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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Forget Millenials; Why does barely anyone in Hartlepool go to church?

I am picking on Hartlepool for a reason.

Image result for hartlepool

It is because it’s where I live.

But the question could be asked of Altrincham, Barnet, Chester, Doncaster, Ely, Framlingham, Godmanchester, Harrow, Ilminster or anywhere else in the UK, and its the question we’re scared to ask.

For, its far easy to speak in the universal, the general, and label culture, people groups or generations, and use these as excuses. But we need to get real, and get local.

Its not just young people who arent involved in churches , who get the forefront of strategy.

Its everyone.

Because, it’s desperately easy to only talk to church people or previously church people (the moaning millenials) as to what we’re the reasons they left and why they’re so important that church should listen to them. The fact is that in the UK there are no millenials who left church, because even 20 years ago there were barely any then 25 year old in church. It’s not the voice of disenfranchised millenials that the church in the uk might respond to. It’s the everyone else who’s barely been connected.

And, if you want to see evidence of the moany millenials, see this post : https://wp.me/p2Az40-1eP and responding to, sharing and receiving this learning is popular (this post alone got over 100 views, my biggest in 2018) – but keeping and re-attracting millenials is futile in the UK, regardless of what they say. On the other hand, creating the kind of church that might keep christians going to it, is no bad thing, whatever age those people are.

But its reality, and local (ity) check. Barely anyone goes to church in the places that we might still go to church. And it doesnt matter if its a university or non university town, a place with many churches or a village with just the one left.

Not everyone is the same in each situation, , and why (as a critical friend of mine says) universal and general solutions dont work. Yet, nearly every church in Hartlepool is situated in a parish, or a housing estate, and surrounded not just by a cloud of witnesses, but a people group who witness and observe its very actions, or non actions. But also a people group of 100’s or 1000’s within walking distance of most churches. And churches in Hartlepool would be full if the people living near to them would go to them.

The same is true in most rural situations, and probably most suburbs and cities too. Yet again, this is too much of a generalisation. But think about it, church leaders – forget the millenials, forget generationalisms, and sociological diagnosis, and get local. What did Jesus say, love your neighbour as yourself. Love your neighbour, love those closest who you might not know yet. Love those in the vicinity. Dont judge, pre judge, condenm, or drive a wedge between, but love.

What does love your neighbour look like in Hartlepool? (and insert the name of your town/city/street here)

Love is more than the loud clanging gong of our worship services, but the moment of kindness on a Wednesday.

Love is not just the prophetic words – but the fighting for and not giving up on people who feel lost and ignored. And believing in those whos gifts arent recognised.

When Jesus said Love your neighbour, its so that we wouldnt worry about things that shouldnt concern us, but prioritise the local, the next door, the persons and families who are literally next door and in the same street. I mean, what if all the people in the same street as the church building, went to every church in the country?

In asking ‘why does barely anyone in Hartlepool go to church?’ – so that in the areas of growing churches there isnt complacency. And that the church that is growing has a positive spiritual footprint in a local area. (and not just be a building that creates unwarranted traffic problems once a week).

The easier response to barely anyone attending church in Hartlepool is that:

its not relevant enough (so changing pews for guitars, or books for screens, has seen the buildings combust with people?) all that happens here is that christians who like contemporary go to a contemporary church.

people dont know about us (so we communicate, websites, posters, noticeboards (some very judgemental slogans included)- but neither these have caused much of a shift)

what might be the problem is that

actually very few people used to go to church anyway – just a slightly few more than today -and buildings were built 100 years ago for growth in mind.

people in general are busier than they used to be – and church hasnt found a way that it has become meaningful in the everyday of peoples lives.

people have been sick of being shouted at via a notice board. If thats the voice of the church locally as people walk past, then why bother going in.

But memories of what the church used to do (and caused offence) may still be in the memory

Yet even these are generalisations, there are specific things relating to the people in every street, family and community that mean that they dont go to church, believe or even want to. But if we dont find out in the real sense, through interacting, our strategies are only based on projections.

Practically and Prophetically what might loving our neighbourhoods, streets and families be like, it has got to start with us, our attitude, our actions, our adaptability.

It is uncomfortable to ask – Why do barely anyone go to church in Hartlepool? Relatively speaking only a few millenials in the UK left the church, those that do often go and make their own church in their likeness. For many churches there’s still vast numbers of other people who might appreciate being involved in a loving and positive faith community that offers support, time, space and a connection to a world view that disrupts the rat race, or proclaims a view of humanity that isnt just the economic.

The local situation is the one that every church finds itself in, but love as a general principle is message of the gospel, and the proclamation that God loves the world is the purpose of that Good news.

