In a digital culture, is youthwork stuck in the dark ages?

The days are gone where youd just pull up a pool table and have this kind of open space where there was chaos’

This was a reflection to me, from a community member, recently when talking about young people in a community in the north east. In a way, i could see the persons point, in a ‘digital age’ what point would table tennis be in an age of facebook, snapchat and other entertainment?. In another way, it also kind of revealed that to many people and this person included youthwork was the youth centre. Youthwork is the mobile youth centre that goes into the community. Youthwork is the facility. And though that missed the point, youthwork being the approach that uses the table tennis, or space for conversation. The persons reflection raised the question;

Has youthwork got to leave the dark ages, to have a future in a digital age?

In their recent statements of intent, the campaign group In defence of Youthwork made public their 16 point proposal for the future of youth work in the UK, a link to their post is here: It is about re-imagining the new future for youthwork, and states the following:

  1. Youth Work’s fundamental aspiration is profoundly educational, political and universal. It seeks to nurture the questioning, compassionate young citizen committed to the development of a socially just and democratic society. It is not a soft-policing instrument of social control.
  2. YouthWork as an integral element in education from cradle to grave should be situated in the Department for Education.
  3. The rejuvenation of a distinctive, state-supported Youth Work focused on inclusive, open access provision needs to be based on a radically different and complementary relationship between the Local Authority and a pluralist, independent voluntary sector.
  4. The renewed practice needs to be sustained by statutory and consistent funding, the purpose and allocation of which ought to be determined locally via accountable mechanisms, such as a democratic Youth Work ‘council’ made up of young people, youth workers, voluntary sector representatives, managers and politicians.
  5. Collaborative work across agencies is vital, but youth workers need to retain their identity and autonomy rather than be absorbed into multi-disciplinary teams.
  6. Youth Work should be associational and conversational, opposed to oppression and exploitation, collective rather than just individual in its intent, unfolding at a pace in tune with the forging of authentic and trusting relationships with young people.
  7. Cornerstones of practice should include the primacy of the voluntary relationship; a critical dialogue starting from young people’s agendas; support for young people’s autonomous activity, for example, work with young women, Black and Minority Ethnic and LGBTQ+ young people; an engagement with the ‘here and now’; the nurturing of young people-led democracy; and the significance of the skilled, improvisatory worker.
  8. The informed focus on young people’s needs flowing from open access provision is more effective than imposed, targeted work in reaching ‘vulnerable’ youth.
  9. Youth Work does not write a script of prescribed outcomes in advance of meeting a young person. It trusts in a person-centred, process-led practice that is positive and unique, producing outcomes that are sometimes simple, sometimes complex, often unexpected and often longitudinal. Practice must be evaluated and accountable, but not distorted by the drive for data, the desire to measure the intangible.
  10. Training and continuous professional development, particularly through the discipline of supervision, via the HE institutions and local providers is essential for full-time, part-time and volunteer workers in ensuring the quality of practice.
  11. JNC and other nationally agreed pay scales and conditions need to be defended and extended. However, a respectful engagement with the differing cultures and employment practices of voluntary and faith organisations, with the contradictions of professionalisation, is required. The emergence of independent social enterprise initiatives cannot be ignored.
  12. Closer links need to be renewed and created between the Youth Work training agencies, regional Youth Work units and research centres.
  13. Youth Work needs advocates at a national level, such as the NYA and Institute for Youth Work, but these must be prepared to be voices of criticism and dissent.
  14. Irrespective of Brexit, Youth Work ought to embrace the Declaration of the 2nd European Youth Work Convention [2015] and be internationalist in outlook.
  15. The National Citizen Service ought to be closed or curtailed, its funding transferred into all-year round provision, of which summer activities will be a part.
  16. The renaissance we urge hinges on a break from the competitive market and the self-centred individualism of neoliberalism and the [re]creation of a Youth Work dedicated to cooperation and the common good.

In case you hadnt noticed, there is nothing here about the ‘good old days’ of the open youth club, the table tennis table or the tuck shop with over priced mars bars. There is a sense that re-imagining is what needs to happen. In my previous post here, I reflected on how other service providers are now using the language of youthwork, without the relationship or philosophy of it, in their work with young people, such as teachers and police, and many voluntary groups and churches have been part of the ‘youthwork’ scene for a while, and at least they have had some training in its philosophy. However, critically, whilst the approach and philosophy of it remains crucial, there is a sense that as youthworkers the methods of how it is done may have to be re-imgained out of the dark ages.

But that doesnt meant that we avoid the dark spaces, the places in between, where no other organisation fears to tread, and i dont mean the streets, or the night time, necessarily- as it may even be that there are fewer young people out on the streets that there used to be. (i think in pockets this is changing, as young people are rejecting indoor technology). And so, the time, the place, the space and the method might indeed cause others to worry, but that may be where we have to go.

That place might be the afterschool time, the before school time, the lunch break or other time, it neednt just be the late evening.

Bubbling around for really only the last 10 years is the digital connections youthworkers make with young people. And the ethics of these are not to be repeated here, but in some way we might want to find a way of developing connections with young people that are consistent with the philosphy of youthwork practice, somehow, that isnt deemed unsuitable, grooming or something else. Could there be a ‘digital youth club’ a space for young people just to be in with a range of other young people? How might that work or be realised? How might it retain the safety and informality of the public space and the full humanity of that space too? Just a thought an idea. If that space doesnt exist in the normal apps and programmes, then maybe its in need of being created. But what else might be needed, if youth work is required to ‘leave the dark ages’?

