anonymous – just to support the ‘large’ – and the large can influence the small.

Can the small be beautiful – well of course it can be, why am i even asking the question?

Here are some of the benefits of ‘only’ having a ‘few’ young people- as said by those involved in making these beautiful things happen:

They get to know adults well, who aren’t their parents, and therefore explore a different understanding of faith. They get to know a small group of peers better. They can do social activities to form strong bonds and can do life alongside each other.  (Laura P)

They become full active participants in the life of the church. Involved in everything inc. the “not youth” elements normally reserved for adults. Which in turn adds to a sense of belonging (pet topic is small church youth work ) (James Y)

Deeper relationships, learning to rely on one another, hearing true stories of faith, loss and redemption. Intimacy that fosters trust (Kat)

It certainly means you get to know them better as individuals rather than ‘the young people’. And it’s easier therefore for their individual gifts to be used in the church. Labour intensive though!    (why is ‘having an easy situation’ preferable?) 

Interestingly when we asked our young people at __________ if they wouldn’t rather join the Deanery youth group they said no, they liked being in a small group of 4-5. It felt safe and cosy. (Miranda)

The key for me is connection. A small church provides opportunity for connections that is hard in a big church. (Aaron)

They are known and as leaders we can be more responsive. I’ve never led big youth groups as a regular part of my ministry   (Alice)

you’ve got a lot of room for growth? 🙂 i’d say if 15-25% of the church is youth (as above), getting them involved in the life of the church will have huge impact (Andy)

Our church is this size and intergenerational community feels easier. 2 of our teens pick up an old lady each week and wheel her to church. 1 says it’s the highlight of his week and he just loves being with her even if they don’t chat much. Brings my heart joy thinking about it! They always want to pray for her in youth group. (Pheobe)

commenting on the above.. I love this. This sort of community is lost in larger churches, but replaced with a community where most yp only know their peers (Sean)

we’re a small church with great youth, but only after years of perseverance and encouraging the older members of the church to believe in them. Definitely find that yp build great friendships and therefore work much better as a team and are fired up for mission! (Mhairi) 

these are beautiful, significant moments – dont you agree..?

Convinced? Can we quit with the ‘only’ talk?  It is about the who. 

On the other side of the coin, I know of large group church leaders who would swap for something smaller. So, the comparison trap is on both sides, and reading the above from a larger church might enhance the same view.

One of the key values in youthwork, is that we ‘value the individual’ – its noticeable that when we talk about ‘only’ we stop valuing the individuals, their gifts, abilities, and contributions – and place more value in the unknown young person who is absent. Small is beautiful only goes some way. Small as a word is too patronising and still emphasises size.

Having a few young people does not mean they all need to be clumped together in a large group – as the example above showed, young people themselves expressed their own desire for something homely, cosy and comfortable – and whilst I am one for making discipleship more dangerous and risk taking – it might be risk taking enough to have asked the young people for their opinion, and also to decline the strategic approach for ‘larger mixed up groups across a deanery’ . This also emphasises a participative conversation being important, and giving young people more choice, autonomy and respect for who they are  (really?…;-)). Extending this a little – culture and fear are so evident, and young people arent all extroverts – so discipleship for the introvert, thinking, reflective young people might be deeply appropriate (who knew).

What other opportunities might there be with ‘only’ a few young people?

The above examples wouldn’t work if a church wasn’t giving its young people spaces to participative , but clearly where this is happening (and I think we need to challenge the barriers where this doesn’t happen – like young people not allowed in kitchens, or near to PA equipment) . Recent;y i heard of stories of young people joining in ‘church days out’ and getting involved in local mission/volunteering practices. All far easier than trying to get a group of 40 to help at the soup kitchen on a friday night – easier when its 4…

If Sunday school, groups and activities that require large effort is the default – then we might need to change approaches to accommodate the young people and who we have – not the young people we once had (but then moan that they didn’t stay anyway). Living in the present might mean valuing the young people for who they are, what they can contribute, what they might create and the community of faith where they are part of. After all, all young people can be participants in the ongoing drama of Gods mission – does it matter the size of the production they are involved in?

Can we ban the term ‘only’ – not just stop comparing? but stop comparing in what seems an upward direction to the increased number activity?  Talking of building bigger barns was something Jesus rejected, instead being present, and valuing the faith of the woman who gave little, the picture of the mustard seed. If ministry has become a numbers game, a money game and an attraction game – then has it lost all sight of the gospel? If we need to ask the question about How did Jesus do discipleship with just a few people? – the answer is that he just did discipleship with a few people.  But he ‘only’ had 12 in his youth group, and one of them was loud mouth Peter…. 


Why Evensong vs Guitars misses the point, in regard to young people and church.

How much is relevancy the reason why young people attend church?

If its about relevancy – then what does this say about what we think about young people? just carried along by a crest of a wave, but what If, and I realise only readers of a certain age will get this , that young people are thinking, ‘So you have a guitar band- that dont impress me much?’

Substance over style is also the conversation when quite a bit of research is being done that is showing that young people are finding faith in the spiritual practices of liturgy, evensong, choirs and these more traditional forms of church.  This tweet was doing the rounds:

Church army report asked unchurched teenagers what worship might attract them, the result it may surprise you, is not soft rock but candles and incense’ (Prof. Alison Milbank) @markrusselluk @ChurchArmy

One response to this on my facebook page was: ‘Somebody asked me about this just earlier today, and I referred them to the case studies in Marilyn Haskel’s book ‘What would Jesus sing?’ What I hear from young people is that you can get soft rock music at any concert, usually better music than the church version, but candles and incense take you into a different universe. I think a reason for this could be that candles and incense offer a contextualized spirituality inasmuch as they take some elements that we enjoy at a concert (lighting, smoke) but transpose them in a way that creates a space for transcendent meaning.’ (John Drane)

There is probably more to it than it being radical to be traditional, a look at culture will reveal a heightened nostalgia. Retro is in. We are living in nostalgic times, where Baking and Craft are popular, and the Churches of liturgies, gowns and choirs represent a long lasting, safe and possibly escape from a world of hustle, bustle and speed. Long live a wifi free zone.

But it could be more than this. Is it more substance over style?

Image result for style/substance

Young people in a big city told me that whilst they were interested in going to the large, new church plant in the town which for the purposes of this piece, rhymed with ‘Mill gong’ – they went along for three months, but then returned back to their home church, the one in their local area. Guitars and Drums didnt captivate this particular group of young people. What did?

It was that they felt at home in their local church.

It was where they connected

It was where they felt belonging

It was where they could make a contribution (and as volunteers in the sunday school/youth club) they were.

It was where they were significant – not just one of many.

It was as though the grass wasnt greener, or more sparkly.

There is another conversation happening, much more on a local level. It is that local churches feel that they have nothing to offer young people, in the face of the bigger churches, brighter buildings and, again, the drums and guitars. On one hand this is defeatist. The other is that there is no evidence that any young people who a local church does missional youthwork with, ends up finding a home in a church, that isnt the one that helps them find faith in the first place. The market for the bigger brighter contemporary churches is the christian young people spoonfed on a diet of consumerism and the attraction of a christian youth music scene. They may have young people – but theyre often a completely different group of young people to those who live in the flats opposite the church, or the ones you work with in a mentoring programme in a local school.

