Forget growth strategies for church & youth ministry; meet (young) peoples needs.

I am happy to be corrected by this. But I am struggling to remember an occasion in the last few years where a church or youth ministry organisation who has adopted or created a strategy for growth, has included the notion of ‘meeting peoples needs’. I wonder if this has been bypassed somewhat; for the sake of ‘evangelism strategy’, or ‘social action project’ or ‘organisation objectives’ , i only wonder as i am happy to be corrected. But it feels a little as if meeting peoples needs has got out of fashion. Especially in a climate of organisation survival of the fittest.

Before a few of my esteemed colleagues point out that meeting peoples needs has been usurped by ‘developing their gifts’ , ie Asset Based community development. I am already there, as you might tell, this isnt about developing work from a needs based approach, this is about what it actually means to meet peoples needs, at least getting that part done might be a minimum requirement, or at least recognise that developing gifts and meeting needs go hand in hand in meeting peoples psychological meaning. And this isnt just spiritual needs, I mean human ones. Meet their deepest psychological needs and their gifts might also be part of the equation.

At this point, you might expect me to refer to Maslow. And, i will. Only to say that despite the criticisms of his hierarchy, there is something critical not to be overlooked in what he proposes. Forget the hierarchy for one moment, as these get us into knots. But what if the levels were summarised:

Image result for maslow hierarchy of needs

So, consider them as these, starting from the bottom up:

  1. Survival and Security
  2. To know and to live
  3. Affiliation and relationship
  4. Achievement and purpose needs.

So, how many growth strategies for organisations start with ‘meeting the needs of people’, a bit of me wonders whether some initiatives dont get further than ‘base level’ – providing a social service, a valid and meaningful one – like food, or money advice or youthwork conversation, but there become a bottle neck, blockage or barrier to preventing persons starting from this point to have other needs met in the structure of the church or organisation. But what of the people who are already in our youth clubs, churches – in what way are their ‘creativity’ and ‘affiliation’ needs met – in more than status? 

However, moving on from Maslow, Over the last few months I have been writing an essay for my Psychology class on Myth Making, one of the books that I read during this was Jocelyn Bryans reflections on Christianity and Psychology book; Human Being (2016),  in it she argues that Humans develop a narrative identity that provide themselves with a meaning of life that has to consist of all four of the following for a person to consider their life as meaningful:

  1. Purpose – our lives have to have purpose, eg getting a job, raising family, buying a home, being successful
  2. Value and Justification – our lives must be in some way in accordance with a moral standard, and we can present ourselves as a good person, (often we’ll re narrate past events to assert that we have acted morally)
  3. Efficacy – This is where we have the capacity to achieve something, to make something happen, to be in control of that achievement, to contribute to society, a community
  4. Self-Worth – This could be in the achievement of something, the feedback of something, and having a stable sense of self which is evidenced by stories of others and their admiration of us.  (2016, p62, based on Baumeister, Wilson)

If theres an underlying reason that people go to church, or church related activities: that ‘it provides things the world doesnt dish up’ (Marschall, 2004, Youthworker magazine, US)  i wonder whether of all the summaries of human needs described here, that churches, youth groups and youth work organisations have focussed on to the detriement of others.

On one hand it would be easily argued that is the Christian faith that has the capacity to provide a persons needs (and Bryan suggests this) – and so the story that is told, the way it is told and how young people acknowledge their place and purpose in it is crucial. Yet it is not the Christian faith that young people leave when or if they leave the church, it is the organisation of the church, so which of the human needs of young people isnt being met and how might meeting peoples needs become a focus. In recent research, The fuller institute discovered that a ‘healthy place’ was where young people stayed in a church beyond the age of 14. I would be confident that a healthy place might be where young people, and their family and others needs are intentionally met.

This is not a selfish proposition. It is about how communities of faith act as community to enable all the flourish within in it. But we have to take into account in church that human drives, urges, motivations, personalities and goals play a significant part of decision making and being part of a social group. Its not about getting what I need, but being in a space to flourish so that I can contribute in a healthy way. Surely thats ultimately not selfish.

If i had a haunch, then most people leave churches or youth groups because 1 or more of their needs isnt being met. A disagreement leads to loss of belonging, being cast as sinful/guilty/shame doesnt endorse a personal morality, it doesnt fit with life purpose, or what I am beginning to think more and more. Church doesnt fulfil a need to be challenged (healthily), or to build on and use creative gifts for a larger purpose (with the exception of a few creative gifts/music being one). People will stay if church and youth ministry is able to give them meaning and purpose, you can fill in the blanks regarding the opposite. Church is to be a place of deep meaning and where people flourish.