What if it doesnt? What if the future of youthwork is not that different from the strengths of its essence, the purpose of its intentions and its dream for a better world for young people to be participants within. That doesnt seem dark to me, its hopeful and promising. The only thing, in reality that needs to leave the dark ages is the prejudice that people have of young people and the youth workers themselves who represent and stand up for them. Youth work is naturally futuristic, we need to think that change can occur and keep dreaming the possible. Yes, the methods may have to keep adapting, the practices creating space in the new times for the magic of it to occur, and the environment to be realised that causes it. But leave the dark ages?

The problem is less that youthwork needs to leave the dark ages, is that what the open club did was create the space for participation that this persons was asking for. In the dark ages is a perception of what youthwork is all about, the non-descript open youth centre that was a haven for poor behaviour. It is that perception that needs to be resigned to the dark ages, what this person and what youthwork is all about it is nothing other than bringing a perception about young people right up to the future, the cooperation, creative and participative potential that young people, and a political endeavour that this is. It is continues to be futuristic and youthful to continue to believe in the ideas and possibility lying dormant in every young person. In the dark ages is the seen and not heard, the voiceless or the consumer young person, and resigned there, to rot. In the digital space, much that positively young people do is create narratives, create community and contribute, thats what we all probably want, significance. Young people are finding it online, like many of us are, and this same significance might be what youthwork is about.

Does youthwork have a future in a digital age?  It might need to harness what young people find and do online, but ultimately its not what it believes in needs to be resigned to the past, as young people in the future need youthworkers more than ever (its just being ‘covered’ by other organisations, see linked post above) – what needs to be resigned to the dark ages is the attitudes about young people, and also the perception of the old battered youth club. That old battered youth club fostered the kind of conversations that forged youthwork relationships. And those relationships hosted and fostered the potential of young people. And that is timeless.


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: 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 here


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

Have churches embraced youthfulness – but given up on young people?

This is one of the key premises of Andrew Roots book, Faith Formation in a secular age in which he suggests that one of the key reasons that churches, from an american protestant perspective (and he makes this point clear), are obsessed with involving young people is that a youthful church, is also, in an age of authenticity, an authentic church. Root makes a coherent argument, on the basis of his own reading of Charles Taylor, that as youthfuless, (staying youthful) is deemed as authenticity, then for a church to be deemed authentic it must embrace the trappings of youth. Relevancy is youthfulness, youthfulness is authenticity.

As a result in an ‘age of authenticity’ an authentic church is one that embraces and includes the trappings of youth.

The question that I hear often, and Root builds up in his introduction is ‘How might young people become part of church?’ Especially if theres continued considerable research distributed about the whos left and the who’s not in church. In thinking about the question, there is another question to be asked, like ”why young people?’

A few years ago I was asked by a church to do some research into young people and their activities in a local area, what they wanted, what they did and other community activities. The church were focussed on the young people. What the church was wanting to do was work with young people, as there were none in the church – but there were also no 30 yr olds, 40 yr olds or 50 yr olds either – and this group of people made up more of the population in the parish. yet the focus was on ‘young people’ .

It goes back to the why – why is the church obsessed about children and young people? and why not the 30-50 age group (parents of children/young people) and may be more pertinently – has the church in the UK given up on its obsession with young people anyway?

However, the church has embraced trying to be youthful.

This is evident by changing its very public face, programmes and styles to embrace the latest thing – so websites, twitter feeds, guitars, lights, coffee in services, ‘cafe church’ – all of these are positive in one way – but also symptomatic of the wider culture of trying to be authentically youthful. And what then tends to happen is that people are disappointed that ‘youthful’ doesnt work. Its often because it lacks actual authenticity. Root is right, youthfulness drives authenticity, but there is a clamour for real authenticity too, and young people can smell a rat, or people trying too hard, or that they are the target or pawn of a church’s strategy.

At the same time churches have taken up youthfulness – but given up on young people.

I would like to say that there are still some positive signs that this is not the case.

But it is very difficult looking out from the north east of england to make a case otherwise. There have been far too many redundancies, ends of contracts, and ended ‘ministries’ in the last 10 years not to think this. Now it could be that a particular way of working with young people has reached an end point in the north east, and it was a way of working that involved large gatherings, ‘christian rock’ concerts/events, festivals and youth worship services, the scene of worship gatherings in an evangelical sense may be at the low point of a cycle, yet it was deemed the dawning of many a changing generation at the time. There may be other ways of exploring worship with young people in local contexts, but the big gathering time could have had its day…

The down side is that this created an element of enthusiasm for developing working with young people in areas, and taking them to a ‘thing’ could be a huge event or marker point. And large numbers, gatherings and events imply success. What these events, styles and formats did was to imply to those who participated in them that this was the ‘way to go’ – and similar forms of embedded youthfulness continue, and can be seen in the rock concert warehouse churches. And, as Pete Ward talks about in ‘Selling Worship’ songs and the ministry and industry of them have shaped the church, shaped it, Root might argue around maintaining youthfulness.

And that’s before a discussion about the cutting of strategic youth posts across nearly all affiliations and shrinking of denomination posts. Youthfulness has value. Valuing the practices of working with young people….. a different story.

Youthfulness is rife in the church, at the same time, there are few young people. Maybe that is a good thing, as they might be scared by the youthfulness on offer. But ‘be youthful’ attract young people has been the mantra. Be youthful – attract young people- create authentic church might have also been the intention. Though I imagine that in the UK the drive to attract young people has less to do with authenticity, and more to do with survival.