And thats half of the point. Young people are different. Breaking it down to two basic, and horrible mantras, keeping young people from leaving church, and creating an environment of belonging, hope and meaning where they want to be and stay, and start from scratch, makes for two different challenges. And these are crude. but you get my drift.

There may well be research conducted on young people attending evensong. There may be research conducted on young people attending contemporary guitar worship services. But both become a style war, when a substance war is much more complex. For both there can be meaningfulness and relevancy in bucket loads. But scratch behind the surface and theres something deeper often going on.

Psychology might help, the Psychologists Deci and Ryan propose that people gravitate to situations where there is a measure of one or all of these three things; Connection, Autonomy and Challenge/Competance (Bryan 2016). For a moment, think through then how young peoples experiences of churches as a people group, a faith community and as an organisation relates to all of these things. I would dare to suggest that these three things play a significant part in the decision making of young people and their continued attendance in churches.

When the church community doesnt know how to relate to young people – then they’ll find more connections elsewhere

When the young person feels like theyre a new person every week – then theyll find home in somewhere more familiar, and where it doesnt feel they have to make an effort every week to connect with someone

When the young person is one of a crowd and the only challenge is to try and stay standing for a long period of time – is barely mentally challenging, or involving. The same is said for the Evensong.

When the young person is not given opportunities to make decisions – about their youth provision (‘look we’ve employed youth leaders to do this provision for you’) , about faith, and about being involved, as contributors, creators not just consumers – then why stay? Maybe the rise in young people attending choirs, has nothing to do with glee culture, more to do with being part of a community that respects them, and gives them opportunities to contribute through choosing songs or the challenge of using talent.

If we think its ‘just’; guitars or evensong, we might be missing the point.

The point is, is that young people arent as superficial as we want them to be or make them out to be. Image result for style/substance

If we offer space for conversation, space for community and space that respects – and create opportunities for belonging, participation and decision making, this will be more than enough in a church for young people to want to be part of it. If we can be these things, and make young people significant, then, and there are no magic answers, it is more likely that young people will make their home there. So dont worry if this is what you’re doing, that young people will leave, it will take a huge sacrifice for them to do so and effort, given what theyre giving up on. Would they do this for soft rock? – probably not.

Substance over style matters, and I dont just mean a lengthy sermon. Substance that equates to values, community, acceptance, challenge and participation are featured more in reasons why young people stay part of churches, and an absence of these as to why young people leave, than anything else. Young people leave churches because the youthworker leaves – why ? because no one else connected with them. Young people dont go to church because theres no one from the church willing to help with the youth group. Thats a connection question. The same for autonomy- at least having some opportunity to have some decision making, and also challenge.

What about the transcendent? If worship is about helping young people connect with the grander story, this might happen in both settings, but one might create more meaning than the other, or help a connection to a grand story where a young person feels part. Both could feel alien or cold. An ongoing regular connection to the God of the creeds, the Lords Prayer and regular confession, cleansing, prayer and silence might facilitate personal and spiritual connection and challenge. It makes it tough, not boring.

How might substance over style be the conversation within youth ministry? might we recognise the complexity of young people and their increased perception of the faith community and how it is accepting, empowering and respectful of them as people, and wanting them to be participants, disciples and prophets. There is space for many styles, but can we stop assuming that young people only want one style, and focus on creating faith communities of substance instead?

if young people do value substance over style – then might we be thankful thats how God made young people in his image..?

How churches view young people is crucial. In my next post Ill be building on what a number of youth ministry specialists are saying at the moment. That youth ministry, needs to be about helping young people do ministry, not just be ministered to. So, keep an eye out for this maybe about Tuesday.


Jocelyn Bryan, Human Being, 2016

Shepherd, Nick, Faith Generation, 2016


‘Mum, Dad, I think I might have become an Anglican’

Fast-forward a few decades, Its 2050, and there’s a small family, just finished their supper and about to sit down for an evening watching ‘strictly’, with former footballer Marcus Rashford and queen of pop, now in her 6th decade Miley Cyrus trying to ear a bit of cash on the now 47th series of the programme, when the child of the house, begins the conversation with the following;

‘Mum, Dad – can you sit down for a bit – theres something I need to let you know, that Ive been wanting to say for a while ?’

A pensive set of parents sit slightly closer together on the couch, abating a deep breath

‘I am hoping that, you know, well whatever i say I am still your little boy/girl, still me in all this?’ is that right?

Parents sort of nod, slightly trying to wonder whats coming next, though Mum pipes up; ‘yes of course you are’ hiding what might be a reaction later on

‘Well its something thats been troubling me for a while, but i thought you may have guessed by now, i think I might be–‘

‘Pregnant’?  interrupted Dad, ‘I guessed it, youve been going out alot lately, evenings and al that, I knew it, youve been meeting boys down the park, thats what it is, I never thought id be a Granddad at 48 but Ill have to get used. to__’

Dad, Dad, stop it, im not pregnant, no not all all

‘Are you sure’, pipes up Mum hoping at least for scientific certainty on this matter, ‘Yes im sure’

Well then, what is it?

Slightly taken aback, the young person starts again, ‘Well ive been often wondering about who I am, especially since I started to think about relationships, and you know the being devoted to that someone, and something just hasnt felt normal for quite a while, and well, I think I might be- ‘

‘Gay?’ Mum interrupted this time ‘ Mum and Dad, looked at each other, a small tear in one of their eyes, a smile on one of them, and a deep breath in another, I sounded like relief, strangely .  Mum went on, ‘We did sort of guess, the way you didnt have a boyfriend, the way in which you were dressing quite sensibly, and of course we’ll love you, and help you through this, and help you be the person you feel you are, and support you in the relationships you have..’

Mum, im not gay’ and there was almost a gasp of disappointment from Mum…

What do you mean you’re not gay?’ if its not that what is it?

This is going badly thought the young person, she was going to have to come straight out with it, and try for a third time

‘Mum, Dad, I really hope I am not a disappointment to you, but i think I have become an Anglican’ 

A WHAT?  ‘bellowed Dad’ AN ANGLICAN? – ‘No daughter of mine is going to become an anglican, what will the neighbours think? , what will you tell grandma? it will change you life?  he sobs. 

Mum, sobbing; ‘But darling, you’ll lose all your friends, no one will speak to you, and it will be so difficult to get on in life, people will bully you, Its just not, not right, I didnt think I had brought you up this way, I blame your father’ 

Dad  Are you sure, I mean , its not just a phase you’re going though?’

‘Yes Im sure, Its been confirmed, I am an Anglican’

Dad, still trying to keep it all together; ‘Well , we’re not happy, not at all, Its going to take a whole load of getting used to, I dont think there is another anglican in the village, and we will have to get used to being parents of an anglican, and all the questions and all that, I heard of Jim down the road, he said his son was a Baptist, but they soon got over it, so I think we will just have to deal with it’

‘Is there support groups for people like you’ suggested Mum, can you go somewhere to talk about being anglican, and all the things you Anglican types do?

