What if parents actually read the books Christian youth ministry encouraged young people to read?

I thought I’d imagine a parent writing a letter to the local vicar about the newly published book ‘Under Construction’ (2019) by Neil O Boyle, national director YFC, its a brand new book, and a number of young people might be about to read it.

Dear Reverend/Pastor,

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter, you may not know me, but I am the parent of Harry, who goes to the youth group in your church hall every Friday night. Tell you the truth Harry loves it, and as a parent its great that he gets the chance to meet up with other kids his age, and not the same ones he goes to school with, I think he goes because he fancies one of the girls but dont tell him I told you. Anyway, the church thing is new to us all as a family, I guess we’re ok about it, were not religious at all, but sympathetic to it, it’ll help Harry growing up im sure.

Actually Reverend, there was something more I wanted to thank you for. I dont know whether you realised it, but Harry went with the youth group to a camp in the summer with the other kids in the youth group, he had a great time, there was a band on and he loved the music, said it was nothing like church (hope you dont mind me saying) and there were other adults there who were being cool and friendly, and Harry was impressed. So, thank you for giving him that opportunity. Theres another thing too, whilst Harry was there there was someone who gave him a free book and said it was about developing a deeper relationship with Jesus. Now as you might imagine, Harry spends most of his time on a video games, and even though he showed me at the time, a few weeks ago, I was sure the book would stay on the bookshelf.

To my surprise, and a bit like the Bible one of your volunteers gave him a year or so ago, Harry tells me how much he is enjoying the book, if you want to give your children a copy its called ‘Under construction’ by Neil O Boyle, as a parent I wholly recommend it. The change in Harry since he has been reading the book has been amazing, he used to not have any decent conversation over the dinner table about things, just shove his food down, and be sullen, but not any more, he’s offering opinion on things like abortion, sexual assault, child killing, bullying and asking us over the dinner table about how good our prayer life is, also about watching too many video games, saying that these things are wholly shameful and God wouldn’t want people to do these things.

To my surprise he’s asked me to give his copy of Grand Theft Auto to the charity shop, when I asked why, he told me that if he played it too much he might end up killing a child on a railway line. As a parent I am just so proud that he is making these decisions based upon such diligent thinking and consideration of the facts of such high profile cases in British crime history. If this is what this book has been able to do for Harry, then I am just so pleased.

I must tell you this, The other day Harry and his older sister Matilda were having an argument at the dinner table, Matilda currently has a boyfriend and they’ve been together 2 years, and Harry quite abruptly asked her whether she had had sex with him (the book told him that sex was for having babies) and whether she was going to save having sex for her future spouse, because that’s the most important relationship. Now, Im sure Harry didn’t mean to say it in such a judgemental manner, but Matilda reacted bad to this. As a parent we tried to love both of our children, and so we’re thankful that Harry has helped us out by saying this, yes he may have destroyed any relationship he has with his sister, but as a mum I couldn’t be more proud that he’s learning a new perspective and without any critical thinking using it to help his sister be shameful about her sex life, saves her father trying to say it.

So Reverend, I was intrigued, what was this book all about? Forgive me ( are you the confession ones?) , but I kind of had to know what this genius book was all about, so one day when Harry was at school, I thought I would go and have a read, after all its just a book not a diary isn’t it.

Well what a surprise I got.

You see, not only is it a book, but it has exercises and activities in it, and Harry had filled some of them in. I thought, should I look.. but, a book for teenagers and about christianity what is it going to have in it, draw a picture of Jesus or some kind of bible story quiz, but no Reverend, not at all.

This is why you need to get copies of this book to your children Reverend.

I know I shouldn’t have done it, but there were reams of notes written, as Harry, usually not that diligent in school according to Parents evenings, had completed the activities. I bet you want to know what they were. Ill try and tell you, because what I discovered shocked me at first, but then I realised that all the information would be great to use as bribery against Harry if I needed it, you know as they say, knowledge is power.