If the church is to be obsessed about young people again, and not just youthfulness, then there might be some re-thinking needed about how a church might re-connect and review on what it does and is for and with young people in every local setting in the UK. As, even in areas of high youthworker population (not the north) – may churches still do not have young people, children, or the under 45’s. So there is much to be thought through and reflected on. If the church became obsessed by young poeple (and their families) again – what might this look like? What might it look like in your parish, your church, your community?

What if everything that a local church did, every decision it made was for the good, or with families and young people in mind? What would change? In what way would a church be both practically for, with and loving young people and families – and prophetic viewing young people/families within a wider context, as ‘victims’ of society, or as important within the faith community (despite what others may say). Most of the time, churches connect with many children and families – but are not able to build on the opportunities – so toddler groups, confirmation classes, school assemblies, and other activities. Building from those already being sent might be a first step. Trying to attract through youthfulness… hmm..

Making the church and faith authentic in an age of authenticity? Well that’s not about trying to be youthful – its about being faithful to being practical and prophetic in the world. Do this, and young people might find distinction and hope in a church, a challenge that causes them to dismay at the authenticity of every lie about them in technological media, and, like i said in my previous post, give them real quality time.


Root, Andrew, Faith Formation in a Secular Age, 2017

Ward, Pete, Selling worship, 2005

This is my third post arising from Andrew Roots book, the second ‘Where does God act in Youth Ministry is here:

The first is here : Does it matter what Age we are living in for youth ministry anyway? 

I am sure there might be more, I reviewed two of Roots previous books in my ‘Best of Youthwork reads for 2017’ post.

If discipleship is about participation, then why is this an issue in churches?

To show just how much this church values young people – we’ve appointed a youthworker!’

‘to all young people of _____ area, the adults from ______ church/ministry are putting on an evening entertainment in a building you’ve never been before and involving people you’ve never heard of but we know them, and please if you can bring a friend too’

we had a successful evening when 3 young people turned up

‘We closed a ministry because there was only 14 young people’

It was great to have 100 youthworkers together at a conference to discuss young peoples issues’

This week I was in Cumbria talking with a group of youthworkers based in churches on the subject of participation, following on from my post last week on participation on this site; participation (part 1)

Image result for hart's ladder of youth participation

We looked in the session about what participation is, and also in what areas in youth ministry that were easier to encourage participation. Examples given included giving young people opportunities to shape and design the room, and the activities, others included the development of leaders. There were many examples of trying to encourage young people to be more than consumers of youth activities, one way around this was to change the starting point, especially if young people consuming youth activities felt like the default starting point. It was about creating participatory cultures.

But the question from one of the delegates was ‘why doesnt the church believe in participation?’ And defaults to consumer/attendance/telling mode?

And this was the question, that i could ony give a short response to at the time, that I have been pondering ever since. Why does it seem to be a paradigm shift for the church to consider participation as default within its practice, why is non-participation the default mode?

Obviously as the diagram above shows there are significant levels of participation. The question might as also be how might churches embody participation in everyone, and so this is the culture that young people discover, or young people grow up in. Yet, at times the church is about a form of participation, from rotas to meetings, volunteering to contributing, participation does occur in the church, to a point. In general however, none of these things are accounted for or valued when church growth is discussed (positively or negatively), it is all about attendance, rather than participation – unless a few people become trained or ordained. But though it believes in participation, it is not often that participation is part of how it values itself. But i wonder why this is and whether gradually, there are even less spaces in which young people can participate.

Power is undoubtedly one reason, and linked to this is control. Churches can become big beasts that require high levels of organisation, especially as the expectations of them in view of affiliations or the charity commission can weigh heavy. But this is only one aspect of it. Foucaults view of power is that it is not in the organisation, but in the spaces between, it is ‘everywhere’ and there is no finite amount. The organisation of churches and youth ministry can create spaces where power is at play, especially expert power, and legitimate power – where the youth minister or ministry can hold the keys of expertise, or be in a role from which power is deferred from. Looking back, it is difficult to ascertain where youth ministry in the UK has ever been anything other than an adult orientated movement. It was philanthropic adults who began sunday schools, the evangelists in the 60’s with a ‘reaching’ young people agenda, and the development of clubs and groups that have been adult, rather than young people run, including the many ministries, festivals and programmes. The default may have been set, and it keeps people in places of power and control where they can feel comfortable and create an identity of ‘being a leader’ in a church. In a situation where young people have limited participation, they become little more than consumers. Given a token role in the odd service. Essentially whilst churches believe in power and control over participation young peoples experiences within will only be consumerist, and that leads to boredom.

Im pretty sure, so far, this isnt rocket science, or new.

Fundamentally i think the problem is deeper that this. I think theologically there is a stream of thought that shapes an understanding of other people in the church that means that theyre not fully trusted.

As Christians we read stories of disciples who God used but had failings (though we dont often refer to Mary, Deborah or Esther in these lists, whose ‘failings’ dont appear in the Biblical narrative) – and we often sing about ‘trusting in God alone’ , and comparing ourselves as failing Humans to the unfailingness of God. We also hear that no one can serve two masters, usually referring to God and Money/wealth. I wonder tentatively, whether a combination of these thoughts, implied through preaching, singing and the biblical narrative mean that within churches, though we rely on people to do things, it becomes a risk, beyond the call of the culture within the church to fundamentally trust someone. Especially a young person. Its only a thought, but what might be the effect on the kind of participation possible in a church in which the sinfulness of persons is readily preached? Why might a church not believe in participation, because it doesnt trust people enough or create the right environment where participation is a possibility. Valuing the humanity, and encouraging the contribution of others according to gift, can be low down on the radar, especially if at the same time persons feel reduced by an overload of sinfulness. The opposite however, is true, as I wrote in part 1, is that God believes in our participation.