So, if the church is serious about keeping people, or attracting people, our strategies need to include being able to meet peoples human needs in the functioning of the community. What might that mean

  1. Creating places of welcome and belonging
  2. Teaching that provides people with value and purpose
  3. Opportunities for meaningful and ongoing challenges appropriate to the person and for them to have some control over them (and not limited by age, gender, disability)
  4. People have positive feedback. yes thats positive feedback in a church. (uh oh, heres the impossible one, i think i was ok up to point 3 ;-))

There are tons more, that you could probably think of.  And I know this is completely impossible etc etc, but start with the small group you might already be involved in, the youth group, house group, knit & natter group – think ; in what way can we improve on helping people to flourish through meeting their life meaning needs?  do they need to be part of a challenge and stretched, or be commended, or just continue to belong and give them opportunity for this.. – the way that people belong… it when they make the tea in your house. 

Church might offer something different to the world – when it develops peoples needs, facilitates and fosters creativity, purpose and challenge – as well as create spaces of welcome. Its what people need.

Lets have meeting peoples needs, that enable them to flourish in their community as the church mission and youth group strategy. Lets have meeting peoples psychological needs so that the spaces are created so that their creativity is harnessed, their gifts used and as persons they are contributors.

Oh – and youll find Jesus did most of this with his disciples. So its pretty biblical too. He probably over worked the challenges, and that didnt do the worldwide church any harm from those 12.




Can Biblical doctrine direct organisation strategy?

We need our organisation to be effective!

It needs to be ‘moving forward’ ,

Stagnation is capitulation! ,

Growth is good, efficiency is the name of the game,

Organisations needs to be outcomes orientated!

Image result for effectiveness

Does anyone else wince that these get said in places of work, you know the corporate lingo to often mean job cuts, or reschuffles, or changed focus. Its not far off transformational leadership or management styles. In a way these kind of things are more acceptable in the supermarket chain, the factory or even a building site, but is it appropriate that this kind of language, and the ideologies behind ‘effectiveness’, ‘efficiency’ , ‘growth’ and ‘reinvention’ have become virtually staple language to the faith-based educational organisation like youth work, and even more so the church.Doesn’t it seem a bit weird? that the maxims developed from Henry Ford, Apple and Macdonalds are adapted in and used in the church? Maybe it doesnt seem that weird anymore.

Such as:

 we want the church to have a ‘growth’ strategy,

or a church that gives value for money…

What becomes weird is that the language of business and economics has infiltrated not just the process of organisations, and their strategies, but also in the faith settings become justified as theology.

So, for example, In John Nelsons book ‘Leading managing ministering (1998) he looks at a number of models of management (including those mentioned above, transformational leadership and begins to consider how this type of management can be used in the church, using verses of the bible peppered throughout to seal the models approval to a faith orientated audience. And then as a result it becomes valid to use certain styles of leadership/management in organisations and their associated behaviours because there are biblical resonances. Related image

What i am saying then is the culture of business, and its adopted language becomes the main driver for the theology that is interwoven into faith based organisations. There becomes a need for a ‘growth’ theology, or a theology of decline, or a theology of innovation. Reflecting on organisations, reflecting on how the performance of an organisation in community is mirrored in the character, knowledge, themes or actions of God.

I wonder if this is back to front. Just a little bit.

In Drama of Doctrine,  Kevin Vanhoozer suggests that Doctrine, and theology is for the purpose of directing the performance of the church in the ongoing theodrama, the 5 act play of Creation, Covenant, Christ, Church, and Consumation, which the church and present is in the fourth act of five. Theology is for directing and guiding the action, it may also be a dramatic endeavour in itself. Vanhoozer contrasts the kind of Theology that is absolute (epic) and that which is found in community action (lyric) with a directive theology that is dramatic, that maintains Biblical primacy but is for ongoing community participation and is for in real time. The live drama.

So, instead of organisations adopting Business langauge and delivery as the starting point for theological reflection – what about the faith based organisation that performs the doctrine of atonement, or doctrine of love, or doctrine of grace in its organisation culture and structure?

In a simplified example, at some point last year in our team reflections at DYFC we looked at the passages in 1 Corinthians 13 about love. They are fairly well known and get read at most weddings, even 4 weddings and a funeral i think. As a group we looked at the question – is it possible to be an organisation that performs as much as possible the call to be loving, kind, faithful and unfailing whilst also being on the stage of the world in which funding, competition, outcomes, communication, projects, attendance, are all part and parcel of practice? 