I just started with the activities and where Harry had written, at 13 he’s already realised that he needs to make big changes in his life, he’s drawn what the foundations of his life are, he has a series of dots to draw the nature of waves in his life (any ideas what the waves of your life are Reverend?) , and on page 38 described the things that make him panic, now, Harry has always been pretty chilled and nothing phases him, but like a good boy, he managed to write a few things, Donald Trump and Climate change, they are what makes him panic, and on page 62 he’s asked the same thing again, there seemed a lot on this.

On page 102 Harry was asked to write down the principles that guide his life, now I dont know about you Reverend, but I wasn’t surprised Harry left this blank to be honest, though he had a go at it.

Harry made a good job of drawing something that symbolises his exercise (a football, what else) , and then Harry described his prayer life – do you have any idea there Reverend, that my 13 year old has been asked to describe his prayer life, he said it was ‘fine, but not as good as the leaders he met at camp’.

I was so thankful too, that on page 119 and 120, I was able to read about the internal labels of shame, rejection, guilt and other that Harry says have carried around with him, all his life. I thought I knew everything about my boy, but when I discovered how he’s felt guilty for the death of our family pet dog, and rejected because he thinks his sister gets more attention, and shame because he masturbates and there’s been conversations about girls, underwear and porn at school, but at least now I know some of the things he is going through. And Im going to tell his dad later too. If you want to find out the inner shame of your kids, then this book is amazing.

You’re going to think this book is amazing aren’t you, well sadly reverend, I think there are some not so good points. I think its great that there’s just so many opportunities for Harry to write down all the areas in his precocious little 13 year old life where he feels he is a failure, feels guilty, feels like he needs to change, there’s even a section where he is made to feel so bad about one of the things, its likened to a weed, on page 135. Harry said his weed was ‘masturbating’ and he didn’t feel it would ever go away or be removed, it looked as though there’d been tear stains on the page. Well as a parent, if Harry feels so shameful about his body now, then its unlikely he’ll end up doing anything like his sister has. He’ll probably never get married or be able to talk about sex with anyone, and as a parent, that’s far easier to cope with.

Reverend, there is a bit on page 80 that might shock you if you gave it a read, no its not the stories of sexual assault, rape and abortions, no, they’re all told as if its the woman fault, and in this PC culture, its refreshing to have some traditional women shaming attitudes, men cant be at fault for their penis at all, and im glad now that Harry can grow up thinking that he doesn’t need to take responsibility for what he does with his penis, a relief, given that now that he’s so embarrassed by what it does.

No, the bit you have to watch out for, is a little section where Harry had the chance to rate how good Dave and I have been at being his parents. And the little shit, sorry, darling Harry, gave us a grade of only 7 out of 10, and for some reason, and I looked in the text, an anticipated grade of 8? what’s that about then – what’s Harry expecting? an Xbox for christmas, is that what he’s anticipating, well not now…

When I read the chapter it was talking about abuse in the family, and men and women having sex to have families, I thought that was a bit weird, I mean Harry is 13 not 8. He was told that some couples its painful to not have children and God wants people to be together to have children. Well that’s a bit awkward for Harry as his Grandad recently remarried, if he has kids at the age of 75 there’ll be a shock. In the book I read that following Gods instructions about what to do when there’s abuse in the family or a parent leaves us. Im just so glad Reverend that in the Bible there are instructions for Harry when this happens, can you tell me which book in the bible is specifically for 13year old boys and what to do if a parent leaves, im so thankful the bible is so specific and helpful.

So, yeah, keep a watch out for the family pages, you might get a shock, especially if you’re expecting a high mark, this book doesnt have much positivity in it, so be ready for a low score.

Before I go, I am going to need to ask you for some help Reverend, as I said in the beginning, I haven’t ever been to church, but I would love to be able to discuss some of the questions that Harry is about to read and know what is going on so I can at least help him. So would you mind getting back to me, I note that you have an MA in theology, and this book is being for 13 year olds, so I guess these are standard questions. So could you give me a few hints on how I might answer these questions please?