Thinking through further. The role of the church can often revolve around being the moral guardian, or the rescuer of persons. The pressure is on to ‘tell’ young people, to ‘protect’ young people, to ‘guide them’ , at the same time, the church might view its role as the saviour of young people, a place where they are found from being lost, a place of community when before they were alone, light instead of dark. These roles carry with them the same sense of power as above, and also the limited trust of persons, because they are regarded as in need of rescue, and also in need of guidance. That young people, especially, are participants in this seems alien. The churches role, it may have changed in the last few years, but has largely retained the language of serving the poor, or engaging with young people, or reaching them, and this has been accompanied by non biblical views of young people that emphasise the negative traits of them (lazy, ferel, in transition, etc) – rather than the participative roles that the Bible gives young people within the narrative, that call forth the kingdom, Mary, for one. David the young King, defeater of the philistines. Our cultural shift has delayed the ages of trust and responsibility, to the point where young people are delayed in growing up. The church may be complicit in the same process of delaying the age of young peoples responsibility and participation, to a point which is too late, a point beyond when young people feel invested and contributers within it.

When it comes to participation, the church might not believe in it for a number of reasons. What is needed to happen is that the language of consumer, attender and measuring the effectiveness of ministries by numbers is challenged. Discipleship is a participative activity, and so, it is not that 5 people put on an event that 50 people attend that is as important as 50 people being valued as creators, shapers and discipled through the process of the activity. Might we measure and create spaces of participation with young people, starting on hearing their views, voice and trusting them to create their own spaces, starting at rung 5 of the ladder already. And hoping that they get bored of the consumer approach when they are receivers of it, because they desire more involvement. Not to be told but to discover. It might be risky to trust young people, trust they might know actual useful information, trust that we might learn from them, and create cultures of participation in churches, in groups and ministries. God calls us to participate in his mission, might God be asking young people to be participants too?

not only is it risky, it is also the more difficult thing. The slower thing, but that because it involves processes of learning, processes of collaboration, listening and creating community frameworks. Collaboration and processes are slow and difficult, maybe even chaotic. But again, didnt Jesus give the opportunity for chaotic discipleship, Peter wasnt controlled, but given freedom to ask back, to criticise even as a disciple. Discipleship isnt about control, its about pledging a relationship that gives space for ongoing conversation, participation of tasks and learning.

As church we face the wrath if we cause a little one to stumble, and this might happen if we create cultures of power and control, of morality and rescue, that are log jams in the ongoing participation of the kingdom that young people can be part of. In the ongoing mission of Gods redemption in the whole world. For that to happen a shift is needed that churches believe in participation.

One day a church might value young people so that it provides the possibility that they can be deacons. One day a youth ministry conference will be held that young people are part of, not just talked about. One day, young people in churches will write the articles.

‘What role do young people play in your church/youth group?’

Often we hear that ‘young people are to play a role in the church’ – or the more than often suggested recommendation that ‘young people are the future of the church’ . But have we ever stopped to think about what kind of role young people currently play – and more to the point – what role they should play? It a simple question – but worth thinking through:

What role do young people play in your church?

Some might want them to have an active role, a quiet role, a passive role, even if one day it is a ‘future’ role. For the time being because its the present and not the future, it neednt in that case be an important role.

Two of the key values that underpin good youthwork practice are Empowerment and Participation, they help to distinguish youthwork practice from people just working with young people in other areas such as the police and schools. Empowerment is to create environments where young people can aspire, can better themselves individually and collectively and assume more power in a situation. The question to hand is whether young people in our churches an youth groups would be considered as participants?

Participation might be risky, it involves trusting young people. It involves empowering them. It involves creating spaces where young people can be involved in processes.

The easiest thing is to maintain a controlling or entertaining relationship with a group of young people. Programme, content, style, venue, time, activities all decided by adults dictated by the term ‘leader’ and young people largely passive in the experience of decision making. As Nick Shepherd suggests in Faith Generation (2016), in this scenario, the first decision a young person might make, is to leave. Like any customer, they have found a better place to be entertained, or sadly a better place to feel at home, valued and had their voice heard. In the meantime in the entertainer/consumer relationship the leaders get burn out trying to make activities bigger, better, larger, longer, funner, an ever increasing cycle which finds resonance in a materialism culture. And the young people play the role of consumer.

Alternatively young people might be viewed as users or clients of our service. Then our role is more to counsel or provide therapy with them. If im honest, thinking of young people in churches and youth groups the term ‘user’ or ‘client’ is barely used, but in other youthwork contexts it might be, and i know I have fallen back on using the term client or user from time to time, and especially in making funding bids. Although language helps, it is more important even if we dont know the language to make steps towards thinking of young people as not users, client, consumers (of our entertainment) or customers.

I guess the problem is that we create customers of our young people, because it would mean that they were treated better than some adults in churches to have more involvement. There has been plenty of resources abound that talk about getting congregations from audience to participants. Often a congregation is an audience in the party that the ministry and worship team are having. In a kind of culture where very few people are participants in churches and there is limited congregation input into style, preaching content, etc etc (the only choice is to leave and find somewhere less unpalatable at times), and i only say this because there is a danger of consumers of entertainment being the modus operandi in churches. Anyway, if this is the culture, then what hope of young people becoming more than consumers in them or in the youth groups which exist within them.