Image result for love is patient

This wasnt us trying to perform a theology of love, or atonement not by any means, but it was at least starting to make space for the kind of theology that we might want to direct our organisation, to embody in it, and ultimately to perform. So we did ask – what would it mean to ‘love’ young people – genuinely – how would we do this, what would it mean to ‘love’ each other, to trust and be kind to young people and each other. From these conversations it becomes easier to develop a culture that is theological, and directed by not only propositional statements that show truth, but also the sense that being and performing loving, generous and compassionate propel the theodrama, they reveal and embody God in action, especially in the mini series’s of the drama of every day life in the myriad of conversations. The critical reflection was that it would difficult, and there would be considerable adjustments to be made, but that would only be inevitable. But Theology directs the performances in this way.

In my last piece i was talking about the culture created in a youth ministry setting. Culture creating is a big thing, understandably, Morgan talks about organisations as cultures. So again, in faith settings how might a theology that is performed be culture shaping and creating, even prophetic of others. For in a way what is a faith based organisation that has culture but not love – might it be the crashing symbol?

What would happen in an organisation or church that embodied, or performed a theology of the cross? Its marks would be self sacrifice, forgiveness, restoration, resurrection- there would not  just be ‘acceptable’ behaviour, or ‘enough’  – but beyond compassionate behaviour, laying down life for friends behaviour and respect for others. All actions that propel God at work in people, and the ongoing drama, that foretaste a future existance in the present with shadows of the past.

If churches and organisations are full of saints (rather than heroes) Wells, Improvisation, 2004,  then the saint is someone who is faithful to their call, but also develops community around them. They are faithful to the nature of the call, being gracious, humble and not taking the limelight – that is after all Jesus space in the drama. For many saints they have no choice who becomes part of that community for like St Francis, they identified with the poorest, most needy and shaped theology of the sidewalk, of suffering in the moments of identifying with people. Communities of saints take the rough with the rough and journey alongside and with, because ultimately our Human actions of faith are collective and the land is to be explored together warts and all. Can this happen in organisations who might have other motives, like growth, or innovation, or strategy, or success? where might sainthoodness fit in? or a theology of the suffering of Jesus? But as Christians in groups and organisations, our starting point isnt working out how to biblically adopt Apple or Macdonalds into an organisation – it is that we perform in real time the drama as directed, being wise as saints on the stage of the world, yet start with theology that speaks into cultures.

Maybe Theology as it is dramatic,  comes first after all or least has an ongoing part in being performed.



Newman – Leading, Managing Ministering, 1998

Vanhoozer, Kevin, The Drama of doctrine, 2005

Wells, Samuel, Improvisation, 2004


Creating a national approach to disciple the high hanging fruit

There was some high hanging fruit on my apple tree this year that was a nightmare to reach. Even more so in that not far from our apple tree a bramble branch and rose branch draped across. So not only were the apples out of reach from me standing on my ladder, there’d be considerable pain trying to get close to them .
The low hanging fruit was easy in comparison. And id be able to see it drop.

It got me thinking. How much of the church’s national mission strategies, including that of organisations, is aiming for the low hanging fruit?

The fruit thats ripe for harvest and easy to get to?
Some of that harvesting includes a brighter, noisier more relevant method,  friends of friends at events, church based activities, even youth groups, or work in the institutions such as schools. For those who might be already interested, linked by friendship or family to others within, of similar upbringing or academic or social standing. Or even the lapsed christians, the previous youth ministry attenders.

Does a national mission strategy for picking and discipling the high hanging fruit need to be fundamentally different?

If there is pain and stretching in the reaching and picking, let alone the finding, identifying and nuturing – then how might all the learning, resources and support of the church be aimed in this direction?

The high hanging fruit need not necessarily be the stereo typical working class estate long forgotten by generally middle class church, but it might be, and there are swaithes of families, young people and children abandoned by the church in these estates. It might be the very articulate academics,  or very wealthy on gated estates, or just the millions who have no interest or connection.
To be deemed successful, ministries and programmes, projects and churches are justified by numbers , but how many actually make transformational disciples of the high hanging fruit?

A national strategy for the high hanging fruit might have to reconsider the locations of, methods of, approaches of church, as it recognises people as gifted (abcd), gatherings as informal, and starting not from the church with church in mind, but in the meeting places of people with presenting Jesus in mind. To transform communities of high hanging fruit the process will be to be specific in intention, to be ready for climbing, to recognise the pain, cut through the thorns and barriers with tools of love, of freedom.

If the church aims for the high hanging fruit, the fruit often forgotten by the world, too out of the way to be put to good purpose, what kind of mercy, love and Christ is on our side in that mission?

What might a national mission and discipleship approach for the high hanging and forgotten fruit, look like? and maybe more crucially how much resource might the church nationally provide to see it start to happen, until then only the low hanging fruit might be in reach.