All youth ministry is local.

No matter what the denomination leaders say

No matter what the youth ministry specialists say

No matter what the seminar leaders at the latest conference says

No matter what the trainers at Christian ministries explain.

No matter what the latest generalised view in a book is

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

All youth ministry is local.

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

All youth ministry is local.

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

But no.

These aren’t my words.

Well.. not quite..

These are written by an American youth ministry expert.

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

Yes.

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

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

A new direction… in 1998.

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

In 1998.

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

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

Of course 20 years later.

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

But that’s for another blog.

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

Reference.

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

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Are youth ministry books all saying the same thing?

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

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or reading them, has been like

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

Image result for nothing new under the sun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And from a different angle, Andrew Root suggests that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘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…. 

Voluntary participation; The perilous pathway for the youthworker and minister to navigate

A couple of questions to start off with:

Why do young people attend youth provision?Image result for perilous pathway

and

What keeps them there?

In all the afterschool, weekend or evening youth provision that occurs outside of the remit of the education or justice system, these are crucial critical questions to ask about young people and why they attend the youth group, the club, the football team, the music or dance group, the theatre or drama group or faith or environmental group. Understand why young people attend, and why they continue to attend are crucial for us all to reflect on. Because as those who create these spaces to happen, we face the ultimate reality that young people do make a voluntary choice to attend.

On one hand it makes it all a bit of a perilous adventure knowing that at any time a young person could leave, on the other its still an adventure, but that when a young person does respond to something and participate they do so because they want to. Now of course, there are occasions when the young person has stopped wanting to attend something but does so for reasons like their parents want them to, drive them to it, or to be compliant with their parents, but in the main they actually dont want to stop going – and so blurring the lines as to what participation is, yet on other occasions they might be being rebellious of their parents by attending.

Thinking further about the reasons why young people keep going to activities, beyond their attendance in the first place, and they might, and do, say:

  • Its where I meet with friends
  • Its a place to learn new skills
  • Its a place where i get experience
  • Its what i want to do when I’m older ( cadets, drama, music- it has career potential)
  • Its challenging
  • Its where I feel safe
  • Its a place to be myself
  • Its a place where I can talk to adults
  • Its a place where I am respected
  • Its a place where I can contribute and have my voice heard

In a way, then these might be some of the incentives for all of us involved in youth work provision of any kind. For any of us in youth ministry we should continually reflect on the reasons why young people continue to attend the provision, as if some of these things arent met, then it is likely that young people begin to leave. Actually, I ran this exercise with a group of older teenagers a few weeks ago, and the reasons that they left youth provision were as follows:

Their friends left, They got too old and there was nothing for them, it got expensive, they got bullied, they got ignored, it got boring, there was an injustice and not just the opposite of the things in the above list, but being unsafe, non participatory, non challenging, no long term purpose – but some of these things too.

Parents also get the benefit of the young person attending something, whether its an evenings free time, a hope that the youth group will do the sex talk, or help with socialisation, or hope that that young person will be safe, and become an upright moral citizen, just by attending a faith group. The parents of a young person may get more out of it that a young person themselves do… (might) .

All of this kind of means that there is a perilous path of voluntary participation that a youthworker/minister has to travel.

Yes there are a number of tactics that are used to keep young people – the carrot of rewards in the future, ongoing payment and subscriptions, rewards through attendance, and even trying to give young people roles, ownership and leadership can be strategies to help young people stay part of something. However, all fall flat if a young person feels unsafe, ignored or bored.

Which becomes doubly perilous in a culture in which outcomes and value for money are key drivers for funding both externally, and internally in groups, clubs, charities community groups and churches. We may have always prided ourselves with creating voluntary groups and spaces, but its a perilous path of maintaining an interest beyond this. Value for money seems to be about attendance, not the glorious treasure that could be unveiled when young people become participants, creators and contributors within. Measuring for participation, rather that attendance might help create the kind of staying environments, means that we have to work doubly hard to create these opportunities, challenges, and raise young peoples. And celebrating that young people participate and that they choose to is rarely done.