  1. What its the Hallway of my life? – Because I am asked whether Ive left Jesus there
  2. What is the MY version of the Bible, and can I get a copy of it, I used to have a bible with weird drawings in it, think it was the good news, but what’s the MY version?
  3. What might the dry rot in the walls of my life be, and Reverend, these affect how I view my life – so as a Parent Id like to know- and Jesus exposes dry rot, so can you tell me what’s going on there please?
  4. This one is in the book, Can you understand this reverend? when the storms hit your metaphorical house (your life) does the roof leak and cause further damage by the manner in which you panic, react or stress, or is the roof watertight because you find yourself able to draw close to God, whether you sense him or not and find his peace? Reverend can you explain this one please?
  5. Do people who wear provocative clothes have no self esteem Reverend? (Thats what page 75 says)
  6. Reverend, does your life have a dining room and has Jesus walked round in it?
  7. Whats your prayer life out of 10 Reverend? – just so I can help Harry know what the vicars score is and compare, thank you.
  8. Reverend, how might I respond to the question whether I have an undeniable weed growing in my life?
  9. Why is this book all about bad things, shameful things, about introspection for 13year olds – yet nothing about God being about love – like I heard at Harry and Meghans wedding? Its almost a completely different faith to that one?
  10. Lastly – Reverend – I notice there’s a whole load of assumptions and claims made in the book- about girls having abortions, about video games and that they lead to being a child murderor – is this kind of amateur reading of society to make young people feel shamed what I might expect more of in Harrys life? If so, ill keep the real study in our house out of bounds, I wouldn’t want him to actually think critically about these things or discover research, like my own psychology degree papers to challenge it.

So, thank you Reverend, its been a long letter I realise, and you dont hear from parents very often I guess, if you could help me out with these questions I would be grateful, this whole house thing seems a bit weird but if thats the basics in christianity for 13year old then I really am going to have to pick it up quick. Oh and the sex before marriage thing, try not to tell Harry that his older sisters date of birth was only 2 months after our wedding date, keep that a secret, otherwise my score will probably go down to 3.

Thank you again, as I said Harry loves the youth group. And this book is going to really help me to discover all his hidden secrets and fears, its like a dirty diary full of sex and shame, just let me know if he talks to you about it, I can even give you a heads up.

Your Parishioner

Joanne, Harrys Mum.

PS, there’s some resources for the youth group available, I think you should get the youth group to do them. They’ll be a nervous shame-filled wreck of a group, and dead easy to parent.

Oh, and reverend, I thought id copy a few pages for you, just so that you can see for yourself how good this book is.

(after contemplating these words the Reverends response is here  )


Is the problem of absent young people taken seriously enough by churches? (enough, even to read a book?)

If only there were lots of books to read that congregations and churches could read to help them think through the pressing issue of trying to attract, trying to keep, and trying to disciple young people in churches. If only there were just so many, that there would be an exhaustion of so many to choose from.

But faced with the task, no, faced with the pressing need of trying to make church, discipleship and faith real for young people – where do churches and congregations turn? Well, its not books.

Therefore it is not those who think through, and do research about young people. For study

It is not the youthworkers of the past who have written up their experiences, shared their story and reflected it in way that makes it accessible for others.

And, without having an hankering for thinking and theory – what do current practices rely on? – just experience? just the latest fashion? just with the second hand learning of others? the youthworker youre about to employ, the student who is amazing, and just hope they know what to do.

What am i getting at? Whats my problem.

Well, i wish I was surprised. Im just a bit disappointed. I thought churches cared about young people, i really wish, the desire to connect with young people, and understand their world was really like. At least try.

At least engage with actual research. Published , verified research by one of the UKs leading statisticians on church numbers and data.

This is what I am getting at.

Are churches bypassing books to read up themselves and just employing someone to get their knowledge?

But reading a book might solve a lot of hassle.. mightnt it?

The following book was given to me last week for free.