Who cares what millenials think about the church. What matters even more is that in many towns and cities 199 out of 200 people dont even bother with it.

Those who left the church might be encouraged to come back, and they have a loud voice at times. Loving our neighbour locally might mean listening to voices who dont get a say, an influence and often hidden from view.

Millenials dont want a youthful church – they want one that meaningfully performs the gospel

I am nearly 40 and i still keep going to church. Just. So, I am not a ‘millenial’ that has left, yet I grew up evangelical, and often find myself growing out of love with the church. And I have tried a number of different ones. Some try the intentional youthful approach, trying to stay young and full of students (and this keeps the cycle of youth attractiveness going) some more institutional that age sometimes not o gracefully, others somewhere in between.

According to the general theories I am in the bottom end of the Generation X group, if these boundaries exist in anything other than sociological textbooks that seem to be the flavour of the month and adopted uncritically by those trying to work out the future of the church in context, more so that what theology might say. However, another blog rant aside, the following piece came out this month that was all about the reasons that people in their thirties who grew up in churches, have left the church. That piece in full is here: https://faithit.com/12-reasons-millennials-over-church-sam-eaton/ The writer starts in a similar way, he wonders- what ever happened to everyone else – the other 30-40 year olds?

This is a real problem in the UK, because for 30-40 years now we believed that trends and practices of youth ministry since the 1970’s were having an effect. They havent. At least not in an intentional way. But looking at the list of the 12 things, there is evidence of the effect of youth ministry on the church- and how this has ironically meant that the church has become unimportant, and non significant for anyone over the age of 20.

Image result for millennial

The 12 things were as follows:

So, at the risk of being excommunicated, here is the metaphorical nailing of my own 12 theses to the wooden door of the American, Millennial-less Church.

1. Nobody’s Listening to Us

Millennials value voice and receptivity above all else. When a church forges ahead without ever asking for our input we get the message loud and clear: Nobody cares what we think. Why then, should we blindly serve an institution that we cannot change or shape?


  • Create regular outlets (forums, surveys, meetings) to discover the needs of young adults both inside AND outside the church.
  • Invite millennials to serve on leadership teams or advisory boards where they can make a difference.
  • Hire a young adults pastor who has the desire and skill-set to connect with millennials.

2. We’re Sick of Hearing About Values & Mission Statements

Sweet Moses people, give it a rest.

Of course as an organization it’s important to be moving in the same direction, but that should easier for Christians than anyone because we already have a leader to follow. Jesus was insanely clear about our purpose on earth:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)

“Love God. Love Others.” Task completed.

Image result for mission statement

Why does every church need its own mission statement anyway? Aren’t we all one body of Christ, serving one God? What would happen if the entire American Church came together in our commonalities and used the same, concise mission statement?


  • Stop wasting time on the religious mambo jambo and get back to the heart of the gospel. If you have to explain your mission and values to the church, it’s overly-religious and much too complicated.
  • We’re not impressed with the hours you brag about spending behind closed doors wrestling with Christianese words on a paper. We’re impressed with actions and service.

3. Helping the Poor Isn’t a Priority

My heart is broken for how radically self-centered and utterly American our institution has become.

Let’s clock the number of hours the average church attender spends in “church-type” activities. Bible studies, meetings, groups, social functions, book clubs, planning meetings, talking about building community, discussing a new mission statement…

Now let’s clock the number of hours spent serving the least of these. Oooooo, awkward.

If the numbers are not equal please check your Bible for better comprehension (or revisit the universal church mission statement stated above).

“If our lives do not reflect radical compassion for the poor, there is reason to wonder if Christ is in us at all.” –Radical, David Platt


  • Stop creating more Bible studies and Christian activity. Community happens best in service with a shared purpose.
  • Survey your members asking them what injustice or cause God has placed on their hearts. Then connect people who share similar passions. Create space for them to meet and brainstorm and then sit back and watch what God brings to life.
  • Create group serve dates once a month where anyone can show up and make a difference (and, oh yeah, they’ll also meet new people).

4. We’re Tired of You Blaming the Culture

From Elvis’ hips to rap music, from Footloose to “twerking,” every older generation comes to the same conclusion: The world is going to pot faster than the state of Colorado. We’re aware of the down-falls of the culture—believe it or not we are actually living in it too.

Perhaps it’s easier to focus on how terrible the world is out there than actually address the mess within.