‘Im not sure, I think there might be, something in the next village, theres another Anglican there, and Im sorry, but, and you’re going to hate me for this, I havent been out sneaking to the park to see boys, but ive been going to church, without telling you, Im sorry, but I just had to’

A revelation to Dad, and Mum took this better, ‘Really, Church?thats so, well, so, not for people like us,  I am disappointed, and Im not surprised, theres more people, you know, like that, in the next village, but not here, no not here’ – she couldnt say much more…

So, Dad continued; ‘What about the media, they’re all against Anglicans, and people will stare at you in the street? ‘ 

I know Dad, Ill try and keep it quiet, but I will need to start telling people, getting people used to what its like to actually be an Anglican, not just what they hear in the press, and its not as if the press is true anyway, is it?

Mum and Dad, just sort of waited a while, calmed a bit and said – ‘Well we are a little taken aback, but thinking about it, we knew you were different, and acting strange for a while, but never for a moment did we ever think you were becoming Anglican, yes of course we’ll love you still, but it will be strange for a while, while we get used to it’ 


With the news that only 2% of young people in the UK are professing to be Anglicans, this kind of coming out might be needed. Though it might be like Tory voters, who don’t show their true colours until the actual votes and not in the opinion polls, there may well be a while load of secret Anglican young people out there.  To be young, and christian might be as challenging, might, as being young and LGBT, especially when, in the few scenarios that it isn’t the same world view or belief as the young persons parents. It could easily feel as alienating, and probably does. As Parents – what are you supposed to do, when your child have become, well, one of them, an Anglican?

Lets face the reality, and I jest. This isn’t about 2050 at all. Its happening now. So what response might there be from those who might have influence over these matters – will there be money where the mouth is in regard to teenage faith experiences in the church? Or – might an underground movement of secret anglican young people be needed to take on the world..?

Theres far too much already on this site about the church, young people, mission and youth ministry, nothing in these statistics in any way is new, the only call to make whether it stirs anyone in power, with finances to action. There are heaps of ideas in these pages on how to start connecting with young people, developing mission and engaging in conversations, by all means bookmark a few articles and come back later. All i can say is that whilst childrens and youthworkers are underpaid and thus undervalued, then a situation where children and young people do not feel valued and connected in churches is no surprise. Coming out as an anglican, might soon be as traumatic in a few decades as coming out as gay.






In Christian youth ministry – is God conversational?

‘Conversation is central to our work as informal educators, yet we often undervalue it’ (Jeffs and Smith, Informal education, 2001, p27)

I appreciate sometimes that keeping up with my trains of thought is a little on the random scale. I do sometimes think I say the same things over and over again, on other occasions I jump from one serious topic to another without too much reasoning. A few weeks ago I published a piece that gave 10 ideas for developing conversations with young people in the youth club , before that I wrote a piece that showed how using reviewing and evaluation, conversation could become more meaningful and encouraged,  turning the activity space of a youth venue into a place where the magic of youthwork can emerge from . I have recently led a few seminars with volunteers on developing conversations with young people. Conversation is clearly on my mind.

I then thought. If I want to develop thinking and learning about conversation in youth ministry – where do I turn to?

I began to look.

I confess, I dont have many books that I would say are on youth ministry, probably no more than 10-15. With the addition of some grove booklets, a few journals.

In ’10 essential concepts for christian youth work’ (Grove booklet Y40) – is one example where conversation is not mentioned, not even as an essential concept.

In ‘The Theological turn in youth Ministry’ (Root, Dean, 2011) there is a small section that contrasts the conversations between people as the space where theology develops – rather than the ‘God talk/epilogue’ (p79-82) But its hardly valued as concept in itself, more a reality of ministry.

Ashton and Moon suggest that communicating is done through relationships and shared experiences (1996, p54) Which i kind of get as it, like Root below, contrasts to the evangelist who communicates like a scatter gun (their words not mine) yet conversation is not explored further.

I could go on. And I know there are gaps to my survey, I am not sitting in a university library right now, but scanning the books on my bookshelf… What is promoted instead, and pretty much all the writing in youth ministry is about is on ‘relationships’.

I wonder whether in youth ministry we have fixated our glance on relationships because for many that is the heart of the gospel. Dont mishear me, there is undoubtedly a relationship aspect to salvation, but the question is whether in youth ministry fixing our eyes on relationships has meant a neglection of something other. For example; Steve Griffiths ‘models for youth Ministry’ (Learning from the life if Christ) is almost pained to go against the flow of relationship thinking when he says; ‘ it is clearly a myth that Jesus spent three intensive years with his disciples. He did not’ (I can hear the wailing and gnashing of teeth now). Its as if there needs to be a justification that there is an alternative to ‘relational’ youth ministry, given it prominence. To have a look at why it became prominent, have a read of the first chapter of Andrew Roots, Revisiting relational youth ministry , whilst having an american emphasis its is worth engaging with.

So, where does that leave my thought process. Where might I go to next to contemplate, from withing youth ministry, something about conversation.

Before thinking theologically,  I must disclose that I have managed to find two references to ‘conversation’, the first is in ‘Joined Up’ by Danny Brierley . On pages 89-91 he at least, gives some reference to Jesus being in conversation with many people, 125 recorded incidents, in which other people he claims initiated 54% of these, he then goes on to reference Maxine Greens work on the Emmaus road episode as a classic example of conversation and informal education. I quite agree, But I think it deserved more than 2 pages. But maybe more than 2 pages on this is enough in a book of 200 words for the youth ministry audience. And given that Brierley has been provoked by having to think about conversation as he is dialoguing with ‘youthwork values’ its almost though it has to be included.

I discovered also that there is 4-5 pages on developing conversations in ‘Here be Dragons’ (Youth work and ministry off the map) – which isnt surprising as a) its all about detached youthwork and conversation is a key focus, and b) because I wrote them. (you can buy a copy in a link above)

Instead, what if I looked at the theological writing within youth ministry, again, from the books that I have – could there be some hidden gold dust on the subject of God and that he/she spoke and continues to speak, in conversations?

With the exception of Brierley above, there are few.

In Pete Wards ‘Youthwork and the Mission of God’ God is many things missional, is incarnational, crucified, immanent and transcendant , God is all knowing, – but when it comes to God speaking – the only mention of this is that Jesus spoke Arameic (as an example of being incarnational, being ‘with’ the culture) and so whilst Ward is right to suggest that our faith is based upon our revelation of God in Christ (p34) – that God written in this piece is relatively mute.

A similar pattern is repeated in  ‘Starting right’ (Dean, Clark, Rahn, 2001) and a few others, including Griffiths (above) – Developing an incarnational youth ministry, or a relational one, that follows the path of Jesus, seems to be all about being located in a space, like Jesus was located in a space, At least in ‘Starting right’ there is reference to the disciples ‘listening’ to Jesus – therefore he did at least speak. (p130-131), but that Jesus spoke, seems to be a rare event.