(you can buy it for 1p here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Reaching-Keeping-Tweenagers-Peter-Brierley/dp/1853211478/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=reaching+and+keepping&qid=1555273495&s=gateway&sr=8-1-spell )

I was given it free from the North East Religious resources centre (RRC), as they were having a clear out.

It was in their youth ministry and childrens ministry section, yes it is a title from 2001. But why was it given to me free?

Because it had not been taken out of the RRC for 10 years.

Actually, the last person who did did so in 2007. That is 12 years.

12 years when no one from any church congregation in the north east took out a book that detailed statistics, findings, analysis, reflections on the lives of, the thinking of, the behaviours of young people aged 8-13 in the UK. Statistics and reflections from one of the UKs leading statisticians on churches and church growth. (his website is http://www.brierleyconsultancy.co.uk)

12 years where it doesnt appear that churches really wanted to do any difficult work around young people and think through things.

It may be out of date now, but it really wasnt in 2007,8,9, 10…

12 years where something else was more important.

12 years where research about young people hasnt defined or shaped practice in regard to young people – but something else might have done.. And im not saying general research is everything, on these pages you will know that i have issues about such general research and making generalisations. But at the same time, what might it say that this kind of book hasnt featured in any thinking about youth ministry, childrens ministry in the north east for over 12 years.

Maybe it also says something about how many people know about the fabulous religious resources centre, and please do register, connect and make use of the fabulous resources. And the books. The many 1000’s of books. Almost free, with an annual fee to join…

So, when youth work books are being given away for lack of use, what is going on? – what isnt going on?

What priority does youth work actually have ? And who might actually be prepared to graft, to read, to think about it, before embarking on the long term journey of it..

Books may be out of fashion, but come on, leaving them unused, unread and not part of the process of developing youth ministry practice… really?

Im not shocked, just a bit disappointed. When a resource this good has been laying dormant. What a waste.

Why is attending church the be-all in youth discipleship research?

Research in youth Ministry over the last few months is painting a varied picture. Many Youth organisations are saying that less than 5% of young people are in regular contact with a church, fewer than that might be regular ‘church goers’,, this is Scripture Unions thing at the moment , but others have aluded to similar. These surveys are great as they play into the mindset and myth that youth ministry organisations can perpetuate being ‘ the only christian influence’ on young people. Then a survey is produced that says that larger numbers of young people show signs of faith, through buildings, cermonies and rituals. And, given that There are more links between churches and primary schools, there are prayer spaces, messy churches and also cermoines like weddings, baptisms and sadly funerals (which all seem more accessible to teenagers than they were 20 years ago, ie they may see their parents marry, or young step siblings be baptised, or early deaths in families). A link to this report is here: https://www.christiantoday.com/article/new.stats.say.1.in.5.teens.are.active.christians.but.do.they.really.add.up/110054.htmImage result for church

Today the church times published this piece which brought together a number of responses to that original research: https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2017/23-june/news/uk/survey-results-cause-disbelief-among-researchers,  

It concluded this from Ali Campbell: “We’ve got to stop doing research projects,” Mr Campbell concluded. “We are doing that instead of work­ing with young people. . . My ques­tion is: how is this supporting a volunteer in a parish church in the middle of nowhere, working with young people in their community? There is too much research being done when we could be focusing on equipping people locally to get on with it. I don’t think it is rocket science.”

The Barna institute recently published a report that suggested that attendance with church, a morally ‘right; faith and conformity to social norms were some of the key motivations for Parents as to why they wanted their children and young people to attend to church, this differed from even the youthworker or minister in a church, who cited discipleship, learning and participation in the life of the church. A copy of this is here: https://www.barna.com/research/pastors-parents-differ-youth-ministry-goals/

And even a much quoted piece of research (on these pages) by the fuller institute did a survey on 1400 churches in the USA that young people attended and were regular church goers, they concluded that ‘a healthy space’ and ‘meaningful challenges’ were key contributers. The point being made was that an ‘easy’ faith wasnt worth bothering with, and it needed to be practices of challenge and depth and educated in a healthy place.