It is genuinely the case that young people like to be challenged. To have their game raised, and to be given an opportunity to have their opinion and voice heard and to participate. These arent just great sayings and ideals. But yet, when it comes to thinking about longevity and discipleship or programmes in youth ministry provision – relevancy is more often connected to attraction and entertainment – rather than relevancy because it is meaningful, challenging, and involves cost.

That young people are free to leave the youth provision could scare the living daylights out of us, but yet again that they continue to attend and participate is also a deep joy and privilege, it is a fine line, a tightrope, and one that we must acknowledge and be thinking ahead all the time, to how might the group or activity be maintained in such a way that young people want to stay. Or alternatively, how might the young people within the group or activity be able to create the environment themselves in a way so that they dont want to leave. When young people do participate, when they do contribute or develop conversation and relationship then its almost as though this should count as double, because we take into account that this is something they want to do. Its like the conversation with us on the streets, they could easily walk away or tell us to F off, though they rarely do, and so through choice they converse.

Voluntary participation and engagement causes us as youth workers and ministers to be continually walking a perilous pathway. Im constantly amazed by the amount of churches who say that young people dont attend, but as children they did, well often thats because they now have a choice, and we havent made being a young person in a Image result for sunday school rally day 1900

church a meaningful experience for them, just an extension of Sunday school.  And attending Sunday school, cant feel anything like school can it… (though by this poster there was some strong tactics used to keep children)- its no wonder that young people when faced with the choice didnt.

There are no magic answers, just a realisation, that thinking about why young people attend groups, clubs and organisations is a much shorter list than the many reasons why they stop going. That thinking through reasons why young people stay in groups, some reasons get elevated and thought about more than others (entertainment vs meaningfulness though both would be good), and trying to pre-empt ‘boredom’ by thinking ahead to create new opportunities, new places of participation and develop young peoples voices, creativity and contributions in a way that takes some suitable risks, is within a safe and trusted relationship space might be helpful ways of helping young people along the tightrope.

Have I missed out faith? well, yes. But strangely, when even asking christian young people what kept them or what caused them to leave a group, even a church group – faith wasnt even mentioned. Reflect on that as you will.

 

Does developing group work offer a clue to growing church?

A recurring conversation amongst many people involved in youth ministry and church ministry overall is

We get loads of people to come to our toddler group – but very few come to sunday worship

or a similar one looks like this

Quite a few people enjoy our lunch club, but even though we try, not make come to the special easter services

In Youth Ministry, the scenario might sound like this

Our monthly special events get 50 or more young people, but they wont come to our youth group every week

It is a scenario that has many variations. It comprises of an open style activity that gives people a social, emotional or physical benefit – such as toddlers, or the church fitness group, or the open youth club, or coffee morning for those too old for the open youth club- but that whilst the individuals who attend find value in the activity itself, there could be a tendency for those running the ‘open’ session to view the activity as a ‘feeder’ activity for something else. Once I was working near to a church and speaking with young people on the streets, they had been inside that evening as the church had put on a ‘battle of the bands’ evening – which young people from across the town went to, however, the young people left pissed off, as those running the evening had used the evening as a way of promoting an upcoming youth alpha series. Young people in this instance felt that they had no intrinsic worth, and that their evening had been a scam. This is one example, a poor one, of where the ‘open’ session was viewed differently by the participants from the attendees.

But the problem might be summarised by the differences between how a form of church/mission might work through a process of activity groups, as opposed to developing peer groups.

Activity groups are already in existence. It is the education format of ‘moving classes’ or ‘moving schools’ at set age groups. Top end Sunday school go to ‘youth fellowship’, or the process of developing spirituality for a person from an ‘open’ type session is for them to make an extra commitment to go to something else – Sunday morning, alpha group, social event, that is put on by the church.

What this can mean is that the individual is having to make an effort to make a change. For a young person might mean leaving their friends behind (as they move up), and make themselves vulnerable in an older group. But that is the same for anyone else. The individual is asked to make a move. The pathway to participation in faith – developing ‘spiritual’ discipleship seems to involve going to another activity. Church becomes the neck of the winebottle where only a few people reach, but many have connections already.