  • Put the end times rhetoric to rest and focus on real solutions and real impact in our immediate community.
  • Explicitly teach us how our lives should differ from the culture. (If this teaching isn’t happening in your life, check out the book Weird: Because Normal Isn’t Working by Craig Groeschel)

5. The “You Can’t Sit With Us” Affect

There is this life-changing movie all humans must see, regardless of gender. The film is of course the 2004 classic Mean Girls.

In the film, the most popular girl in school forgets to wear pink on a Wednesday (a cardinal sin), to which Gretchen Weiners screams, “YOU CAN’T SIT WITH US!”

Today, my mom said to me, “Church has always felt exclusive and ‘cliquey,’ like high school.” With sadness in her voice she continued, “and I’ve never been good at that game so I stopped playing.”

The truth is, I share her experience. As do thousands of others.

Until the church finds a way to be radically kinder and more compassionate than the world at large, we tell outsiders they’re better off on their own. And the truth is, many times they are.


  • Create authentic communities with a shared purpose centered around service.
  • Create and train a team of CONNECT people whose purpose is to seek out the outliers on Sunday mornings or during other events. Explicitly teach people these skills as they do not come naturally to most of the population.
  • Stop placing blame on individuals who struggle to get connected. For some people, especially those that are shy or struggle with anxiety, putting yourself out there even just once might be an overwhelming task. We have to find ways to bridge that gap.

6. Distrust & Misallocation of Resources

Over and over we’ve been told to “tithe” and give 10 percent of our incomes to the church, but where does that money actually go? Millennials, more than any other generation, don’t trust institutions, for we have witnessed over and over how corrupt and self-serving they can be.

We want pain-staking transparency. We want to see on the church homepage a document where we can track every dollar.

Why should thousands of our hard-earned dollars go toward a mortgage on a multi-million dollar building that isn’t being utilized to serve the community, or to pay for another celebratory bouncy castle when that same cash-money could provide food, clean water and shelter for someone in need?


  • Go out of your way to make all financial records readily accessible. Earn our trust so we can give with confidence.
  • Create an environment of frugality.
  • Move to zero-based budgeting where departments aren’t allocated certain dollar amounts but are asked to justify each purchase.
  • Challenge church staff to think about the opportunity cost. Could these dollars be used to better serve the kingdom?

7. We Want to Be Mentored, Not Preached At

Preaching just doesn’t reach our generation like our parents and grandparents. See: millennial church attendance. We have millions of podcasts and Youtube videos of pastors the world over at our fingertips.

For that reason, the currency of good preaching is at its lowest value in history.

Millennials crave relationship, to have someone walking beside them through the muck. We are the generation with the highest ever percentage of fatherless homes.

We’re looking for mentors who are authentically invested in our lives and our future. If we don’t have real people who actually care about us, why not just listen to a sermon from the couch (with the ecstasy of donuts and sweatpants)?


  • Create a database of adult mentors and young adults looking for someone to walk with them.
  • Ask the older generation to be intentional with the millennials in your church.

8. We Want to Feel Valued

Churches tend to rely heavily on their young adults to serve. You’re single, what else do you have to do? In fact, we’re tapped incessantly to help out. And, at its worst extreme, spiritually manipulated with the cringe-worthy words “you’re letting your church down.”

Millennials are told by this world from the second we wake up to the second we take a sleeping pill that we aren’t good enough.

We desperately need the church to tell us we are enough, exactly the way we are. No conditions or expectations.

We need a church that sees us and believes in us, that cheers us on and encourages us to chase our big crazy dreams.


  • Return to point #1: listening.
  • Go out of your way to thank the people who are giving so much of their life to the church.

9. We Want You to Talk to Us About Controversial Issues (Because No One Is)

People in their 20s and 30s are making the biggest decisions of their entire lives: career, education, relationships, marriage, sex, finances, children, purpose, chemicals, body image.

We need someone consistently speaking truth into every single one of those areas.

No, I don’t think a sermon-series on sex is appropriate for a sanctuary full of families, but we have to create a place where someone older is showing us a better way because these topics are the teaching millennials are starving for. We don’t like how the world is telling us to live, but we never hear from our church either.


  • Create real and relevant space for young adults to learn, grow and be vulnerable.
  • Create an opportunity for young adults to find and connect with mentors.
  • Create a young adults program that transitions high school youth through late adulthood rather than abandoning them in their time of greatest need.
  • Intentionally train young adults in how to live a godly life instead of leaving them to fend for themselves.

10. The Public Perception

It’s time to focus on changing the public perception of the church within the community. The neighbors, the city and the people around our church buildings should be audibly thankful the congregation is part of their neighborhood. We should be serving the crap out of them.

We desperately need to be calling the schools and the city, knocking on doors, asking everyone around us how we can make their world better. When the public opinion shows 1/3 millennials are ANTI-CHURCH, we are outright failing at being the aroma of Christ.