However, for me the question that arises, aside from issues about sample size for these pieces of research, and so, are not about their validity or their reliability. It is whats behind them. Implicit to them is the thought that ‘attending church’ is the measure of christian adherance, of faith and of discipleship. Church attendance might be the simplest way of measuring this, just count the people inside the building and guess the number of people under the age of 18.

Could it be argued that research is now becoming influential in the objectives of the discipleship of young people in the UK ? And not only that, are gatherings the place to really discover that youth ministry is ‘working’? For – ultimately how does a young person get to church – via their parents, or school, it is rarely ‘choice’ .  So, in most cases, youth ministry might be less effective that parents anyway, its parents that should get the credit.

Fundamentally, the question asked, is What is the point of forming young people into disciples?  if the only measure, or scale of success is in their capacity to attend a service, then youth ministry is serving young people short. These pieces of research get the headlines, and attendance in church has become the political end game. But why not measure other aspects of discipleship for young people and these then become part of the discourse of youth discipleship, such as

  1. Young people who participated in leading others in groups
  2. Young people who developed a social enterprise to help others in their community
  3. Young people who wrote their own worship song
  4. Young people who stood up against oppression in their school
  5. Young people who became part of the church governance
  6. Young people who volunteer in a local social action project

And i am sure there might be other indicators. Whether we should be so transfixed with research and the counter arguments about research into youth work and ministry is Ali’s very valid point. But research might be dictating the terms more than it should. It is also researching whether young people have a conforming faith ( which is legitimate) because people develop faith within the structures of the status quo, and not those for whom discipleship occurs outside of the structures, in faith organisations, or young people for whom changing and transforming the world is their act of worship and their call to follow God to do.


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/

Has Youth Ministry hit ‘peak’ research on Youth Culture?

A few years ago, i got started in the cycling bug. Before the Olympics and Sir Bradley, a few years before. To the extent when I actually started buying a monthly magazine. Mostly for a free pair of cycling glasses for the subscription, but hey, not bad. Still got the glasses now as it happens. Until one day I was talking about it to another cyclist and they said they didnt bother with the magazines, as they said that ‘every magazine is the same, its just about riding faster’. And I stopped reading the magazines and being slightly too obsessed, and just enjoyed riding the bike. I didnt need the same magazine every month to tell me how to ride faster.

I wonder, a bit like the pursuit of speed on a bike and having 2 years worth of magazines to tell me the same thing, whether Youth Ministry has hit peak research.

2016-2017 has felt at times to be the year of research in youth ministry.Image result for research

In the last year alone, of UK youth Ministry; Youthscape released ‘Losing heart’ and the church of England ‘Rooted in the church’ and Theos ‘Passing on Faith’ – Ali Campbell has summarised all them pretty well on his Blog Here: http://theresource.org.uk/3-youth-and-childrens-ministry-research-reports-what-do-they-tell-us/

Passing on Faith is here: Passing on Faith

Rooted in the Church: https://www.churchofengland.org/media/3775547/rooted-in-the-church-summary-report-nov-2016.pdf

Losing Heart is here: https://youthscape.co.uk/research/publications/losing-heart

Then not that long ago this piece of research appeared from the Fuller Institute, in which they had conducted surveys from 1000’s of churches in American that managed to keep young people, a link to this is here: https://fulleryouthinstitute.org/blog/young-people-want-in-church – if you google ‘future trends in youth culture’ youll find buckets of articles…

About 3 years ago, The fresh expression/church growth research was published, in which it commended that churches with youthworkers and 1 vicar/1church were likely to ‘grow’.

Before that, in 2007, A report was published by FYT into the future of Christian Youth work in the UK.

5 years before that in 2005, the oft quoted ‘Soul Searching, by Christian Smith was published, again several 100 young people across the US were interviewed about their faith adherence in a local church or youth group. Its fascinating, get a copy.