In a way its not just that ‘Sunday is Church’ and the target of all the weekly ministries of a church in this model that is the issue. It is that there are so many barriers that a person may have to undertake to eventually find church and faith as a meaningful thing that is the issue. We might be accused of being so unaware that God could be at work within the toddler session, or the lunch club, that we miss this, thinking that getting people to church on sunday (via another social event) is how God is accessed.

Dont get me wrong, the open sessions that a welcome, inclusive and create spaces for conversation, social, emotional and physical support and help are all needed and positive. But when they turn only into a strategy….

From Activity groups to Peer groups

What happens when we find a group of people in the church who start working really well together? ie – the older sunday school group, the lunch group volunteers, a house group, or, even, a messy church group or confirmation group? – Often the value of this group is only in how this group is able to get bigger by disrupting it. Image result for group work

Instead – why not develop practices of peer group working?

So, instead of individuals moving between groups in a church, what about developing group work with self selecting peer groups. So- all the parents in toddlers who ‘become cliques’ – how might that clique be channelled positively within the life of the church or local community – what are they good at and how might they contribute? And how might this be facilitated…

The young people often thrust together to do a confirmation course – how might this group stay together beyond it – rather than be asked to ‘join’ something else post confirmation with people they dont know/like.

If and it is a big if, people do naturally gravitate towards groups within open sessions, youth clubs, detached work, coffee mornings, then how might in churches we invest in their social connection and help this be built upon? There is much evidence that people in groups gain significantly individually through being part of them, so- might developing peer groups be key?

Community development processes and also Frontier Youth Trust have focused on group work development in their practice strategies. FYT have a process within their detached work which focuses on developing acceptance, recognising peer groups and developing basic small groups, developing risk and then exploring spirituality within the group. For more details and a write up on these processes- see ‘Here be Dragons’ above, which you can order via FYT at http://www.fyt.org.uk.  And though its written with youth work in mind, the same principles apply to any group work. They go something like this:

  • Community Profiling
  • 1 Observation (to discover the groups) 
  • 2, 3 Cold Contact (gaining rapport/acceptance, as this can take a while)
  • 4 Area Group Work
  • 5 Peer Group work
  • 6 Basic Small group work
  • 7 Risky Groupwork
  • 8 Exploration of Spirituality
  • 9 Church on the edge

But though group work principles are pretty common in community development and youth work, they seem largely absent in church & youth ministry practices. Too much focus on individual faith – and the individual person, rather than a number of individuals within a group all exploring faith together whilst being together, call it group discipleship…

Whilst there has been a huge increase in churches and youth practices offering the open spaces in local communities, what might be needed is to reflect on how groups form and are allowed to form within them, and having the resources to facilitate the interests that these people share, whether fitness, reading or hobbies, or the social justice or community endeavour mentioned above. And yes this involves work. The alternative is that people love coming to a coffee morning for a few months, but get sick of being invited to services, there has to be another way. Discipleship instead might start and exist within the toddler session, or the lunchclub, and that doesnt mean that people just ‘hear’ a talk, but that they are given opportunities to participate as groups as disciples. After all – didnt Jesus do discipleship in groups too..?

 

How to solve a problem like when the ‘estate kids’ turn up at the ‘church kids’ youth group

We want to reach out to our local community – the church said

We already have a youth group on a sunday night – the elders said

lets publicise the group in the local area and hope ‘more kids attend’ – the congregation said

The group needs more ‘numbers’ – the PCC said

Question: did anyone ask the young people – who attend the group what they feel about this? 

or are their opinions surplus to the requirements of the diocese, pcc, leaders and congregation?

So, Its Sunday night, the usual 9 young people are at the youth group, 3 children from one family, the 2 kids from the other end of town whose parents fell out with the parish vicar there, the younger brother of the worship leader, and 2 whove got long service medals having survived sunday school. And these young people have formed a group. It is their space.

Thats what theyve been told. They have done a few years, got to know each other, they go to different schools and so this is their social time. Its like the moments after the service in the morning over coffee. Same on the evening, apart from they all are in the same whats app group.

But there is only 9 of them. Only 9.

All the best youth groups have, well more than 9.