  • Call the local government and schools to ask what their needs are. (See: Service Day from #3)
  • Find ways to connect with neighbors within the community.
  • Make your presence known and felt at city events.

11. Stop Talking About Us (Unless You’re Actually Going to Do Something)

Words without follow-up are far worse than ignoring us completely. Despite the stereotypes about us, we are listening to phrases being spoken in our general direction. Lip service, however, doesn’t cut it. We are scrutinizing every action that follows what you say (because we’re sick of being ignored and listening to broken promises).


  • Stop speaking in abstract sound bites and make a tangible plan for how to reach millennials.
  • If you want the respect of our generation, under-promise and over-deliver.

12. You’re Failing to Adapt

Here’s the bottom line, church—you aren’t reaching millennials. Enough with the excuses and the blame; we need to accept reality and intentionally move toward this generation that is terrifyingly anti-church.

“The price of doing the same old thing is far higher than the price of change.” —Bill Clinton
“The art of life is a constant readjustment to our surroundings.” —Kakuzo Okakaura
“Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative.” – H.G. Wells


  • Look at the data and take a risk for goodness sake. We can’t keep trying the same things and just wish that millennials magically wander through the door.
  • Admit that you’re out of your element with this generation and talk to the millennials you already have beforethey ask themselves, what I am still doing here.

You see, church leaders, our generation just isn’t interested in playing church anymore, and there are real, possible solutions to filling our congregations with young adults. It’s obvious you’re not understanding the gravity of the problem at hand and aren’t nearly as alarmed as you should be about the crossroads we’re at.

You’re complacent, irrelevant and approaching extinction. A smattering of mostly older people, doing mostly the same things they’ve always done, isn’t going to turn to the tide.

Feel free to write to me off as just another angry, selfy-addicted millennial. Believe me, at this point I’m beyond used to being abandoned and ignored.

The truth is, church, it’s your move.

Decide if millennials actually matter to you and let us know. In the meantime, we’ll be over here in our sweatpants listening to podcasts, serving the poor and agreeing with public opinion that perhaps church isn’t as important or worthwhile as our parents have lead us to believe.

The prophetic call that I take from this piece, is that participation in the relationships that enable the meaningful performing of the Gospel are what is craved by this age group. What is called for is validity and respect to participate, and be involved. The church is to be both practical, a healthy space to be honest and real, and prophetic and offer a meaningful alternative to the hustle and materialism of the world. And shock horror, its not guitars or powerpoints, but real action, the realness that loving the world is the task that church is a rehearsal and practice of.

What i also take, is that harnessing the views of those who have a critical voice and have a foot in the camps of both church, community and day to day world might be the best advice that the church could receive. What I also take is that I am still a youthful dreamer, just like this writer. I am only frustrated by the church, because it could be so much more, be so much more loving its neighbours, be so much more active in the participation of Gods actions in the world.

I read this blog post not long after reading Andrew Roots book Faith Formation in a secular age and what he says about the church’s desire for youthfulness, is shot through in the piece referred to above. What Millenials it appears want is a rejection of the churches of MTD (moral therapeutic deism) that has been their upbringing, and not to replace one kind of authenticity with another for the sake of it, but one that might have meaning for society too. Essentially the adapting of church to be youthful has forgotten the people for whom this may have been intentionally for, because they didnt want ‘for’ they wanted ‘with’. They didnt want churches run like businesses, but churches run as soup kitchens, churches going the extra mile. Its not a youthful church that millenials want, its a gospel performing one that they can be involved in. Its a trying to be youthfully authentic church that has emerged out of youth ministries desire to be relevant.

Maybe this is deep down what many want? – who let millenials have all the good frustration?

I said something similar, on discipleship and young people last year here ; why discipleship needs to be more dangerous!

Performing the gospel is what is implied through thinking about the gospels grand narrative as a drama, for more on this click on Theodrama in the categories or Tags on this site.

A follow up is is herehttps://wp.me/p2Az40-1eX


Root, Andrew, Faith Formation in a secular age – 2017

Is the church obsessed with working out what ‘age’ we are in, and does it matter for mission anyway?

Over the next few weeks I will be reading the following book by Andrew Root, Faith formation in a Secular Age. Andrew is one of the USA’s key thinkers and writers in Youth Ministry. However, it seems as though it has become significant to herald and pronounce what kind of age were are living in, try to understand what it is and then in so doing be able to do ministry that we have is being as relevant as possible.

Back in 1996 when I was doing a gap year with Oasis, the talk of the town was ‘Post-Modernism’ , Generation X and the shift in culture from Baby Boomers and Modernist thinking.