Before that, and my first foray into discovering that youth ministry liked its research, was being given a copy of ‘Rick Bartletts 1997 YFC report on ‘Future trends in Youth Ministry’ a report which i know i still have somewhere, but cannot find. However, in looking for it I discovered the following article on the state of youth ministry in south Africa in 2003 and alot of the essence is the same: http://www.futurechurchnow.com/2010/07/28/challenges-facing-youth-ministry-in-the-21st-century/. I know I will have missed other reports and research.

But have we reached Peak research in Youth Ministry, especially on ‘generalised youth culture’ ?

I mean what else is there to know about being in contact with young people, building relationships, engaging them in an authentic way about faith, via their needs & interests, and helping young people maintain an involvement in their local church and have ongoing faith & discipleship.

What is it about youth culture, for example that is so revolutionary to know about – just so that youthworkers can have a conversation with a young person?

How do we reach young people in the year 2017? the same as 2010, and 2006, and 1999 – find a contact point and talk with them. the school, the streets, the parks. Youll not find them all, and thats fine. Do you need to know what year they were born in to be able to have a conversation and build rapport? nope.

Is awareness ofBaby boomers, generation Y or Z, or millennial generation, or generation K – going to give prejudgements and assumptions about young people that arent necessary? could do. And do sweeping statements mean anything in the individual setting every youthworker finds themselves in anyway? It only matters if there can be universal projects, programmes and approaches – none of which put the specific needs or interests of the young people in our communities first anyway. Does youth culture matter in specific contexts when each community might have its own. and if so is there any need for a barometer to measure them up against, better to listen to the specifics and discover needs and interests from the point of interaction. That was said first in 1967 by the way. It might be worth repeating. (Goetschius/Tash, 1967)

Having just read Soul Searching, the Rooted in the church, and Fuller Institute research all point in the direction of thinking about how young people connecting in faith in their local church. From developing the family and actual biblical theology ( Soul searching), A healthy place and challenges (Fuller Institute) and from Rooted in the church, ‘welcoming places’, ‘intergenerational worship’ and greater participation. – Nuff said – how do we make this happen- and how might youth ministry be part of changing to this – rather than perpetuating relevance and attraction.

Is there anything else to be said, that need to be said now? Does there need to be any more research on youth ministry, or youth culture? or young people in church? Have we got enough information to make the necessary changes in practice, or try things out.

The question also is, how much of the research finds its way into changing practices anyway? Has Soul searching caused a shift in US youth ministry to deeper theology? Did rick Bartletts research affect youth ministry organisations? What change will rooted in the church bring? (hopefully lots)

If deep changes are required in the cultures of local churches to keep young people – is producing research the right way to go about it, or does culture in church shift in a different way to external prodding?

Of course the other thing about research, and producing it, is that it sets a narrative about itself and the organisation for a few weeks, theres good publicity, and people writing and blogging about it, responding and challenging it, none of which is unimportant to getting messages out there – but are those who create change actually listening? Will anything said about youth culture today, actually be so different (technology aside) to that of 1997? Do young people still desire authenticity, long term relationships, challenge, and hope? – well same as generation x, or y.

There will be no doubt more research produced in the next few months, another youth ministry organisation will probably follow suit, Maybe its the trendy thing to do, to be relevant in youth ministry in 2016-2017. It is noticeable that a culture of research seems not to be in youth work, not in the same way.

But has youth ministry hit ‘peak research’?


Questions and response to: “what young people want in a church?”

Finally – someone has bothered to do some actual research!

The Fuller Institute have just published some initial findings from a 4 year study into what goes on in churches that young people, young adults, like to go to, and which ones have engaged them.

I have copied the whole summary from the webpage, as it is isnt long- as it is worth reading in full, I’ve also copied the link at the bottom of this article:

In our recent posts we’ve shared the bad news about young people and the church and introduced you to some churches young people love. You might be wondering, “So what’s the secret of churches that are bucking the trend and engaging young people well?”