It is as if youth ministry focuses on methods of trying to do ministry, or places greater significance on other aspects of Gods nature and character, promises and blessings, such as ‘God is there to forgive young people’ or ‘God is urging young people to develop eyes of the kingdom’ all phrases I have read in these books above, though cant remember which ones. Or whether its assumed that communication and conversation was happening, and so this is undervalued, or ignored. What does seems to be is an inclination away from communicating outside of relationships, as though it was done a few times, Jesus ministry seemed to be recorded as being more about the few, the individual or small groups of conversations. But there is a reluctance to focus on conversation itself – because its as if there has to be something more.

This is a pretty lengthy piece, I realise, that is a bit of a splurge of my thought processes so far, and a little bit of research. If you think I have missed something somewhere in a youth ministry book, that I havent got, then do tell me. From where I have got to, it appears to be that the speaking God doesnt figure much in the formalised accounts of what youth ministry is all about, and yet, for many young people and ourselves – I repeat the addage that Kevin Vanhoozer exclaimed – ‘Only the speaking God can help‘ – and it is from this point that I will be focussing this week on a few pieces. For, I am wondering some of these questions:

  1. What might a theology of conversation look like?
  2. How might a speaking God, a conversational God, be needed in Youth Ministry?

These are fairly large questions, and so not for a Saturday morning (today) – they will be what I am going to try and write about over the next few weeks. A warning, they will, or they might go deep. So if you want to raise your game, click the ‘follow’ button so you can peruse these pieces as they are published. We have a responsibility to think theologically about our youth ministry practice, as Pete Ward has urged for quite a while, and unless I am much mistaken, an understanding of the God who spoke, who speaks and communicates seems to have been maligned in youth ministry, and valuing conversation as a result has been as undervalued for the sake of relationships. Which kind of seems odd, doesnt it, for i know that relationships do not always need conversation for them to occur – but some kind of communication, affection and connection is required (outside of family bonds).

So, thats my thinking process, how I have got the edge of the pool, ready to dive into thinking theologically about conversation, about God who speaks and communicates in conversation with humans, created beings. As you might imagine, these might take a bit of time, so be patient with me on these. I am also aware that theres a part 2 on the LGBT story piece to write. It is on the way, but taking a bit of time.

Whose up for a conversation about faith and conversations?

‘Where have the young people gone?’ 5 ways to get the long lost young people back into church

One minute you have them, all neat and tidy in rows upon rows, in small groups of small groups doing sunday school – the next minute theyre all gone! 

And, theyve stayed gone.

Remembering that this situation isnt new (the drop off from the 2 million young people who attended sunday schools at aged 8 verses aged 12 was large, and that was pre 1900)   Image result for sunday school rally day 1900

So you are going to need a very long memory to remember those days.

But maybe you can remember when you were part of a thriving youth ministry scene in the 1960’s?

That thriving youth ministry scene – was also the same time in which according to church statistics, young people were leaving the church at a rate of 300 per week between 1970-1980.

Image result for sunday school rally day 1900

So, its not an ‘all of a sudden thing’ that there are no young people in the church you are sitting in. Theres an element of rugged determination probably on your part that you’re still there. The survivior, the last warrior emblazoned with the leadership and pcc or retired elder badge for long service. Well done good and faithful servant, and I do mean this.

But if we’re only asking now – where are all the young people – we also have to ask – what happened to them in the 70’s and 80’s and to some extent the 1990’s – for as ive said before, even I represent one of only 3 people from a youth group/club in a church of 30 who are still involved in church – and sometimes that is clinging on by the fingernails.

The questions we have to ask about young people and the church have got to have different answers to them that was being given in the 70’s and 80’s and 90’s. And I think that might be a different piece. For – though we have to find young people – we also do have to have some idea of what it is we expect, or want them to do, or how they are to experience faith once indeed we might have found them.

How might churches find their long lost young people? especially when theres none at all to start with?

The first things is to begin with reality not assumptions. But churches are full of them. So here is a picture of a warning sign.     Image result for assumptions

‘there are always young people on the streets being a nuisance‘  Find out the facts, how many, is it the same young people, are they from the area, how old are they, are they in the same group, what do you they like doing, what are they interested in, what schools do they go to. Also is it always? or just on a friday night, or just through the summer holidays?

young people are so busy, being taken to after school clubs, having to ride buses, they’re too busy for church’  Is that ‘all’ the young people who are in your community – or just the ones that you have connections with – and might they be too busy with other things, because these other things are seen to be more important & meaningful (maybe thats a challenge, to make the local church a space of meaning and significance) – but legitimately, even in areas where there are high attendance of mostly children going to swim clubs or brownies, there will be many who cannot afford these things, or have transport or parents at home to take them. When we start from a place of 0 young people, creating a place for these few who dont have opportunities – seems not only a good idea, but a godly one too – doesnt it?

‘young people find the building a barrier’ this is an assumption we make – then we need to make the space safer, but then not spend decades improving a building only for there to be now no connection with local people who then have disregarded a building as irrelevant however much of a conference centre it now looks like.

but we have nothing to offer – we’re an ageing congregation, young people are more likely to go to the (insert name of contemporary church) church down the road’ no, only the kids from christian parents who value style and entertainment in worship practices will go there. The young people in your local area who find meaning and connection in the space you offer, will continue to do so. And the person, usually a trendy youth pastor from that trendy contemporary church or youth ministry who suggests the existing church is boring should be shot.

These are all assumptions that at some point of another someone in a local church has made about the reasons why young people are not involved in the faith community, or the advent of sunday trading, sunday football or some other cultural entertainment reason.

So how do churches find the young people – where are they hiding?