Then there is the other posts. The Post-christendom age, Post Modernist, and maybe even Post-truth.

Lesslie Newbigin suggested that The Gospel was needed to be rooted in a Pluralist Society.

Then there is the word ‘Secular’ – and this is common. I am not sure I go a week that someone in church, in an article or on social media poses a question that refers to the current age as being secular.

However, as Linda Woodhead, and others suggest – The Secular age might be behind us. It is just that other things are taking on religious meaning. And religious adherance is on the rise. (but not always church attendance). Secularity might be coming to an end, this was some of her thoughts in this book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Spiritual-Revolution-Spirituality-Szerszynski-Wiley-Blackwell/dp/B00G09S68S/ref=sr_1_23?ie=UTF8&qid=1516652265&sr=8-23&keywords=linda+woodhead

Understanding the ‘age’ and ‘stage’ of the world, seems to be the obsession of the missiologists. In ‘Transforming Mission’ David Bosch refers to Christendom, Rationalism, and the emergence of a Post Modern Paradigm in which Mission is to take place, but give him his due, Bosch is more concerned with the nature of Mission rather than the world in which mission is to be inculturated. But it seems, that especially in Youth Ministry, there is much more time spend understanding the ‘age’ than reflecting theologically on Mission itself. From Generation Y, to Millienials and back again. John Drane talks about ‘Evangelism in a ‘new age’.

In such a Post-Christian, Post-Christendom world, new approaches to church, youthwork and mission were deemed required (Nigel Pimlott, Stuart Murray et al). It seems as if the doing the right kind of mission is pre-determined by understanding the right kind of ‘age’ that we are in. I am awaiting to read what Root has to say about Faith formation in a secular age, i might also not know how he defines secular, although a cursory look in the introduction and a plethora of common themes emerge, MTD, the rise of the Nones, ‘spiritual but not religious’ and ‘declining church’ all seem to be lined up read for use as evidence.

There is a book in Youth Ministry called ‘Starting Right; Thinking Theologically about youth ministry’  and i wonder whether the church and youth ministrys obsessions with correct pronouncement of the current age, have distracted from the task of starting right in doing mission. The words like Post this and post that, secular this and relativist that act to put people off doing mission in the first place. Starting right might be less about understanding the age, than observing the context by being in it, and never stopping being curious and learning from it, within it. Starting right involves less pronouncing and more presence. For, no one who is met in the local shop, or on the streets considers themselves to be ‘living in an age’ at all, many are just living day to day. The right starting point for acting like Jesus is to act like Jesus would ask of us, go, listen, find and find a place of welcome, or be a place of welcome for others. For, we can only be Jesus in the small place of the local community anyway, so every local church need not worry about the age, but just be personal and present in the space. Know the culture and context, and learn what it is like.

It need not need an announcement of the ‘age’ to know what goodness, love and charity look like, neither what peace, joy and hope are. As church in mission, we might follow the gentle example of St Francis and his simple life, in an ‘age’ of materialism (or we might join in and spend lavishly on church buildings/Ministries), in an age of Social media we might join in to be relevant, communicative, or be prophetic against it.

But theologically, what age might we be living in? In a way thats what the 5 act Theodrama helps us with, we are in the closing age of the fourth act, of Gods acting on the stage of the world through the church before the coming of the King. Theologically God is on the move through his Spirit, it is this age and stage that is more crucial, surely…

What is this age- the world asking of the church? It doesnt matter. It is what the people who live in local communities near to local churches think that is. A globalised world needs churches to act justly and lovingly locally.

Might the church be as obsessed by ascertaining the ‘age’ as it could be about being loving locally?


Bosch, D Transforming Mission, 2011 (2nd ed)

Boff, Leonardo, St Francis, A model for Human liberation

Dean, et al Starting Right, thinking theologically about youth ministry 

Drane, John, Evangelism for a New Age

Newbiggin, Lesslie, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society

Pimlott, N, Youthwork Post Christendom 

Root, Andrew, Faith Formation in a secular age


Compassion fatigue for the plight of young people? they barely got compassion in the first place…

“The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.”

Fast forward the hundreds of years since Socrates said this. And the plight of young people has been described as the scourge of the status quo ‘of adult society’ ever since. From Moral Panics when young people had income and didnt need to do national service in the 1950s, to the ASBO and surveillance cultures today. In the same way that in previous decades, the younger generation was labelled ‘baby boomers’, today it is millenials. What hasnt changed is that a younger generation has to adapt and struggle to survive within an adult controlled society, and each generation is labelled in a similar way to before.