One of the issues that Naomi Thompson discovered was that although there was a shift in the theory of education practices to more child centred focus in the 1960s, when this was attempted to be brought into the church in the practices of Sunday Schools it was met with opposition, leaders were too ingrained in their roles, and shifting a balance of power was too much. The roles couldn’t be shifted. Education of young people maintained in one form, Sunday schools created in church culture within that framework of didactic teaching all started dying off one by one. (See Naomi Thompson; Young People and the church since 1900, a review is on this site if you search) .

Anyway, this shows how the role of children and young people in the church has been relatively constant. And what happens when young people get fed of being ‘in that role’ they leave. They left Sunday school from the age of 8-9 (when Sunday schools were popular nationally but locally struggling), they leave churches now after about 2 years, and when they’re only in the role of consumer and get bored of what is on offer, then again, they leave. 2 years isn’t a researched number by the way, its just what youthworkers around have said, that when young people have choice to attend a programme or leave, then without being involved as anything other than a consumer, then 2 years is about the average time that 52 weeks of sports will keep them. If young people are itching towards boredom, then involvement not bigger games might be a better response. Its their role that might need to shift.

Young people generally are not stupid. For self protection they will when given the choice avoid situations of fear, panic, pain and trauma, similarly, as Jocelyn Bryan writes in Human Being, they will gravitate towards spaces in which they are given self worth, challenge, meaning, value and attention. Now, I’m not saying that youth groups are places of trauma (but they could be), but neither, if young people aren’t regarded as being participants, might they be places of worth, value, meaningful challenge or attention? If adults attend churches despite these, it could be more to do with identity and duty, things that young people might not have- and even if they have we shouldn’t rely on it for attendance.

So, going back to the question – what role do young people play in the church – or the youth group? How might their involvement be flagged up on this scale?

Image result for hart's ladder of youth participation

What are your thoughts on this? How does your church or youth group measure up in regard to youth participation?

Where would you pin your youth group onto Harts participation ladder- and is there a gradual move upwards?

And, if you placed them on rungs 1-3 then Hart defines this as ‘non-participation’…

The question that we also need to ask, is that it might as easily be that the nature of the role that a young person has in their local church, might also be the very nature of their faith too. As i grew up in the church, i was told that ‘faith was a free gift’ and that I didnt need to do anything, and whilst this may be 1/2 true, it also relieves me of any expectation to do anything. Instead if young people participate in faith as free agents who accept and continue to act as participants of an ongoing redemptive drama, then there is expectation not just to bathe in a free gift, but also to be wholly participatory in it. (For more on this see my other posts on Theodrama) If we want young people to have a considerably more active faith, then it might be that participation needs to be at the heart and essence of the faith community. I say might, its just a thought, and one to ponder on…

Now, it might be easy to cause young people to have some participation in things like ‘activities’ or ‘food’ or ‘games’ – but how risky might it be to give young people participation and decision making when it comes to talks, programmes, styles, worship, or other aspects of the youth group. How risky would a fully participative ‘youth’ congregation look like? if its not working towards participation, then its ‘youth’ in only name. Yes its risky, yes it requires more effort. But it might be worth it, and the process of trusting young people might be surprising. If young people really are only going to be the church of tomorrow, then we have a duty to help them practice and rehearse a real form of participating in church today.

Its risky, it involves losing power, and being leaders that take on a different role. It might involve causing the youth group to be counter cultural to the whole church. It might involve a paradigm shift.

So: What role do young people play in churches and youth groups?

if they are going to be ‘more than conquerors’ they need to be more than consumers.

People should have not just the typical right to participate, they should also be educated in every aspect (of leadership & politics) in order to be able to participate (Castoriadis, 1996, The problem with democracy today)

It might also be worth thinking about the role do young people and those who represent them have in affiliations, dioceses and organisation planning? Does the DYO only have a token role…. (ill leave this here as an after thought)


What role do you want young people to have in the church?, is a direct follow on from this piece, as ultimately, it is us as adults who shape and create the spaces for young people, and is part 2 of this series on participation.

Another piece titled: if discipleship is about participation – why is this an issue in churches?  can be found by clicking the link

Please do use the search button or click the menus for further pieces on youth work and ministry with young people. All the work on this site is done for free, but if you would like to make a donation or gift towards the ongoing costs, you can do so here 



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

Shepherd, Nick, Faith Generation, 2016

Bryan, Jocelyn, Being Human, 2016

Brierley, Danny, Joined Up, 2003- (although he gets into knots about open theism, gives some theological understanding around participation and then links this to youthwork practice of it.)

Smith, Christian, Soul Searching, 2004

For more on Learning, see Paulo Freire Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1970, in which banking education models are critiqued and in their place collaborative problem solving approaches are encouraged especially in community group settings.

What advice might 15 year olds give their 5 year old selves?

A month or so ago i was leading a discussion with a small group of young people mostly about their local community, what it had to offer, and how they felt they could make a difference in their local community. But as most of them had grown up there, i wondered what they might say in response the question above:

What advice might you give, if you were just starting primary school this week?’ – ie your 5 year old self? 

I admit, tt was a bit of an out of the blue kind of question. I wondered if they might refer to the local or national worries, or their own concerns about growing up. Take a moment to even think back yourself to when you were 15, what advice might you have given your 5 year old self?

They say being a teenager is difficult because its the first age in which we experience loss for the first time. Ie we grieve the age of being a child. Following on from this we might grieve leaving 20’s or 30’s but weve loved and lost era’s by then. In teenage years we grieve the age of innocence, play, colour and limited responsibility, (for many, not all) – either way at 15, being 5 seems a long time ago.

So- what advice might you give- more to the point – what did this group of 15 year olds say when i asked them? 