  1. Discover the reality of life for young people, spend time in the local areas, communities and be present in the spaces. So, walk the dog around estates, grab a pint of milk at the corner shop, take up running – all with the additional purpose of being around in the public spaces of a local community at times. So, when school buses come back, or after tea, or at the weekends, do young people walk home from school buses, do any of them play football in the park from 7 (and is it the same ones every night) . Just any real picture is helpful.
  2. Schools. Schools are tricky, as they are becoming an even more compressed space of formal learning, and almost sadly just exam factories. School staff also have had good and negative experiences of faith groups either personally or professionally, so all the stuff about building trust slowly applies, or trying to connect in a way that helps the schools out, such as offering lessons on challenging topics like relationships, drugs and alcohol – or help in some way like mentoring some of the young people who are struggling. Or chapliancy for the whole school (especially in the peak stressful times in a school, ie between the inservice day in september and the end of term in july 😉 ) The days of ‘just doing assemblies’ because this topped up what the kids were learning in sunday schools or was a way of attracting them to the church’s activities are over. As i said here, To disciple young people, we need to quit assemblies.  though it might still be a start – there are other ways of being meaningful and connecting. But the school is just the school, its a place socially constructed in a way, and where young people perform in a way to thrive or survive, and/or be popular or to be invisible. And thats not rocket science, just one reality of the context of trying to be present in, its an already established culture and community in which you might be trying to find some kind of acceptance and respect in.
  3. The public spaces of the town and village centre. This wont be all the young people – no where has ‘all the young people anyway’ – but are there places and times when young people do congregate – is it the town centre on a saturday, the bus shelter on a friday, the village green on a tuesday  – if these are places young people choose to be in (as opposed to school where they dont choose) – then this, with the right approach and training, can be a way of making connections in places where young people have already considered safe.  Or it might be that this is the time to have the church open for hot chocolate, or take some out with you to the bus stop and spend time just chatting with young people there. If you’ve got a dog collar on, honestly its far easier to do this that try and be some kind of youthworker doing it. Not easy, takes bravery and vulnerability – but much of that is because weve made too many assumptions about young people that make us feel scared of them. Oh and by the way, any abuse from a distance when they see you coming, take that as the ‘mating call of the needy young person’ …. 😉
  4. What if young people are in their homes, doing their homework, playing on computer games, on social media? And for many this is the new normal, the new reality and the new majority. Maybe for this family, it is not about trying to connect with the young people at all, it is about trying to connect and become meaningful with the whole family. Also the young person is not in their room all day every day. But – What might mission to middle class families look like? And that is not my specialist subject…  – churches should be able to offer an alternative to the depression of eastenders or the business of commuter life – a place of hope, quietness, community?
  5. Attracting families to church with children has been easy, from sunday schools, messy church and every thing else inbetween, and at the moment summer holiday clubs are on, but they are plummeting in terms of numbers, and delivery. But that doesnt mean that in your local area, in your local space an after school group, messy church, themed club (movie/craft/sports) might be just the thing for families to be involved in that you as a local church can do. Forget any national picture or statistic – yes i mean forget it – if a small group of families want to set up a kids club (that you though was old fashioned at what you were doing in the 80’s) then let them. If its what is most meaningful and causes the church to be a space of community and conversation then make it happen. Family work with children isnt necessarily going to bring the young people back. But it at least could cause the church to be looked on favourably locally.  At least with 8 year olds coming to a craft afternoon, there is at least the possibility of some group work with them, and having conversations with them and creating a longer term space for their community and conversation to continue.  We may need to invest in the potential group work of the 8 year olds and believe in it as a long term process. Telling them theres ‘nothing’ after messy church when they get to 10, is only because we have wasted 2 years in not talking to them about what they might like to do next or continue to participate in.

These all feel like whats been tried for the last 30 years. And yes, thats probably true.

I kind of wish that there was some magic answer. Some new answer. And in my last post I did put forward a few new ideas (see previous post)

The reality is that though it is easier to say why churches should involve themselves in working with young people for social and definitely spiritual reasons, actually doing it is going to be quite hard work, and a mixture of looking for opportunities, and also making the most of opportunities that may already be happening, or being in a place where opportunities may emerge (such as the bus stop over a mug of hot chocolate) . Its going to take vulnerability and spirit of collective pioneering and action, and thats not easy. The responses to the question of how to get the young people back into church doesnt need some kind of magic dynamic answer, and not from me anyway, the answer to that question will only be found in your local area, through making spaces to connect, through being present, and through listening to whats already happening, and trying to find a way of being meaningful to all, especially those for whom the normal way of life is leaving them behind, making them stressful, pressured and pained.  Churches that want young people for their own survival, might be better placed to think about how other people are trying to do survival and get alongside them. I dunno, seems like Jesus met people in the margins, in the borders and healed those who needed to be lifted up – guess that could be the heart of the gospel, and the heart of Gods mission for young people and their families, its just a hunch. There isnt a new answer to that question, its the same old answer, the story of faith that we’re participating in in our local contexts, and asking how might we present Jesus with young people and in our communities?

Maybe like God himself, we interrupt the norm, with a conversation of love that brings meaning and hope. Bringing young people back to church? a challenging task, especially if we cant find them or have lost them over the years.

God hasnt lost them. God doesnt need to find them either, he knows where they are.

And on many occasions she already hears their cries of help, anguish and pain. They might be closer to God than we already think. We as churches might be closer to being able to offer something, a God to believe in, than we think. Hiding faith behind the package has been one of the approaches, because God has been deemed boring, irrelevant or old fashioned. The mysterious thing is is that God might already be meeting young people where theyre at, the Spirit might be already moving in our towns and villages. And if young people need a story to believe in and participate in when the story of materialism, consumerism or achievement isnt giving hope, connection, autonomy or wholeness, then the story of Gods redemption for the world that we present offers a genuine alternative. Young people rebelling against consumerism by going to church and taking up a simple life… will it happen? If it did would churches know that this might be the authentic narrow way of the gospel that was possibly what was intended..?

Try all the magic methods in the world. Its be difficult to keep young people if theyre done without the mystery of faith and presenting a way of the gospel that is rude, provocative and dangerous, and discipleship as an ongoing active working relationship with Jesus to be experienced.

Church with no young people? 3 ideas to start ministry with them (without employing a youthworker)

Theres no point being a youthworker in this church, we dont have any young people

Only 8 churches in this diocese have a paid youth or childrens worker, and less than 6 have more than 10 over 12’s who attend at all

They caused too much damage 30 years ago, we’re not having young people in our building today.

Just some of the indicators, or reasons, why it feels as though churches have given up on young people. A church in a smallish town whose minister stated to me that there isnt a need for a youthworker in the church because theres no young people in the church. But theres a high school of 1200 pupils within a mile of it. But thats not enough of a reason for a church to develop something from scratch. It may be ten times that school will attend soul survivor over the next two weeks. But if there are about 40,000 churches in the UK (rough estimate) then that is only 1 soul survivior attending young person to 3.5 churches. And that’s just the soul survivor attending young people. Vast swaithes of churches have no young people, but I guarantee there are young people living in the parish, in the local area.

So – why have churches given up on young people? How did this happen?

One minute theres hundreds of young people, and then gradually one by one they disappear. Theres churches currently full of the over 60 yr olds, and its not just the under 14’s they dont have, its the under 50’s, 40’s and 30’s. Not even the generations of people these 60 year olds were nurturing when they were young leaders in their twenties have stayed. Generation vibrant youth ministry lasted only for only one period of time.

Those who possibly tried to engage in youth work – found that the buildings did get damaged, or young people loitered. In other churches the volunteers ran dry, and decisions were made that caused young people and communities to leave, such as changing sunday school times, youth group age bands or closing groups all together, because, well, it wasn’t worth it for 10 young people. It wasn’t worth it because the kids didnt come on a Sunday. It wasn’t worth it because the leaders would prefer to be in the service. Gradually, as the evidence about Sunday schools at least indicates, churches made decisions about groups and clubs without any consultation with participants and children and their families exited in their droves.  And for many churches, they just carried on growing older and older. The families didn’t stay, and neither did the teenagers. And Peter Brierleys stat about 300 young people leaving the church every week between 1968-1980, well, that’s where all the 40-50 year olds left.

So, you’re an aging church, with only the grandparents left, the Baby Boomers – and there’s no one under the age of 40, let alone 14 who is part of the church on a regular basis, aside from a few who attend during the summer holidays.

Assessing the cause of this problem is relatively easy, though it is more complex than the quick assessment above.