Most Millenials get labelled with the same things as Generation X did. And Baby boomers before them. So its not a matter of cultural understanding, it is cultural control. It is judgement. And as the following article suggests, the game of typecasting is never more popular. http://insidestory.org.au/the-generation-game/

The article goes on to say: “Millennials, we are told, “reject traditional career paths” and care less about money than about fulfilment. Yet they’re also entitled, lazy and narcissistic. This might sound convincing enough on the basis of casual acquaintance with today’s young adults. But anyone who’s been watching generational analyses long enough will recognise that they are exactly the same traits imputed to the “slackers” of generation X when they were the same age, and before that to the baby boomers in the 1960s.”

As a collective, Millenials are getting the blame. Like every generation before them, the stereotypes of unruly, wild, lazy and disaffected get spouted about them, as they do every ‘younger generation’ since , well since Socrates. So it might be part of the majority society to need a scapegoat for ills. And the younger generation can have it, as the adults left them behind. And at the same time, for every article and conversation ‘about them’ drives a misunderstanding wedge about specific young people into the gap between adults and young people. It shapes young people as a collective. Couple this with every other news story about young people, which is often about negative issues, pregnancy, housing, crime or anti social behaviour, and the though that young people might actually need compassion seems a hard stance to make.

But they do.

For everything a young person – or millenial- can be blamed for – usually becuase they are trying to fight consumerism, commercialism and universal uncreativity, there are many things that they are in need of or devoid. That might actually involve a community, society and government doing something about. It was said that the millenials are a ‘F***-all’ generation, having been shafted by the ‘have-it all’ generation. Though this is not the time to drive a wedge into inter-generational conflict. It might be to think about how young people have had services, opportunities, future choices, housing, further education budgets, housing benefit, all cut, reduced or become ‘means tested’ in the last 8 years. Whilst at the same time the battle for young persons finances, time and distraction goes on – through advertising, through targeting young people s pocket money, through technology and gaming , they are pulled in a variety of directions, by businesses with often the morality of sewer rats.

Oh and talking about technology. Its not the fake violence in the video games i worry about. And neither do they. It is the real violence on the news, that they see. on their phones, in their rooms. The fake and fictional in games, they can deal with. Its the fear that is exacerbated by news media that is worse. because it is real. And who creates the news, who selects the news, who makes the devices, apps and encourages them to be used by young people – adults. Adults who want young people to be politically more engaged , are at the same time causing young people to be afraid of the world.

So, on a quiet news day a story like this emerges.

‘Quarter of 14-year-old girls ‘have signs of depression’ –

read it here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-41310350

and stories that are similar go on and on. There is at least 4-5 a year that say the same thing. The same could also be said about the mental health state of those in nursing and teaching. 

But given the lack of attention that these stores get, and also their low priority on the news. News which is written and editted to reflect its audience, written to ‘entertain’ and keep people coming back to watch more- these stories barely register.

It is not as if Young people are the victims of compassion fatigue. It is more accurate to say that as a people group in society, they have barely registered to receive compassion in the first place. The only exception is children, and children in need. If it was known as ‘Millenials in need’ its raise about half a years subscription to the Guardian. Its as if children can evoke sympathy, young people. a different story. but even with children in need, it is only the most vulnerable rightly receive this kind of attention. 

Stories that young people struggle with mental health dont surprise youthworkers. Stories that young people were abused and ignored in Rotherham didnt surprise youthworkers. Stories that young people struggle to find work, and rebel against interventionist programmes dont surprise youthworkers. Stories that young people feel lost and afraid in the world – when they might have vibrancy, dreams and positivity – do not surprise youthworkers. Yet most of the time even youthworkers have been ignored, (especially in Rotherham), their voice silenced through cut backs, and so even those who might promote and fight for young people have had their wings clipped.

If the UK had any compassion for its children and young people – none of this would happen. They have never had compassion – so theres no chance of the UK suffering compassion fatigue on behalf of young people.

Could the church act differently towards young people in its local community? possibly- what would compassion look like…

Could adults in communities do the same- of course.

What might society look like to help everyone – including young people flourish?

If we dont ask these questions now, i wonder what our grandchildren, their children will have to deal with.


Have Millenials Killed Youth Ministry?

In the good old days. Sunday schools were brimmed to capacity. The pews were full to over flowing.

The church had power. It had influence.

The church created youth ministry. And it became full of Baby Boomers!

They made it great

They had conferences






And kept them all going.

But in the early 1980s. Young people were found to still be leaving the church.  Millenials were born and leaving the church.

The Baby boomers called meetings. Created strategies. Wrote resources. Ramped up the conferences, festivals and music. MADE EVERYTHING BIGGER.