Dont they, they have well, they have more, whats the ‘right number’ for a youth group, whatever that number is its always more that the number of the people who already attend, because its not about them, its about getting a few more than them. Its about mission in the evangelism sort of mission sort of thing, and that means trying to make 9 young people more than 9.

The 9 are happy being 9.

But the church think that 9 needs to be more, after all their sunday services have been increasing numbers by -30% the last few years, so the youth group is expected to be the bastion of church growth. So, because all young people are the same, and the youth group is obvuously the right place for young people to go. Then strategies are hatched to try and get other young people to attend. The estate kids are sought after and welcomed in…

it is quite frankly a one way ticket to disaster. Well intention but a disaster. why? well 8 reasons

  1. Young people are not all the same, for some reasons usually ‘church’ kids are bullied at school by ‘estate kids’ and so youth group can be a time of safely, communality. At worse it can also fuel attitudes that estate kids ‘are chavs’ and degrading language has been known to be used judgementally within the church kids youth group – they, them, out there,  this needs obviously nipping in the bud, but its a sign of fear.
  2. Young people represent two different groups, ages, stages, communities and cultures. Mixing is like putting chillis in a hot chocolate – it might work, but the possibility is small, and both might be ruined.
  3. Estate kids dont know that the group has 100’s of implicit social rules, barriers, conventions developed over a long period of time.
  4. Estate kids probably have no relationship with the leaders, and so there is nothing to go on to help create positive environments when there is conflict looming.
  5. The parents of the 9 will soon be on the phone. and taking their Johnathon out of the group, because they dont want him to mix with ‘those sorts of young people’.
  6. The needs of each group are different. Their reason for being there is different. They are different groups, and mixing them blind like this, especially in the space where one group is established causes issues of power, threat and competitiveness.
  7. The teaching, with the 9 that included all 15 theologies of the trinity, now has to resemble a 2 minute epilogue at the end of an hours run around. Youth ministry seems to revert to ‘lowest’ or easiest common denominator. It may make it accessible, but those 9 didnt need accessibility… they wanted deep. They will be bored and leave- unless they are encouraged to lead and mentor, tricky but possible.
  8. Behaviour. The 9 know that swearing makes baby Jesus cry, and they know when to laugh during veggie tales. The estate kids swear all the time, and half the time all the leaders do now is clamp down on swearing.

In the past 3 weeks, This exact scenario has been presented to me as being an issue that a local youth worker has had to deal with, the estate young people turn up at the ‘youth fellowship’ and all hell breaks loose. Yet on paper this is what growing and developing youth ministry is meant to be all about, but actually it usually only leads to disaster, unless very well handled, increased volunteers and a readiness to adapt. I did think that because it wasnt something i had heard of for a while that it had died out, maybe the church had given up on estate kids and only focussed on its own. Is it only for resource reasons that churches think two distinct groups of young people should mix? is there a thinking that ‘we have a great youth group’ so other young people will immediately also love it too part of the equation? a legitimate preferential bias to our own practices. Itis worth saying also that it is great that a church would want to start being involved in the lives of young people, and young people it doesnt know much yet so this needs encouraging, nurturing and thought through further, to make it meaningful and appropriate for all involved.

Ideas and solution.

  1. Dont mix until the relationships are built up with young people especially a large already distinct group. The odd one or two young people might be ok.
  2. work with groups and progress groups, not activities, groups change, adapt and develop differently, there may be reason to combine, but working with 20 young people solidly for 2 years in 2 seperate groups, will be easier than trying to keep 9 and 11 happy when they are so different.
  3. Prepare and educate parents and young people about mission, community, about equality, inclusivity and taking risks, and explore the concerns.
  4. develop leadership skills with the young people
  5. Dont just consult. ask and have conversation. Losing the 9 in this case is as much a tragedy as trying to gain 11. Have a broader conversation with the young poeple about how mission/evangelism fits within the life of the group.
  6. develop new practices of community and youth work and find new spaces for estate young people (and i apologise for this term, its just makes sense in this context) to create belonging and acceptance.
  7. Dont moan at the 9 young people, they have been brought up in the culture of the church that has created their group so it has acted in this way for years. Change for them is as uncomfortable as it would be for you, if all of a sudden the pub crawlers turned up on masse on a sunday and sat in your seats. and swore. and wiped their muddy prints on your carpet.
  8. Parents will naturally want their young people to be safe, risk averse and be in  places where their children learn, and learn to behave. When these are challenged… Quite what they have in mind that discipleship is about is another question.