This is what they said;

Work hard

Have an opinion

Dont change yourself because of others

Be resilient

Be enthusiastic

Dont stress over little things

Dont be scared to speak out

Dont have to love what everyone else says or does

Dont be afraid to go against the flow

I thought these were very interesting, what about you, what do you think about their response?  what advice might you have given yourself at a similar age?

These 15 year olds sound quite weary. As if life has been tough for them.

In a way, very rarely young people are asked for their advice. So rarely that it can often be a winning question to give young people that kind of opportunity, as they can be barely asked for it. Or if so, it is just as a token. Even today, this week there are many strategy meetings ‘about’ young people in many places across the country from the church, to the local authority that barely have a young person in sight of them. Young people might just be a strategy. But they also might be able to give us the advice we need in order to enable them to flourish in their local community. Because, in reality, if 15 year olds know enough about the world to give themselves this kind of advice – then theres little else we might need to do aside from encourage and nurture that same responsibility.

I wonder whether there is a generation thing – the 15 year olds are growing up as ‘millenials’ or at the lower end of it, I would have been asking the question in 1993, a late blooming generation X, would it have been much different – may be. Do you know what, scrap that. It has nothing to do with generationalisms, it has to do with each young person growing up in their context in their time. Most of the advice they have given would be relevant to any age group. But what these young people identified that that there can be fears in speaking out, in being different, in responding to others opinions. As 15 year old these are important to them. In a way, this is less about what young people said, it is that when given the opportunity, young people can be insightful, wise, show character, leadership and care.  

Might we take a risk in actually asking young people what advice they might give themselves- or what indeed they might give us about the way of the world, their concerns, – the thing is would we listen and act on it – or still think we know whats best….

Youth Ministry’s embarrassingly slow turn to consider core youth work practices

The church is now doing a ‘thing’ on Mental Health, writes Will van der hart, in this article in Christianity today: , saying that since 2006 he and other have been banging on about mental health and young people.

And thats great, that a national event like soul survivor is hosting a seminar on the topic.

And its also as great that a major national evangelistic youth organisation in the UK is currently focussing on ‘diversity’ – no not the winners of britains got talent but actually being serious about diversity. Not inequality, poverty though, just diversity. Not gender, sexuality, trans issues, but diversity, so realistically race. And it is important that it is happening, it is a start.

And its great also that a Grove booklet (which i am yet to get a copy of ) was on the subject of ‘gender aware youth work’ . It is great that this conversation is happening. Image result for gender aware youth work

BUT IT IS 2017!!!  


Back in 2003, Danny Brierely argued in ‘All Joined up’ that Youth Ministry needed Youth work, because it had a focus on young people as people, it had an ethical view of the world that would put young peoples needs first, and also that its values would help keep some integrity into the practice of youth ministry.  Admittedly this was in a book written and youth ministry doesnt always respond to books written about itself, even ones that soul survivor/yfc and oasis/youthwork the conference support – as they did with this one.

Youth Ministry needed youth work to help it focus on young people. (it also said youth work needed youth ministry, but thats another story)

Anti -oppressive practice, inequality, participation, equality of opportunity – all totem poles that flavoured, drove, and maintain youthwork as a distinctive practice. But where was youth ministry then? 

The question is what has youth ministry been doing if its only now beginning to realise that there are complex needs and societal barriers/challenges that young people face?  well most of the time it has been mining that culture for methods and tools for relevancy, for trying to assess what generation we’re supposed to be in and talking to, and its has been serving its own institution, that of the church or it organisation.  Young peoples needs have been second fiddle. Ethical practice has been no where. Equality. hmm.

The long departing field of youth work, has been streets ahead with conversations about equality, gender, mental health, resilience, oppression, inclusion. Even the cover pages on some of these books look dated. And they do because one of them is over 25 years old. Neil Thompsons is on a 4th edition.

Product Details





Being aware of and challenging oppression was part even of the work conducted by detached youthworkers in the 1960’s as they became aware of the competing values at work as they wandered the streets, and in conversations with young people. And back to Mental Health, projects in scotland have been developing responses to this since the early 2000’s and youth work/ministry there has done too, especially in YMCA’s and other community based projects.

Its just kind of embarrassing that the view is that the world of evangelical youth ministry is catching up with things that should be part and parcel of its practice. It says something about its culture, about its intentions and willingness to learn from other disciplines that conversations about such matters are only just on its radar. It also reflects a lack of critical thinking within a field to recognise that significant learning, research and work has been conducted by other similar fields and an ignorance not to have engaged with it as core to its practice thus far. Maybe behind the sofa its found a theological view, that isnt liberation theology, to be able to see these things in a different light in 2017, as if youth ministry has been a theology first, action second profession.

On a positive note; Maybe youth ministry is undergoing a shift to be thinking that working with young people is more than about saving souls. It might even be thinking about young people in their social context, and how this is complex situation, it might even be thinking about issues of equality and diversity, and even gender. And these are not to be sniffed at at all, but it does feel as though at times youth ministry is playing catch up big time, and what this shift is saying about what youth ministry is all about.

maybe also it is realising that there is a gap in which to occupy itself and provide itself with tools to go there, but the youthworkers and pioneers have already been in the gap before and have been shouting about the nature of the world for a while from the margins. Maybe it is opportunist of youth ministry to be given spaces that the youth services once held, and it could be opportune rather than strategic. But i dread to think how a gap year person is supposed to cope if a school asks about helping a young person with complex needs, if theyre there ‘just to tell a group about Jesus’ …

There may well be a shift in youth ministry to think about the complex needs of young poeple – aspects at the core of youth work practice since the 1960’s… It might be an admission that youth ministry has only served the needs of its institutions, not put young people as primary thus far, whilst it might be embarrassingly slow, it is still slightly positive.