Everything youth ministry has become bigger and better than everything else before it.

But young people are still leaving the church. Millenials. are. leaving. Church works with 5% of young people.

There is only one conclusion.

Millenials have killed the church and youth ministry. 


This is by far the best reaction. Blame the millenials. Everything else was fine before.

And whilst we’re at it blame the generation X parents of millenials.

Blame the Millenials- because its not like things didnt work before

Blame the Millenials – because theyve quite literally killed everything else: http://mashable.com/2017/07/31/things-millennials-have-killed/#su_HsDXuTZqJ

Blame the Millenials – then its an individuals fault – not our system

Blame the Millenials – if they cant adjust to what how things are done round here, then we’re better off without them in the church

Blame the Millenials – Weve tried to do a youth club but ‘they’ smashed in the windows, or didnt turn up. 

Blame the Millenials – theyve killed youth ministry, by not attending our great festivals anymore, or the ‘youth events’ . 

Blame the Millenials – theyre using technology more and reading the bible less 

Blame the Millenials – and whilst we’re at it, post-modernism, inclusivity, relativity and tolerance. All the things millenials might be in sympathy of. 

I guess once the use of ‘generalisms’ for generationalisms, like ‘millenials’ can be so readily used in youth ministry and the church (often fuelled by their over use in the Guardian) then as easy is it that ‘they’ can be blamed, or have some responsibility when ‘our’ practices of mission, church and faith dont work like we thought they ought to.

If we’re serious about reflective practice in youth ministry (see previous post), then might we reflect on whether generalisations are helpful, and instead as we live and do mission in specific contexts it is there where research begins. Otherwise we might just end up blaming a whole generation for the disappearance of practices that developed into cultures within churches by the baby boomers, and we wouldnt want to blame them for that now would we.


Reaching young people with the method of the Gospel (beyond Generation Z)

I have read, and re-read YFC’s latest research based on the responses of 1001 young people in Scotland, England and Wales (no one from NI) that brings to the attention of those involved in youth ministry a number of insights into the behaviours, actions and beliefs that these 1001 young people have. As I have written previously, we’re in a hot bed of release of youth ministry research at the moment, Youthscape, CofE, SU and a number of other large organisations have produced research into young people, faith, life and church in the last 2 years. There is an element of saturation point. There is also an element where, having read most of the other research, including Soul Searching by Christian Smith (2005) on the faith of USA teenagers, and a few other historical pieces, then not much of what is in the Generation Z report is particularly surprising or new, especially if you’re a youth worker who is in a school, a community setting and sees most of what this report says on a day to day basis.

What the writers of this research ask is whether this research starts a conversation about the future of youth ministry and new paradigm shifts, and what Neil suggests on the back is that the report might be for the internal audience of YFC more-so than those outside in other youth ministry contexts arguing that :

our commitment (YFC) to taking the good news relevantly means we are prepared to make major changes to our methods (Neil O Boyle)

This is not a dig at Neil, at all, these are worthy questions from the point of view of trying to change the culture and practices of a 70 year old evangelistic youth ministry organisation. He is also keen to know what others think, and whether others experiences match the report. So here’s a first piece on it…

Over the past 24 hours I have reflected on the report, and shared it with a few others, and whilst there are significant questions that arise from its content, the main questions i have are with it as a process and tool and thinking theologically about youth ministry and the gospel that YFC seeks to be witnesses of.

In one way, I thought about the information that Jesus would have had for his Ministry, where it came from, how he decided which disciples to resource, which towns and cities, places and lakes were important, and who might be good resources for him. I have come to the understanding that what Jesus discovered in the locality he was in for about 30 years was enough. He knew about workplaces, roads, farms, fields, temples, ceremonies, rituals, family, commerce, trade, and importantly who fitted the roles that he was looking for.

What he knew of the Roman empire and culture was from the point of experience. What he knew of people was from the point of experience.

The phrase that comes to mind, or shall i say verse is John 3 16-17. We know the first bit. The second speaks of Jesus method; ‘for i have not come to judge the world but to save it’ – and we already know that God loves the world (John 3;16)

The method of the Gospel was local, at the point of human contact and in a specific place and time. If that was all Jesus needed then its using the same lenses and discernment in our local areas that is also required.