The encouragement of this piece is to think about what one thing you can do in your church to start thinking differently about young people, to start thinking about young people at all, and begin again. It is possible. Trust me. Three ideas are included below, but first theres a few challenging questions:

Is there anything you can do?

The first thing you can do is pay for a youthworker. Because they will immediately solve all your youth absence problems. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Thats like paying for someone else to deal with your problem. Nice attitude. But the reality is more complex, as I have said before, youth worker jobs in the UK are staying vacant, there is a supply and demand problem as the colleges and courses are closing, and housing costs multiply. So getting ‘a youthworker’ is not a straightforward option. It never was anyway.

So, no thats not the first idea. So, starting from scratch in thinking about working with young people, as a church congregation what would be your responses to these questions:

  1. What could you do to show young people in your town that you care about them? (how would young people know) 
  2. What could you do to value young people in your town?
  3. What cause might you be able to support local young people in?
  4. What talents do young people in your area have?
  5. What resources do you have that might benefit local young people?
  6. In what way might you need to make yourself vulnerable to young people?

Can you answer any of these questions as a church congregation? Would you be brave enough to try and work out responses to them, and responses from reality, ie real young people, speaking to them, consulting with them?

One of the main issues is that the way churches used to try and work with young people didn’t work, and the trying to attract young people and teach them stuff still hasn’t got a huge fondness amongst young people (ie they sit bored in the ‘god slot’). So with that method not worked, it becomes difficult to think about the alternatives. So, if you’ve got no young people, then you can afford to think differently, and start differently. Even Americans are saying that programme based youth ministry is broken, so why bother starting with it? If you want to start theological then head here for a really long post that i dare you to read, but has resources in it to help think theologically about young people and ministry. But then, on a practical level could you think about these questions?

What about thinking of these:.

  1. Where are young people already, during the day?  do they walk to schools, get buses, walk back through the town
  2. Where are there connections already locally – do young people congregate in places at certain times, or where are families active in dropping off and picking up young people?
  3. What are the rhythms of the day in terms of young peoples activities, and what about the weekends? do young people use the shopping area, parks, or prefer to be in small groups in neighbourhoods? 
  4. What might make the church both a spiritual space and practical space for young people?

(if you want a fuller community profile, then get in touch- see menu above)

One church i visited recently had almost no young people involved in its sunday activities, but over 200 used the scout hut during the week. Another realised that the local sixth form kids sneaked out of school to smoke in the grounds of the church. Another church had young people in its porch on a friday night. Another church had young people playing football in its adjacent car park. These are all ‘already’ used spaces that young people are in. One step would be to involve ourself in those spaces. Accidentally on purpose. Just to say hi, or have a conversation whilst needing to open up the church for no reason.

This isnt the only way, but these are opportunities to start making connections.

Idea 1 – Spiritual SpaceImage result for cathedral

There is a rise in spirituality in young people, there is a growing recognition of the positives of mindfulness and quietness in the culture of today. Does your church have a large open space thats often deathly quiet that can act as a place where young people can be quiet, reflect, think, pray even and just ‘be’ for a moment? You know, just like you might like to when you visit a cathedral. Would it be crazy to open up the church as a place where young people could ‘be’ during 4-5pm as they walk past the church to head home from school, or especially during mock and exam season as a space to help with stress, worry and anxiety. Forget the activity type of working with young people, lets treat them as humans with needs, and create a space thats respectful and open. Maybe even a space where they encounter God in the silence, or the lighting of a candle, or the reading, writing of a poem that they do in the space.

Recently i heard of a story of two young people who just wanted to sit in the back of the church whilst the evening prayer was being read. It was a safe space, and also a quiet space. Image result for indoor of church

It may connect the church to young people as a place where they can church weep and rejoice when young people weep and rejoice? Celebrate exam results, or commiserate – mark the anniversary of the death of friends, or relatives in tragedies.

Its one option – but why not give away spiritual spaces for young people. It may take time. Its taken cathedrals 400 years to be popular again…

By the way, no need for the high energy, flashing dancing well lit trendy youthworker – just an open space thats safe, regular and meaningful. hmm.

But what if lots of young people come – well then theres a nice problem to have

But what do we do next? worry about that afterwards

But ow will they come on Sunday ? theyre meeting God on tuesday – is that not enough? 

Idea 2- Church valuing young people

Another option might that the church congregation could find a way of supporting a local cause that young people are also passionate about and join in? Its good to give church money to missionaries, of course, but what about the local football team strip, or the music club, or a young persons bus travel or something else where the church could go out of its way to give to a cause that affects young people. Not for its own gain, but because it would be good to do. What if this equated to giving of time, support and fundraising activities over a year?  What if the church helped to fund the much needed resources that the schools are desperately short of, or where the church could help subside school trips so that even the less well off young people can go on them? Sounds bonkers, but what might it say in the community about who the church is for?  exactly.  Yes its embarrassing for the school, but its got the government to thank for its funding crisis.

Idea 3- Practical space

I was struck recently by the story of Boaz, and Ruth and Naomi. That Boaz left one side of his field open for anyone who needed it to work the land and take the crops. What if this principle was replicated, and that the church in the local area ‘leaves the land’ in order that local young people can work, earn or learn their trade? Can the local college hairdressing apprentices do everyones hair during the coffee morning? How might young people in the additional learning timetable learn gardening skills in the church garden and make a community allotment? what about getting the mechanics at the college to help fix the minibus? The list could go on. But what if the church was a place of work and learning for some young people, learning catering in the kitchen, or hospitality in the scheduling and event organising, or media in the PA/tech systems? Could there be gaps in the church where young people gain work skills? Is there a relationship to be had with schools and colleges that could generate this kind of offer or opportunity?  Again, it might be too much for some, or not even a reality. But one of you reading this might think that its a possibility. You have no young people currently, youve got nothing to lose…

Of course all of these require work and effort and a change in priorities. But they dont involve trying to entertain young people, or trying to keep them, but to try and give them a space where they can find meaning, or usefulness in the church and faith community. If theres no young people in your church, then trying something different, from a place of thinking differently about young people might begin developing something of value, of respect and that could be significant for young people. Making church spiritual for young people, making church significant and meaningful.

Maybe we might be surprised at how spiritual young people are and how spiritual they want the church to be. Got to start somewhere, and i think got to start differently. In short, we need as churches to do the things we should be good at, being spiritual, valuing people and offering practical space. Our place in the world as christians might be just to be prophetic and practical, so why not try this with young people.

As a follow up, 10 tips for starting conversations with young people might be useful, once those connections have been made, or they might make the connection happen.

Thank you for reading, and sharing, theres more ideas on this site, click on ‘youth ministry’ or ‘church’, if you want further training or conversation on starting right, or starting at all, then please do get in touch. Thank you


If todays young people really are sensible, then church is the perfect place for them

Todays broad research published by on the BBC website with the headline

Generation Sensible’ in five charts

might reveal a number of interesting trends with young people currently – or where the media had once got it wrong about young people and stirred up viceral degrading of young people and affected government policy before based on a few individual cases (and I am looking at you Daily Mail) .