There are ways it can work, but it does need thinking through. Apologies for using terms like ‘estate kids’ and ‘church kids’ but its the easiest to convey in this context. If you have any ideas of how this can work put them below. If you want a conversation about ‘how does the church work in a community based way with young people – then contact me on the details above, id be only too happy to help, do training and provide support.

10 Reasons why young people leave youth groups

Over this weekend I have been leading training with the EQUIP NORTH EAST students on the Unit entitled ‘working with young people’  (for details of the equip course see the above menu.) One of the questions I asked the students on Friday evening was,

When you were a young person, what were some of the reasons you kept going to the youth activities that you went to?  

Most of them went to things like Boys brigade, church groups, sports clubs, music related activities, after school groups, and this list of things was fairly obvious; it was things like;

  1. I was made to feel welcome
  2. I met my friends
  3. I met other friends who i wasnt at school with
  4. It was safe
  5. I learned stuff
  6. I had new experiences

In a way, most of the research about young people and groups, fitted these answers, however, I also wanted to ask them, and develop more of a discussion about why they didnt stay in certain groups, clubs and activities.

These might or might not be that obvious, but are worth reflecting on further:

Responses to ‘why did you leave the youth provision?’

  1. I was told i had to leave as I was too old for it -ie the max age was 11
  2. It was boring after a year – It didnt change at all – so i lost interest – it was like groundhog day.
  3. It was boring after a year – I felt too old for it because it didnt change – unlike Harry Potter films, It didnt grow old with me.
  4. The groups kept changing and i was forced to go in a group i didnt want to – so i left
  5. For things like sports activities, cost and travel was mentioned
  6. I felt like i needed to be taught stuff differently, it felt too much like school.
  7. The leaders kept changing, so i didnt know who to trust to speak to
  8. I was the only person that age, so the church decided they couldnt do anything for me, so i left and found a different church to go to.
  9. Other kids seemed to be favourites and get responsibility.
  10. I was too busy and had to prioritise, usually school work came first from the age of 15….

None of the group of adults in the training are over 25, so all of these experiences are in the recent past, ie in the last 15 years of being involved in youth activities in churches and sports clubs in the UK, its not an exhaustive survey, by any means, but similarly I would think there is enough even in these responses to reflect on the experiences of young adults in churches. The questions that arise are:

  1. Does Youth Ministry grow old with the young people – or are young people supposed to make the transitions themselves – ie hop from group to group as they get older?
  2. If Youth Ministry is meant to be significant to young people – why is it the first, it seems, to go when other things take priority? There is due reason for school work being so, but if sports clubs clash – why do ‘they win’? – if they have more meaning, does ‘youth ministry’ need to find ways to mean more than what could be a free social night and a few games.
  3. Young people are hugely perceptive of changes, and because they are constructing their identity ( Wyn/White) they make interpretations of the decisions made on their behalf – especially ones they dont control or feel an injustice.
  4. Young people wont stay to something that makes them feel younger than they are, but are happier to raise their game and be challenged.
  5. Young people felt quite sad that they have to leave things for reasons out of their control.
  6. Young people want responsibility and opportunities and find these elsewhere if they’re bypassed from them in the church groups.
  7. It shouldnt remind them of school, but they want to be challenged, we have got to make our youth ministry and work provision around different educational methods and approaches ( informal), learning styles , and if its a faith group use a variety of ways of forming about faith – can faith be ‘taught’ in all learning styles? 
  8. Connecting with adults on a consistent basis matters. No one said that the person has to be young, trendy, or relevant. Consistency was far more important.

So, a few thoughts on why young people stayed in youth groups & provision, why they left, and reflecting on these. They may not be rocket science. But as youth provision is a voluntary attendance, then its not about always trying to make it bigger and better, but to make it meaningful, consistent and better.