What this research, and all the other research before it into youth culture (such as Rick Bartletts in 1998 on Gen Y) and also the similar claims of what Gen x, Baby boomers and Millenials that often get banded about, are times when Missiology, and the Christian church has adopted sociological thinking for the purposes of mass market appeal and universal, simplified marketing and resourcing. In a way it is amusing that one of the differences between ‘youthwork’ and ‘youth ministry’ is that youth work has meeting the needs of local young people in their space/context as a priority, and doesnt adopts generalisations or generations, it doesnt need to, and i would suggest that because Jesus didnt do this either ( except to be critical to the generations of sinners/hypocrites), then maybe this is the shift that needs to be made in youth ministry. But its too late.

Its not that there might only be so much usefulness in surveys of 1001 young people and disseminating youth culture from this, it is whether trying to determine a universal youth culture or a generalisation of a generation is useful at all. At worst it makes easy judgements (not what Jesus would do) , make a youth worker be relevant ( hey guys ive heard that you all like being on the internet, to a group all playing tennis at the time) or at worst to think that the young people are in any way deficient to what theyre supposed to be. But what the research also does is reduce the desire to learn long term in a space, as armed with a bucket load of research, the fresh faced youth minister (often a gap year student) can turn up and not bother listening and learning.

I have not come to judge the world – but to love it  John 3:17

In 1964 Rev Hamilton said this: “what we need to know about the strategy of action must be learned at the point of personal involvement‘  This was on the back of a 4 year study and research into a detached youthwork project in London. A 4 year study written up by Goetchius and Tash.  His conclusion and appendix, a sermon to the world christian youth commission in 1964, was that to engage with young people, for whom 50% werent attending youth clubs and were ‘on the estates’ causing havoc, the point of engagement was the point of research.

Fast forward not that long and the desire for different methods took hold, when Youth ministry practices starting taking root in the UK. Cultural studies became important, Christian youth culture was the alternative to mainstream youth culture, and young people who were on the estates were part of neither, shaping their own, but all the while being the ‘underclass’. Culture and generation studies continued.

Yet The method of the gospel – was to love the world, and meet it head on at the point of contact.

Even writers of Youth Ministry in the 1990s were starting to realise this:

‘To be heard, The word must come into the world of young people, presence preceds preaching and listening precedes speaking’ (Dean Borgman 1999, p19)

none of listening and presence happens by looking at research. 

We are called to waste time with young people – to be in the boundaries (Pete Ward, 1997, p25-29)

In a way, then, the Generation Z research might not cause a Paradigm shift in the culture of youth ministry, because it is in existence in itself. What it is, determines culture and a way of doing ministry within the dying embers of organised evangelical youth ministry. It makes perceptions of only a few young people – where actually not one young person is average. As Liebau and Chisolm (1993) have suggested, universal concepts such as youth should be questioned, as ‘european youth’ or ‘british youth’ or even ‘northern youth’ or ‘generation z youth’ actually do not exist. Young people in specific contexts frame their story and lives around much more local activities, behaviours, and circumstances, as well as how they interpret these cultures, structures. So what young people ‘do’ might have less bearing on how they ‘construct’ their ongoing circumstances.  This leads to questions about the socio- demographics of the Gen z study , the mental health issues that the young people had experience of, the negative experiences in life, the perceptions that they have of family, school, friends, religion and social media – beyond that some of these things were unhelpful at times. All of these constructions are more locally realised. It is in the space of helping young people make those constructions that we need to be. in the boundaries.

The method of the Gospel is not to judge the world, it is to be involved in it, and learn from within it, and be part of helping young people construct their worldview, helping them reflect, and develop meaning about faith that resonates with them. I am 1/2 way through a piece on myth making and how this is important in developing faith, though my previous articles refer to how we might help young people find meaning in the space of church – this is also a theme picked up by Nick Shepherd in ‘Faith Generation’ (2016). 

If making an understanding of young people in our local contexts is done via extrapolations from samples and assessments of culture, then we have missed the point and method and process of the gospel. Telling good news happens after being present, learning, listening and creating safe space, rapport, and relationship.

We might need to meet the 32% of young people who meet their friends on the street where they’re at. on the streets. Back to detached work again… i wonder… maybe Goestchius and Tash in 1967 and their christian mission work with YWCA were on to something…. 😉

Getting in the midst of young people in the boundaries, might end us up where Pete Ward reflects we might be in a place where ‘we bleed for others, not for art’ It is costly sacrificial and long term, emotional and in the midst. The gospel is in the costly presence.


Working with Unattached Youth, 1967, Goetschius & Tash

Youthwork and the Mission of God, 1997, Pete Ward

Rethinking Youth, 1999, Wyn & White

When Kumbaya is not enough, 1997, Dean Borgman

Faith Generation, 2016, Nick Shepherd

A copy of the report can be accessed, (or bought!) here: https://yfc.uk/gen-z-rethinking-culture-report-released/