We wondered the same thing, which is what kicked off this four-year study in the first place. Like us, you might be surprised not only by what these churches do, but even more by what they don’t do.

The myths about what young people want

Surely churches that draw young people today must have a super-cool vibe, young pastor with skinny jeans, a laser light kit in a new multimillion-dollar facility, or some other hype. Right?


Yes, we discovered some churches that are flashy and hip, and as a result they draw lots of young people. But this was certainly not the case for all of the congregations in our study—not even most.

One thriving church actually prided itself on not being hip.

The pastor wanted to drive the point home and emphasized to our team, “Our church is nothing flashy; just a great healthy place.” Tweet that

After conducting nearly 1,500 hour-long interviews and analyzing over 10,000 pages of research data, we’ve discovered that much of what we often think we need to engage teenagers and young adults perhaps isn’t so essential after all.

In our latest book Growing Young, we counter several of these myths with the reality of what we’ve learned helps young people discover and love their churches. But there’s one BIG myth we want to do away with right now.

Myth: Young people want a shallow or watered-down teaching style.

You’ve likely heard plenty of discouraging news about young people’s faith habits, such as reading the Bible less, praying less, volunteering less, and attending church less than older Christians. Given some of the teenagers and young adults you know, maybe you’ve concluded that they just want feel-good messages that are easy, uncontroversial, and don’t require anything of them.

This means that if we want young people to show up to our churches, we should make the messages shallow and easy to swallow, right?

That’s not what we found. Engaging today’s young people doesn’t mean we refrain from talking about Jesus too much, or the very real cost of following him.

What young people say they want

Don’t just take our word for it. Reflecting on the “secret” to his church’s success, one young person explained, “Yeah, I think the goal for our church is not really effectiveness with young people but serving and following Jesus. And young people like me are attracted to churches that want to do that.

During the Growing Young project’s interviews, 40 percent of young people specifically mentioned “challenge” when they talked about why their church is so effective with their age group. They appreciate challenging teaching in their churches, even when it makes them feel uncomfortable and invites them to make changes based on scriptural principals.

40 percent of young people specifically mention wanting to be challenged by their church. Tweet that

Contrary to popular thinking that young people today want it easy, many told us they love their churches because their churches inspire them to act. This inspiration flows from leaders who model authenticity and humility and extend the challenge of following Jesus not from a place of superiority or power, but out of an invitation to pursue the way of Jesus together.

In short, teenagers and emerging adults in churches growing young aren’t running from a gospel that requires hard things of them. They are running toward it.

Still not convinced?

We get it – the myth that young people want a church that is shallow and easy runs deep. But our team kept hearing from young people who convinced us otherwise.

One twenty-something explained it this way: “I think many churches have fallen into a consumer mindset as a default mode. Churches have tried to appeal to people’s desire to feel good. But the problem is, if you’re just trying to make people feel good, church isn’t going to measure up to that.”

Another college student made it clear: “There is never a time, even in just catching a meal with someone from our church, that the gospel doesn’t come into the conversation. The quality of the conversation with people from my church is consistently Christ-centered. The gospel comes up everywhere.”

Let’s go deeper together

These shifts toward deeper teaching and ministry that appropriately challenge young people require time, and they are anything but easy. Additionally, there’s always the chance that some young people won’t like it. We want to equip you for this journey with all the information and strategy you’ll need, and you’ll discover a great starting point in our new book that is now available.

For now, we hope you’re encouraged that in churches growing young, it is the authentic teaching of Jesus’ message that meets young people’s desire for life-giving direction. Proclaiming Jesus as the centerpiece of the story of God, and seeking to live out his instruction in everyday relationships, the churches we’ve studied are reclaiming the very heart of the good news.

Your church can too.

Don’t buy in to the myths about what young people want in a church. Join us and we will journey together toward deeper, truer, more faithful ministry that engages young people and all generations well.


So – what do you think? – is this applicable to the UK context and the young people and adults you know in a church?

From the article – what are the headlines?