So, young people are , according to the data

Drinking less alcohol

Chart showing the decline of youth drinking

Taking less drugs

Smoking less

There are less teenage pregnancies

Less arrests of young people in crimes

On one hand, though the trends are reducing in these, some of the numbers could still be reduced especially in some areas. Evidence a few years ago was also saying that though the majority of young people were drinking less, as many young people were still ‘harmful’ drinking, so the laws of averages might be hiding a few issues. However.

Praise is due to the young people, if they are making different choices about their behaviour

Praise is also due to those who have brought up these young people, parents who might have also had uncertainty in their jobs in the last 10 years, still bringing up teenagers who are doing broadly well.

Praise is due to the teachers, after school club leaders, voluntary leaders, youthworkers, guidance staff and anyone else who over the last 10 years has been involved in bringing up this generation.

Praise to the government for the credit crunch. For all the cut backs in all the benefits, reductions in ema and large student debt. That this generation are far too concerned about money, debt and their future that they dont have extra money to go partying as much as before. no really.

The question is – has the rise in ‘generation sensible’ also got faith and religious attendance as a factor?  Are any young people more likely to go to church now, than they were 10 years ago? Has faith had any part of this?

The other question – is that if young people are dull and sensible – hard working and future orientated – might they be perfect young people for the church, alot easier than the drug fuelled, teenage pregnancy, asbo kids of a previous bygone era (and i joke). Church doesnt need flashing lights, it needs just to have homework clubs, reading clubs, book clubs, philosophy lectures, volunteering opportunities, all the things to create thoughtful learned citizens…

Can churches respond to the sensible generation , because, frankly a generation that does want to learn, to be conforming and avoid risk – then the church is the perfect place or organisation to be…. and if church cant attract or keep a sensible generation….

Problem is that sensible young people are already far too busy trying to acheive and put lots of stuff on their CV. Question might be – what opportunities can churches provide that are CV worthy? and other questions about making sensible young people busier…

The question is also, though what is the place for the youthworker, and how on earth will they get any funding when this is now a new generalised reality.

And it shows that youth culture is just about dead.

Might a community profile help churches develop a new approach (rather than initiative) to mission?

It can feel as though there are two competing paradigms in the world of christian mission. They could be summarised by a ministry approach and the other by a community approach. It wont surprise you that I favour the latter. Though if both are needed, then it is worth exploring them both.

The ministry approach tends to ‘work’ from the institution outwards, with the institution in mind. So, the church decides on the mission, implements the mission, expects people to be attracted to the church, and a church grow from a gathering or attracting mindset. It is the thought that governs in the church planting paradigm. Make churches popular again, by inserting popular contemporary church into setting. It can often have no regard for actual people living near the church as the starting point, but insert in a church of a type, and then people, generally already christians of that type who like that type then go along. Whilst often the intentions of it are good – its reality is that it only survives because christians who were already going to church elsewhere drive their car in a new direction. Sometimes this is needing to happen. It feels like this is what aspects of church that have been shaped by the narratives of attractiveness and relevency from youth ministry have inherited. Talking up church planting is to say that may churches of certain types are planted, but digging deeper, is the who of those numbers, and the cost. In this mindset, ministry is tinkered with with many initiatives to make it attractive. Its the proverbial sorting of the deckchairs on the titanic. Church planting, might just be adding a new deckchair.  Image result for deckchairs

But everyone dreams of full churches, of vibrant churches as these are measurable, these are signs of growth, these are positive and bouyant, arent they? Well possibly yes, but should church planting accelerate other churches decline? Alot of the time though theres ministry initiative-itis. Looking at the world from the inside of the building and working out what initiative to do next. Nearly all with the expectation of success, or growth, or something.

Instead, what if it wasnt an initiative, but a new approach that was required?

What if, instead of starting from the in, mission started from the out. It was those who were outside who poked and provoked, and it was from the community where those are already that faith was formed, shaped and acted upon? Much of the time, local knowledge is blank by those who attend churches. They go into the community to ‘do a project’ then leave. Or go in, live, and hope people who are in it, find a way out of it to go to church. Having said this, the starting point is not another initiative, but it is being armed with greater knowledge – in partnership with an explored and opted in view of faith.

One of the tools banded around in community work is the ‘community profile‘. Many of us youth workers in christian colleges put one together for an essay especially in the second or third year of practice. Its a report with a focus to bring peoples opinions, ideas, conversations together to build up a picture of a community from a number of different perspectives. In a way, its a more community orientated version of the parish profile, and its certainly not written as a sales pitch for a new clergy… , the community profile asks questions and builds up a picture of the community and encourages many from within the community to make a contribution. Though this aspect is not easily done, it can be easy to just focus on other professionals like the teachers, police or community leaders – and still get a different institutional view. But at least those institutional views might be different to just the one of the church.

The community profile, if used correctly, can also be a good vehicle for getting those involved in church to listen to other voices, and hear what others say is going on, and what they say about the church. It does more that just collate the data from the various websites on an area, as these usually only accumulate the needs, the issues, the problems and the measured aspects that government and policy makers require to make decisions about provision, schools and services. Or at least they would if there was any funding.

What a community profile might also do, is give people in the community opportunity to tell the positive stories. The moments of hope, of beauty, of strength in each community. We might in church say that these are moments where God is already on the move, but it is where courage, community, determination, colour and creativity might already be present, not to mention character, resilience and compassion, none of which are measurable on the government website.

A community profile might help a church find a better way of being in the local community. Find out who might be already present, find out who to work in partnership with and join up with, but also to discover opportunities, not just gaps, but opportunities for partnerships. It can kick start a whole load of new ideas and possibilities, and can also give a whole load of new insight.

But it is not enough, a community profile on its own can be useless in a ministry mindset, only serving the already dominant pattern. The problem of a community profile is that it can often be the justification for a way of working, not the vehicle to start shaping a different way. Another problem is that it can be deemed extra information that can stay at the bottom of the cupboard.

A community profile without a community approach is like an electric car without the charge sockets. It needs the infrastructure and systems to make it work. As eventually it will run dry. However, there is no point waiting for a national infrastructure change, because electric cars dont go that far – its needs local charging sockets connected the grid. Local system change is enough. Waiting for dictum from on high defeats the purpose. A community approach by definition wont be dictated from on high, it will emerge out of community observance, and trying to change culture within one setting. It needs those with the power controls at times to create the spaces for the new technology to run. To pioneer something different.

We need to start from the community, be in the community, and enhance faith in community. We need to meet God where people are at. Why not give the opportunity to hear the voices in your community today, what they actually think, say and the stories they have – how might it inspire you to develop  sorry i mean start from understanding and listening and promote participation, rather than developing ministries and projects for people.

Over the last 3 years I have helped 3 churches in the beginnings of developing pioneer work, using a community profile that I have spent time with them creating and shaping. If this is something that interests you, then please do get in touch. There are costs involved, which work out at £250 per day for research and then writing up + travel. But do be in contact if this is something that you might benefit from. See the menu above for the contact form.

Does the church need a mixed economy of approaches – yes- it needs to be ministering in communities using a community approach.