And on a real positive note, at least theres plenty of 1p books on amazon if it wanted to critically think about young people and equality. 

‘They’re just kids’ and 11 other reasons for not giving Young People responsibilities in Churches

When religious communities do not invest in their youth, unsurprisingly their youth are less likely to invest in their religious faith (Christian Smith, 2005)

That investment, is not just financial, though it helps. There was no paid youthworker in my church growing up, but If you read my story about how I grew up and stayed in the church (it is here: ) you will have noticed that from the age of 12 I was given responsibilities in the church community, these included teaching young children in the Sunday school, helping with the music on the overhead projector slides, the PA and sound recording onto ‘tape’ – I was given responsibilities.

One of the recommendations from ‘Soul Searching, by Christian Smith (2005) is that he suggests that attention needs to be given to help young people away from a strong inclination to an individualism of their faith, one way I suggest might be is to give them responsibilities within a faith community/church in order that they play a collective part in the practice of the community. However, as Nick Shepherd writes in Faith Generation (2016), young people can be perceived primarily as learners in churches, as opposed to participants, deciders or creators. Now, it might be that these two publications have described a world alien to you in your church, significantly alien if there are no young people, or one where young people are key contributors and participants, and that would be great. But I wonder whether what the key reasons are why young people arent given responsibilities in churches. When, as a comparison, in schools, another learning community, they have many opportunities in committees and group work to have responsibilities.

So, what might be the reasons for not giving young people responsibility in churches?

  1. There arent many jobs to do, and the best people are already doing themThis may be the case, and thinking about it, the technology might have changed, from OHP and Tape to digital, but its fairly difficult to make a case that a young person cant master the current technology. Other jobs, well im sure there’s gaps on coffee rotas, sunday school teaching, collection, welcome team, interviewing the new youthworker, a forum for young people in the church to suggest ideas. Young people might just need to be asked, or alternatively have conversations with adults to discover their gifts and how they might contribute. Having spoken to a few young people recently, they were enjoying having management responsibility in a task at school – how might they ‘manage’ a situation/task in a church at 15?
  2. We’re scared the young person might fall flat on their faces and fail – Im all for not giving young people the kind of responsibility where their ‘failure’ is public, so public speaking for example.Image result for failure success Whatever the task is then manage, guide, show, let them shadow, follow, copy and learn, and so that they arent exposed or alienated to fail, by giving them opportunities to fail and help them through this will actually develop resilience and character, far more than them being fearful and avoiding the task or the adults being fearful of the consequence…. the alternative to this is;
  3. We dont want them to be successful either , then they might get prideful – , like above this is a projected fear that hinders creativity in the young person, if a young person is good at something, then treat it as a gift they have been given, and help them to develop it further, for the glory of God, and also recognise their ability or character in a positive way. If the church is afraid of a person being successful because of a gifting honed in the church then this needs to be reflected on. Image result for success clipartA young person may need that opportunity to show responsibility in your faith community and gain personal confidence through it, its not the ‘end game’ but it might really help them. If there are signs of pride, over confidence then fine, have a conversation and continue to ‘supervise’ guide and coach, but that shouldnt stop it. For both 2 and 3 – a culture of ‘preventing participation’ needs to be challenged.
  4. They shouldnt do jobs here, we have to make church an easy place for them, life is complicated enough for them In a way this is a creditable reason. Some young people may 100’s of things to do in their lives especially after school, and sunday might be their day off. But that may not apply to all the young people, and it might be that even in those groups they dont get the opportunities of responsibility that you as a church can give. Yes they might play for a football team, but only one gets to be captain, you can give them responsibilty, and as per 3 this might give them a type of confidence or enhance a skill that lay dormant.
  5. Why have young people do things, that’s what we pay a youth worker to do. Most youthworkers would, i think, rather help young people participate than have to ‘do it’ themselves. They could do themselves out of a job, but youthworkers have plenty to do Mon-Sat usually.
  6. They’re just kids. Yup thats right. They are just kids. Just precious persons to be kept safe. See my previous post on young people as a separate species, Nick Shepherd highlights this when he says that young people are principally regarded as learners. A similar point is made by Christian Smith when he argues that young people are often treated as an alien species, when in reality as he says they are pretty similar to most adults, though most adults wouldnt dare to admit it. They are more like adults that children given their mental, physical, emotional and conceptual awareness, so this is how to treat them.
  7. Because of needing a DBS they cant help out until theyre 16Nope, because of needing a DBS they dont need to be checked for criminal actions until they are 16, if you’re happy that they dont pose a danger, and they are supervised throughout then they can be given responsibility. It would be Health and Safety gone mad to not let an 11 year old help with the creche – though yes let them be trusted gradually.
  8. We’ve always had adults do that jobAnd as a result adults continue to participate in the church, maybe that baton needs to be passed on!
  9. The Place for the young people is in the youth group – In the same way the place for the adults is just the pews perhaps?
  10. They dont know enough yet to be able to do that! – Teaching takes a number of forms, but thats rocket science, I learned as much about stories I had to teach others in Sunday school as what id remembered myself, it gave me a reason to learn more and ask questions. How much do young people need to ‘know’ before helping on the powerpoint, or music group for example?
  11. Why would young people contribute, their parents don’t?All the more reason to provide different expectations and new formation possibilities for a younger generation. 
  12. We don’t know what they’re good at?  – Maybe the young people dont either and so provide a number of opportunities to let them try and discover, without it having to be the ‘one’ thing, in the process they might discover the thing that they’re good at. Alternatively, work with the young people to discover their gifts as part of the youth groups and find ways of building these skills into the wider faith community, create their shaped hole, and not just for them to fit into something pre-existing.