  1. Young people can identify a healthy place – thats where they learn, ask questions and survive risk taking.
  2. Young people dont want watered down, ‘relevantised’ or ‘simplifyed’ – they can do that themselves. Give them theology raw, deep and spirituality a challenge.
  3. Yes, a Challenge. Make it difficult and meaningful.
  4. They desire authenticity. (I think this has been on every ‘how to do effective youth ministry’ manual since 1980)
  5. They hope for community and space connected with the church not separate, all generations together.

There is much to think on.

a) What are the alternative assumptions that UK youth ministry has promoted since well, 1980?  – relevancy, simplicity and attraction, over challenge, changing cultures and authenticity?

b) No one is asking, aside from Peter Scuzzero, what an emotionally, spiritually, mentally, socially or even physically healthy church might look like. The task of youth ministry from now on is not to help disciple young people, but help clergy and faith communities create cultures of discipleship. A youth worker cannot do it alone.

c) The context is important, im assuming the research was done with american students in churches. What about young people in the UK who are no where near a church- what kind of culture, challenge and deep faith is an attractive thing for them. The watered down high energy youth event has been dead as an evangelism to discipleship method for a long time. Albeit not for any young people involved in it. Itll make them better leaders than any attender a future disciple. However, whats the alternative. Deep faith in conversations and relationship, improvising from the context, exploring faith in the margins and building church from the edges.

But in context – what would ‘church going’ young people in the UK – say they wanted and what kind of church engages them?  A small church where they are welcomed, encouraged and given responsibility might ‘win’ over a large church where they have a fight for a place. Might. not always.

What kind of church will keep young people? is still one where the culture of it is far more important than any new personnel like a youth worker. What kind of church do young people ‘want’ is still somewhat of a misleading question. Though it promotes a materialism – I can hear a few people say, it’s not what they want that’s important, its what God wants’ and theres a truth in that – but ‘what God wants’ isnt young people to be mistreated, ignored, belittled or infantilised by the church, in the way that no one should be. So – if a church is willing to improvise and accept the offers of suggestions from young people, develop deep learning and challenge, create culture of health and of respect then it might continue to engage young people, after all, research is now beginning to prove what youthworkers have thought for a while.

To click the link and find the article yourself- and the further resources you can do so here: https://fulleryouthinstitute.org/blog/young-people-want-in-church

Does any kind of regional strategy actually work for (christian) Youth work?

This morning i was out for a ride, second one in three days, the second one around a different part of the North East, on Sunday it was more south county Durham/Teeside, today more East Coastal Durham, South wearside and then north Durham. It struck me just how diverse each of the villages were. It struck me too how many churches i went past that looked more active, traditional, and open. As well as which ‘main streets’ were busy, thriving. On one occasion i saw three old guys sitting smoking on a bench opposite a run down community centre building, and an hour later saw a similar demographic walking around a leafy golf course, striding confidently in their fashion wear.

Over the last week ive been thinking about what kind of approach to young people would work, or would be appropriate in County Durham. Yet just in county durham the area is so diversely varied in terms of resource, structure and outlook that this is too difficult to quantify, let along try and establish a national strategy for a provision. I guess no wonder that the best that can be hoped for is to produce materials and hope they may get adopted.

If there was locally improvised youthwork in different regions, developed from local research- how might different theologies enable validity to these works, yet not be in conflict? ie would places oppressed by decades of abandonment, ill health and unemployment need mission that is underpinned by liberation theology, seeking to persue holistic/social and political redemption – but as a contrast is this at all valid in somewhere like a ‘non-post-mining village’ where residual money is apparent and its more of a communter-ville to Sunderland or Durham, what would people from here be ‘liberated from’ and so would a ‘different theology’ be more appropriate?’   I guess in being awakened to these complexities, but not for the first time, the only right thing to consider is that contextually researched work must be part of a strategy, as would be the approach to discover groups, individuals in the locality who are acting already to as, i would say, perform the drama, even if theyre not aware of it currently.