Theology needs to be done in public, and we need to interrupt other peoples lives by being present. (a bit like my story yesterday, a tale of two new pictures) .

Theres enough churches, none of them are all full. Its not style, but significance, meaning and depth that people are looking for. Thats what people say in the community profile, they’re not bored of church, they almost wish it was better. A community profile might hear those voices and stories, and not reduce ‘people outside’ to a generic mass of ‘non church goers’ whom an initiative is going to work its magic.

FYT Streetspace Gathering 2018; feeling the movement

The pressure was on.

After raving about it every year, writing blog pieces on it each year (including this post, my second most popular in 2017), This year, I, as part of the staff team was part responsible for planning the FYT Streetspace gathering, The national gathering of pioneer youthworkers. The pressure to make it work, or make it better, or make it more original, more radical, more provocative and be what people needed, wanted and would want to come along to. Before as a punter, a project leader i could come along (and bring my son) for a ‘ride’ take part and enjoy it. This year, it was going to be different.

This year, the gathering was also different, for me at the end of challenging month, with the job itself ending, my wife having an operation, and then also at the same time the dog getting ill.  Head and Heart space was severely distracted away from doing the last minute, stuff, (and I am so thankful for John and Dan for picking up alot of my slack on this) , this year i struggled to want to go to the gathering, because I knew it occured at the end of a month that i was already shattered, being practical all day every day in the house, and trying to do work, and even apply for new jobs. I neednt have worried. But i was, worried too about the awkward conversations like, so what are you going to do be doing on monday? when theres nothing in the diary. The pressure, though, to make something good, still good, make something meaningful, still meaningful, was kind of on.


The themes of the weekend were to reflect on the current strategy of FYT, create a Home for pioneer youthworkers, improve practice and encourage risk taking with practice and be prophetic raising a voice to challenge structures, oppression and stand up and stand with those in the margins. It had also been agreed, and pushed that we wanted to continue the conversations that had started in 2017 (and before) on gender, sexuality and inclusion/participation, pinning the colours of FYT to the rainbow coloured flag both metaphorically and literally.

Thats the background. The reality was that everything, and more that was good about the previous weekends happened again and more.

A place of home was stated and created, with cushions and lights, and coffee and comforts. Like crumble and custard, and board games and mealtimes. Yet that held a space of challenge, of hurt, and reality. We should be sick of pretence, when the real is far more beautiful. The pretence might want to be bouyant and hopeful, but it is false hope. Real hope is found in the ditches of the margins. When compassion meets determination. The cross is where hope is found, and that cross was dug deep into the ground. In the dirt and soil and mud. Hope goes deep. Starts deep. Foxes have homes, ‘I have friends’ said Jesus. His friends were his home. Friends make homes.

A place of family was created, as the home had practical things to do like cooking, and washing up, outdoor spaces, the sound of babies, toddlers, children and a couple of teenagers. Not grumpy sullen teenagers, but people who raised their game for the occasion where they were given the space in the home to be able to. Space to raise their game, space to try and fail, space to take a risk. Not excluded, given something ‘instead’ teenagers. But young people given the chance to be youthful and adult, to dream the possible. Space to share a personal story, a personal prophetic challenge, or to play the comic at the evenings entertainment and hold an audience. Teenagers who could raise their game, and at 15 weren’t barred from a youth workers conference. (fancy that) A place of home where toddlers has space to be free, and parents kept a long ish lead and a watchful eye was maintained, by 35 other surrogate aunts and uncles for the weekend. But the noise of a joyfilled toddler filled the room that they occupied.

The real got shit real

The youth participation cranked up considerable notches.

The provoking came from the young people.

The needs of the oppressed was told by their voices

The provoking came from being present.

A session to learn about LGBT and diversity, wasnt enough.

For ‘theyre’ not a token. ‘Theyre’ not an ‘other’.

they needs to become we.


It was a place to cry and dream

A place where the magic happened in interactions

Where the movement took off its masks

and shoes

and was served by those used to being pushed down.

The young, the queer, the female, the new

but that wasnt enough. no it never is.


For the movement of friends is not service and served

and many are missing, who we want to include

in the home of the movement, the pioneer dreamers

make the movement not ours, but yours to be part of.

Im not sure I could do emotional this weekend, friends. Many did. And many who grieved, and wept, went deep. A movement of pioneer dreamers, with feet in the mud. With hearts made of soft stuff, the clay of the earth. A group of youthworkers whose default chip wasnt frustration or angst, or pie in the sky. But dealing with tough stuff, the stuff to ignore. The stuff to push down on and hope it goes away. So the corks were opened. The bubbles emerged. Shit got real.

There was just empty space. No music or drums. No carrion call or manipulation. But silence and space. A place to grow up in, to grow out in, to grow deep in.

Like the seeds in my shed, that on thursday were nothing and today: 

Just space, silence, food, light. Growth happens. In the dark, with light poking through, and warmth.

From the deep came the song, the poem, the voice. The margin spoke, and not spoken for, and it felt.

The movement was felt.

Step up was the call.

That rose from the deep.

Do better.

Take risks.

Stand with.

Love courageously.

Step up.

Step was was the call, the rose from experience

and called us do better.

And say that we mean it, and take risks and challenge, ourselves to a new place.


And as we tidied away, the yurt was folding down. The kitchen was a mess of left overs, and the plan for take away lunch was crusting at the edges (though i dont think anyone went hungry all weekend, just death by midgie bite). Nature came knocking, reminding, provoking. As from the distance, one by one, three Red Kites started circling above us.

So over that yurt was a pocket of air, that was thermal and warmed. Where Kites came and played. For a while, then they soared. Stopped off for a breather, then went back on duty. Our eyes looked above, we stopped all the rushing. And paused. Again.

Our path from gathering was not feathers and flight. Though step up to the plate is the task that we might. The kites did not land, for their task was too great, to stop off too long.

They felt the movement, the warmth in the air. And us on the ground. Our flight path all wonky, and broken and beaten, But homes are all messy. And risks can be taken.

I write this on Monday, and life does not stop. The future still blank and open, uncertainty raging. But back to the living and dealing and busy of coping. May was a tough one. But im not alone. Our kites felt the movement, and are now soaring away. And Jesus, he washed the feet of his friends, their feet full of sand, taking the mud and the dirt with a cloth, and making them free, clean and able. To step up to the challenge. Yet its love that cleanses.

And this love is not selfish. It gives it away, and away and away. It gives and it gives. It loves from the deep, and the tough and the real. It loves in the risk.

What is Frontier Youth Trust? and what does ‘Frontier’ mean? lets not get stuck in the wording, stuck in that mud, but be a movement of dreamers who love to the depths – of our faith and our being.

Thank you all, in the small, in the significant and stupid.

Now to Step up.


To read of Streetspace gathering 2017 click here: Gathering 2017 , and FYT click the link above.

To buy Gemma Dunnings resource on Pastoring LGBT teenagers click here: http://www.gemmadunning.com/p/4-views-on-pastoring-lgbtq-teenagers.html?m=1  as a way in to start thinking about LGBT and young people, the language and develop understanding, start here. Step up might be your call too.


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