I am sure these are not the only reasons that young people arent given responsibilities in churches, you could probably add more below in the comments, it may be that the easy life is plumped for, it would take time to help and guide young people, but equally it might not either. It is for those who see young people as gifted individuals who can contribute (and that neednt be a youthworker), but supportive adults and parents, to create opportunities and shape a culture in a church where young people are key contributors and participants.

Not all young people want to take on responsibilities in local churches, sometimes ‘being a leader’ is not what they want to do, and for the love of asking might be worth asking alternative questions to giving young people tasks that seem less responsible (they might fear making mistakes) – or that they have bigger dreams and want to contribute in wider society to do something for them that might have even more meaning, ie to make the world a better place – if this is what a young person wants to do instead than ‘help in sunday school’ then as church in the business of creation restoration we might and should find ways to facilitate this.

Are young people excluded from youth ministry?

Project 328 is to be commended. Over the past 3-4 years they have done some research into gender equality at Christian conferences, to discover that some are better than others at achieving a gender balance amongst the main speakers. What they have highlighted is a bias towards male speakers, conferences organised by males and what might be regular group of the same people spinning around the circuit. Once the issue has been highlighted people are more conscious of it, and things are beginning to change. So, let me ask you the following question:

When was the last conference, conversation or meeting about any aspect of youth ministry that involved young people themselves being an active and contributing part of the conversation?

actually a young person in the room?

Should there be a ‘Project 4:12’  (taken after 1 Timothy 4:12) that researches not only the lack of young people participating in the real life conversations about them (not just research about them presented).

It can also highlight the times in youth ministry when stories are shared that actually put down young people in order to show the greatness of someones ministry, those fly away comments like ‘you know what young people are like, always getting into into trouble and saying stupid things’ – or some other story to belittle young people to get a moment of laughter from the audience.  This seems shocking but it happens, and its uncomfortable, and its wrong.

However, the point is that this kind of thing can continue because young people arent even in the room. Not only that it suggests that its ok for them to be absent and at times poked fun of – to justify a ministry or approach and be held power over. This issue aside – and it should be called out- why are young people usually absent from the conversations about them?  What else might be said about young people in such meetings that wouldnt be said if they were actually there present? It might become evident that young people are more of a project to work on, than people in their own right,  to work with.

but thinking about the conferences every year, i can hear the reasons..:

Of course, young people have no right to be at a conference – or a gathering or a meeting. Thats true, but that right could be given to them.

They wouldnt be able to make it – they’re at school.  So make it accessible.

It is good for the youthworkers to have time away from young people – no- thats what ‘Holiday’ is. Most youthworkers will be claiming this time as ‘work’.

There might be difficult conversations or too theoretical – doesnt mean you dont give them the opportunity.

We want to talk about them when they arent present, or relax and drink alcohol. hmmm

It neednt be a conference or a big gathering. It could be the local strategy group, or planning group. If participation is defined as : Participation is when people who are in receipt of the decisions being made are present to be involved in the decisions themselves. For too long, not unlike the gender imbalance, young people in youth ministry, are absent from contributing to conversations in a meaningful way, both locally and nationally. Its not even that their voice isn’t heard, its that at times it is not even sought for.

Of course, it is easy to write all this and not suggest how things could be changed. And, week long or weekend conferences will ask alot of young people, however it can be done. Make them accessible for the families of the youthworker for one, have evening sessions that young people close to the venue can attend- and technology might present other opportunities, surely its a possibility. Create forums locally, processes of including and participation.

In the way that some conferences have been called out to be ‘all male’ – there are some youth ministry conferences that ban under 18s from attending – could someone please explain that? what kind of work with young people is this approach trying to model in its gathering, when young people are actually banned?

There arent many weekends in a year where there isnt a youth ministry conference of some kind – and if youve read this far some will have come to mind. But how many that are directly about training, educating and gathering people involved in youth ministry actually encourage or permit young people to attend, participate and contribute? What would ‘Project 4:12’ reveal..?

Those that do – is it a token one young person?, or the 20 year old thats wheeled out onto the stage in front of 400 people and crumbles with nerves. In that case, the structure created is inaccessible and is only for one type of contribution.

So – if your conference has ‘youth’ in its title – does it include ‘youth’ in its contribution? what might it say about the value of young people by their absence? or by they way they are able to contribute? What power dynamic does it maintain about the ‘them and us’ of the relationship between youth ministry and the young people it is often saying it is working ‘with’. What does it suggest about how a practice believes in young peoples voice, participation, intelligence, capacity and decision making ability. In effect, if we say that in youth ministry we learn from the young people – why might that not be applied at the decision making meeting or conference – just during a session and in a low profile conversation.

what is worse is when a ministry about young people has inclusion and participation as part of its vision or objectives – and then constructs barriers so that this cant actually happen

Taking a more inclusive and participatory approach with young people might enable the kind of community and church transformation most people in youth ministry might dream of.  Collaborative approaches in youth ministry – now theres a thing? It might lead to more transparent practice, it might lead to more developed young people giving them more opportunities, it might raise glass ceilings, it might challenge current practices.

Maybe thats where youth ministry can reflect on the youth work values of empowerment, participation and inclusion. And yes ive been to many a ‘youth work’ conference where the same criticism could be levied – all about young people but not including them.

Anyone fancy a change in mindset for the next generations of young people…Project 4:12 anyone? 


Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: