6 common defaults when churches start working with young people (to try and avoid?)

It never really surprises me how often when churches, (and when i mean churches i mean, clergy & some interested congregation members) think about working with young people, that a number of fairly common defaults are evident. In this post I want to share some of these, not because they are wrong necessarily, but it might be that you if you’re reading this didn’t realise quite how much of a default it is, when there might be other alternatives to how working with young people in a faith setting might take place.

Default No 1. The best way to start any youth programme is when a whole load of adults sit in a room and have ideas about what to do and hope young people want to do them. 

How often is this repeated? There’s young people. There’s adults. Adults have a whole load of ideas, look up a whole load of resources from (insert UK wide faith based youth ministry provider) , who is trusted because (the leader used to work for them/leader used to receive them/the organisation is credible/its easier) . Then Adults use resource to shape a programme that young people maybe want , or don’t want, or are encouraged to do because they feel that the church is making an effort . But the only option for them is to opt in, or opt out. And opting out makes them look ungrateful.

Or the adults have a ‘big idea’ – now ‘big idea’ – could be a rock cafe, a worship event, a youth praise group, a choir, a football night, cheese on toast for Jesus, graffiti artist, Rap artist (yes its still the 1990’s in some churches). And its a great idea that the adults spend ages. I mean ages. shaping, promoting, deciding in meetings, risk assessing, getting an MP to praise it, organising prayer meetings for it, getting it blessed by the elders or PCC…. but yet when it happens… not a single young person is involved at any stage, and three turn up, the same three who already go to messy church, the same three who would have turned up if you have offered tea and a biscuit instead.

One of my most read pieces on this website is this one. Titled ‘what role do young people have in your church/youth group?’  The challenge in avoiding the default above, is to be brave and give young people a different role in the life of the church and youth group. One in which their role from the outset isn’t just as a consumer of an idea that is foisted on them, but that they are engaged in ongoing conversation, planning and creation. As i say often, usually 11 year old’s in primary schools have some say in small groups about spending school budgets on improving it, via a school council. Meanwhile the same young people in a different institution, church, are just given shapes of Daniel and the lions den to colour in. Or spaghetti towers to make to illustrate a moral point. Avoiding this default might require an approach taken in which space is created for conversation, and ideas from young people, and trusting in them to be able to shape and create something with adults. You never know…

Default 2. Young people who are bored in church don’t always want bigger,brighter entertainment to keep them interested and coming back.   They don’t always like it when their youth thing condescends, patronises and makes them feel like children, by just looking like a school disco. 

Avoiding boredom may well be the curse affecting most of youth ministry   so there’s constant re invention taking place, constant new song, constant new material, constant make something relevant. Making the programme more exciting might be the biggest long term turn off for young people in their ongoing faith development. Because, when the programme runs out, or they get too old for it, what then? even more boredom when the only option is real church. Sod that.

But if the signs of boredom are beginning to be seen in the groups you have, and 2 years of colouring Daniel, is going to start wearing thin, then it might not be ‘Daniel colouring plus’ that’s required. It might be to actually talk with, respect and give young people the space to contribute, to be involved, to have their say. This is linked to point one above. But its also more than that yes young people might, in many cases want to have their say and voice heard and participate. But it might also be that what they are being offered isn’t challenging enough, isn’t controversial enough (talk about ethical issues) , isn’t real enough (talk about health matters, cancer, periods, mental health, the environment) , maybe even… isn’t spiritual enough. When their friends are into meditation and mindfulness, and the church is offering a prayer spoken by an adult and a god slot- where might their spiritual awakening or curiosity likely to go?  Yes i said it…. youth groups might not be spiritual enough. Young people might be bored… but why might they be…?  Work that out with real conversations and then see… don’t resort to making it louder or bigger as a default. Deci and Ryan suggest that challenge, autonomy and relationship are key factors in personal motivation. Work out how these can be part of developing youth ministry, not just smoke machines and drum kits.

Default number 3. The God bit is the God-slot

Oldest chestnut of a conversation this. Id reveal my bias here when i say I am encouraged that there are some fabulous interesting practices of youth work around that are starting to think differently about how young people learn, engage with, form, and become involved in faith – and have moved away from a God slot. In this piece i provide 6 alternatives. In a way it says something about how we as adults view education, and view discipleship if the only part that of a youth group regarded as ‘God’ bit is that God -slot moment.  Which is a shame… because that can often be the most challenging, boring, difficult part of the youth group evening and yet that’s the bit where young people receive instruction about God. Hmm… God explicitly is getting a raw deal there i think. Its also the bit in the group where young people can often have the least involvement – even if there is an attempt to give them options in other aspects like food or games – and its also the time when the power dynamics shift – and bluntly- it looks like school. Anyway. Old chestnut resurfaced, nothing new in this paragraph. But its a fairly common default. Disciopleship isnt one way and faith isnt formed by just listening. Check out the FYT experiments resource to flip that one on its head. There’s more on the God slot stuff in Here be Dragons. See link above.

Default number 4 : Young peoples faith will develop even more if we get them involved in christian youth culture.  

This is often a parental pressure thing. The default is that once involved in church, a young person must immediately only listen to christian music, wear tshirts, go to christian summer festivals (cheap holidays for parents to send kids away on, and their ‘safe’) , and become a leader in church, volunteer in sunday school. And basically show their christian faith and discipleship through countless attendances and involvement in christian titled things.  Nick Shepherd is onto something though, saying that these things do help with a young person creating a christian identity for themselves. But its part of something bigger in constructing faith… read his book.   Though I wonder… is this what adults do as well… well of course.. . I am not sure its as prevalent – and i also know I pretty much chose to go along to all the things i mentioned there in the 1990s.. however… what might have been ‘good’ in previous generations… might not be now.. but the default remains. Especially when young people more than any other group are bombarded with messages about being distinctive from the world, about almost avoiding the world, about only being ‘in the world’ to evangelise to friends, only having friends.. so they can be invited to youth group (I’m sure this doesn’t still happen) – but what do these messages do?  Create divide. And unhealthy them and us, and put young people in the most difficult positions in schools, communities and homes.  I am sure this isn’t the default it might well have been before, but worth watching out for it.

Default 5. Working with young people is for some one else

There is a magical human out there, who is so radically different from the humans in the church, who will be able to do something magical with young people that they don’t know, but you have known since they were 3 and been in messy church or Sunday school (and got bored colouring in Daniel), and this magical person is about to be transported in under the false pretenses of needing to be innovative, creative and experienced (with the reassurances of being underpaid, under supported and poorly managed) to round up the previously bored from messy church group, the alienated from church 12 year olds, the 15 yr old daughter of the vicar (chosen specifically because they had a young family 12 years ago, and they could be the previous magic person ) – but new magic person is now needed.

This default, creates a thought that magic external person is the best person to connect with young people. The reality is that if you know the young people, and have done since they were 3, then you are. You just need to re connect, maybe apologise (for too much Daniel colouring in) ask and listen and rebuild a relationship.  Young people value relationship, authenticity and long term integrity. You’ll get that if you take the time and listen. value them and re connect. A magic person is starting from scratch. If young people are important, you don’t value them by employing a magic person to rescue them, you value them by giving them space, time and opportunities. You value them by creating a culture in a church where they are important. from the leadership, organisation, planning and decision making down. Where they are welcomed and participate. Thats value.

Default 6. Young people are all______________ – they’re just a completely different generation to us, they so different. 

This is ‘Young people are alien syndrome’. All of a sudden there’s a default position taken that goes along the lines of ‘young people have just arrived from outer space, they’re weird, unruly, into things we have no idea of, unpredictable, different.. etc’ and then someone clever, will recite a piece of research, or the bloody guardian, that talks about ‘Meellenials’ and how in order to reach ‘meeelenials’ the church has to do X and Y and Z.  An invisible ‘them’ and ‘us’ is created. Young people are all of a sudden different, difficult, hard to reach, unique- and yet no one has even spoken to any of them. Just looked at generalised research to make an opinion. Then someone will say ‘its just helpful to do research’ well.. yes it is. But if you want to do research, ask the young people in the community you are working in, and build up knowledge from actions, from conversations, from reality. There is no one else in the world like the young person who plays football in your community park, or the young person who is bored in messy church, or is a bit lost in church, but comes along with his Dad. Research and thinking of young people as alien, really isn’t going to help with listening, learning, empathy, time.  As Carl Rogers said, we cannot empathise if we prejudge, and we prejudge all the time, so lets not add to it with extra lenses  from adopted sociological research (used mainly to justify programmes that we’ve already said… perpetuate a default) . There is no such thing as a millenial young person. Can we dump the universality research, and thinking of young people as aliens. They’re just people (Christian Smith, 2003) . Like you and me. Its children, ironically who are less like adults. Think about it.

Theres 6. I could of added a few others, and yet as i thought about it, they all nearly stem from the concept of participation, and lack of – and these are covered in the post i shared in the link above. its almost as though the key default in churches, is not to give young people any involvement in aspect of what goes on, for them, or for anything at all. Or that they wont be interested if its made too difficult, challenging. For the few young people left in churches…we have to do better. For starting work with young people, churches could start from a different place, and not go straight to these defaults. Expecting different results from the same actions.  I am sure you can think of others too. But these are the ones i see, and have also been guilty of doing myself too.

Some references and additional reading

Christian Smith, 2003, Soul Searching, his 15 recommendations for christian youth groups from research of 1500 church is well worth a look.

Nick Shepherd, 2016, Faith Generation. Still one of the best critical, thought provoking, books on youth ministry in the UK.

Carl Rogers, 1972, A way of Being. On person centred therapy.

Andrew Root, 2017 Faith formation in a secular age, isnt referenced directly, but some of the links do.

Chap Clark, 2018, Adoptive church. Chap suggests churches should be places of participation where young people flourish in the whole community. Id recommend this one.

 

 

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10 things you’re unlikely to see in Christian youthwork.

This almost feels a bit like the endgame on mock the week, when ‘unlikely things you’ll see…or hear’ is the opening strapping for which then the comedians are then tasked with completing. Today I was chatting to a few youthworkers about a youth work project that had a very similar name to another, and had used a bible verse number as their name. You know the one. It’s the life to the full one. (10:10). It got me thinking, if 3:16, 10:10 are commonly used, and there are some other common things in Christian youthwork.

What might be things unlikely to see or hear in Christian youthwork?

1. A project that has the name ’23:20′ after the profound words of Ezekiel.

2. A large worship gathering admit that financial reasons, and the need for advance funding, or internal poor partnership working was the reason for its demise. Far easier to say that ‘ the Lord is calling us to something new’

3. An all female worship band.

4. A Christian youthworker stay long enough in a church based role to be eligible for a sabbatical. And then to get one.

5. A youth pastor not use an analogy from Star wars/Lord of the rings or a U2 lyric in a youth service.

6. Young people involved in creating their own youth provision. Especially any collective worship space that’s apparently for them.

7. A job application for a youth worker that asks for a quiet, reflective, critical theological youth worker.

8. A youth work not have expectations that the Sunday school will be as full is was in 1890, after they’ve been in post 4 weeks.

9. A youth worker without 9 different coffee shop loyalty cards in their purse or wallet.

10. A commissioning service for the arrival of a new youth worker in post.

Here are 10 of my ‘unlikely to see’ in Christian youthwork, what might yours be?

Can detached youthwork be ‘asset based’ and develop young peoples gifts?

We’ll not speak to those young people – they’ve not got alcohol on them

They appear to be ok, we’ll leave them alone

I doubt if its them who are causing the anti social behaviour calls

These are all phrases I have used on detached youthwork. Its that thing where you go out, of an evening, to try and talk with young people on the streets, develop contact and relationship, and all of sudden in the heat of the moment, a whole load of baggage arises to the surface that kind of stops me from doing what i might be meant to be doing.

In a busy environment like a city centre where i did detached youth work a few years ago, it may have been possible to make those filter judgements because it was always busy. On a smaller community estate where there might only be a few groups of young people having this in built filter might mean it could be a quiet evening.  At least quiet because all the young people we see are being normal decent young people, playing in parks, kicking a ball around, and not really need us. More importantly, that we in those moments dont see that they are worth working with.

Because they dont display needs

Because they dont show us in their actions that they fulfil funding criteria

Because they seem sorted

Because we might not be able to tick boxes in working with them

Because its not what we’re about.

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of delivering detached youthwork training to a group of sessional staff just north of Inverness. The feedback from them was really positive and it was a great 2 days. One of things that shaped the planning of these sessions for me was how focussed on ‘needs’ the teams, and communities were in relation to developing detached youthwork. There were kids playing near railways (single track lines with one train per 2 hours- not intercity lines, ((and even the intercity line has 2 trains per hour, hardly busy.. however) , young people starting to gather near to some town centres, vandalism and stone throwing. Whilst none of these issues are in any way pleasant, positive and they cause significant harm, and fear and isues about safety, of course. Often detached youthwork starts off from a perspective of need. Though to be fair also, much reactionary youthwork in buildings has done the same .

Conversations about moving from needs to gifts have occured in community development practice, and in youth work generally.  Peter Harts article in Youth and Policy 117  does identify that asset and needs based approaches do run concurrently in youthwork at times, he argues that

However, I would argue that as a general framework in which to understand the differences in
approach to out-of-hours work with young people between secular and Christian organisations is
through their occupational paradigm, model of youth work and assumptions about young people,
approach to risk, and dominant philosophy of ethics. (Hart, 2015, Youth and Policy 115)

Saying that needs and gifts are both part of the equation.

One of the recent new books I have been given for free from the North East Resources centre  is the following one : ‘Dont Shoot I’m a detached youthworker’ by Inez and Mike Burgess. Im reading the first few pages and see the following:

  • The service we provide is ‘needs‘ led (page 8)
  • identify groups of young people in patch and record any relevant dialogue linked toissues and needs…….(page 10)
  • listen carefully to young peoples thoughts allows a good detached youthworker to develop a while range of dialogue, as well as gaining information about the basic picture of young persons needs (page 12)

Now,  this is one of the few recent detached youthwork books that i hadnt read, and its why i lapped up a free copy. However, I am acutely aware of how influential this book is. I am also aware that issues and needs get youth workers to the streets  (i feel its like fascists bring citizens with milkshakes to the high streets) . And Peter Hart may be on to something, and my experiences, not just in Inverness but with FYT are that detached youthwork that is not primarily funding or community police set up can have a more positive footing.  It meant that to talk about young people and their gifts, their assets and use detached youthwork to focus on their was refreshing and powerful to the group of workers in Inverness.

Yet, I wouldnt be sticking my neck out too far to say that developing detached youthwork on the basis of the gifts of young people might be rare. To start with viewing young people with more dignity and humanity. To start by enabling young people to be part of the decision making process about any youthwork provision, to have conversations with them about their passions, their dreams, their abilities and how they might contribute to enable these to occur. And that could be all young people.

Somehow sadly, detached youthwork may be stuck in a needs orientated paradigm, created by those who need it a soft way of addressing community fears ( by the police) and this, as Peter says above, will shape the approach, or at least be the guiding lenses within which to develop practice into. Have predetermined issues, discover needs and then bam!, problem solved. But it isnt is it.

It is almost as if detached youthwork really isnt caught between the two stools of assets and needs, more that it is caught between a rock of funding and reaction – or none at all. Because of this, the many young people who are just being around, who are still victims in a society which has cut services to them by a staggering amount, are even likely to be given opportunities to thrive, to participate and to be decision makers in their own provision.

I wonder if it is more difficult to do ‘asset based’ detached youthwork out on the streets, because the setting is already so politicised and deemed ‘anti-social’, ‘frightening’ – that its difficult to see past all of this when trying to talk with young people. This may be different to when young people are in buildings that are youth orientated, its only a guess or a thought. Can young people show their gifts on the streets – of course they can – it is just up to us to look and maybe intentially look and find them.

Maybe any detached youthwork in the UK is better than none, and it wouldnt take a university study to reveal how decimated detached youth work has been in the last 10 years. But, if detached youthwork is to come back – and there are signs it might do – can those of us who develop it do their level best to shape it in a way that is about not identifying groups and problems, but discovering the gifts, abilities and good things about young people, and enabling them to explore their dreams, potential and how they want to make a difference. In this case, we have to sort out our langauge, our questions, and how we start from scratch. What if detached youthwork could enable young people to develop their gifts?  What might asset based detached youthwork look like?  (and im sure its happening, please if you do this, share details below)

‘To solve the church and society’s problems; we just need to get those feral young people into church’

Or at least, that’s what we want to pay a youth worker to do.

Harsh? Or deep down is this what churches are really thinking?

Twice in the last year I have heard the word ‘feral’ used to describe groups of young people.

As many times more have I heard that getting young people into church is the only answer to solving their problems.

Forgive me for just a little over sensitivity.

But WHAT THE ACTUAL F***?

Has brexit unleashed a whole new generation of intolerant uncompassionate baby boomer/late retireds who have a compassion and humanity chip missing?

Have church leaders forgotten what love and ‘people made in the image of God’ looks like?

Has personal blame, rather than community responsibility and societies ills been sidelined?

Or is church still set in Victorian ways.. still happy to feel colonial and superior and retain this by the use of Victorian language.

So I’m bloody mad.

But if this is actually what we’re thinking as churches when it comes to working with young people, then churches and the congregations in them have got to own this.

Own that this is how they actually feel about young people. Own that working with young people is only code for ‘bringing them into church’. Own that they are scared and frightened of young people, and where these feeling originate. Often from the media, and when powerful leaders in churches use negative stories of the world outside and young people’s actions. Own it and be honest. Own it and challenge i. Own it and be collectively self aware.

I just don’t think the problem is with young people.

It’s with us.

It’s with the us who know better

It’s with the us who still believe

It’s with the us who hope that change is possible

It’s with us if we have any desire to realise that God’s love is inclusive.

It’s our problem. It’s our problem as church if this is our starting point. Or what we actually mean, but try and hide it.

It’s our problem if we believe some young people are worth more in the kingdom of God than others.

It’s our problem if the culture of church favours the behaved. Or people only like us.

It’s these expectations that cause challenges with employing youthworkers. But if it’s out in the open. We have to own it.

I may be critical and angry. But this is also heartfelt passion.

‘Sorry and We have got it wrong’ have to be the starting point. We will not provide reconciling spaces if we’ve already judged.

Whole communities do need restoring, encouraging, loving, understanding and being present in.

Those feral young people might be the key.

Those feral young people have had their life opportunities restricted by austerity policies that weren’t their fault.

Those feral young people are angry. Those feral young people need compassion not criticism.

Those feral young people are creative, determined, passionate and resourceful, and God is provoking us through them. They are the visionaries a dying church needs.

Those feral young people, and not other, they are not scum.

Those feral young people… are not other, they are us.

Maybe we do need to understand before were understood.

Maybe hearts need breaking first. Ours.

Maybe anger is a good thing.

God, please one day might there be a church where ‘those’ young people are welcome, understood, loved and cherished. And I hope it is in my lifetime and I am able to play a part in it happening.

And I haven’t started on the ‘getting them into church bit..’…

How has austerity left struggling young people behind? A teacher speaks out:

In between the all- consuming story of Brexit on the main news over the last few weeks, the BBC ran a story a few weeks ago on the challenges that young people who display challenging behaviour, or who have diagnosed conditions have in school. More to the point the piece focused on the isolation procedures and in the same week the guardian did a piece on the off gridding that schools were seemingly resorting too.
The BBC piece showed the isolation booths being used by schools as part of discipline procedures, and then the effect this had on young people themselves.
The article from the BBC report is here: ‘I felt like i didnt exist’    and the report itself is here
do have a look before reading further.
As a result of me posting this report on social media, a teacher, who wanted to stay anonymous, wanted to share with me, and via this blog, their story of being involved in education, and the effect of and on young people. It is a fascinating read and response to the piece.
As youthworkers – who will mainly read this, or teachers who might also do so, there is much to reflect on. There is also a system to continue to challenge for the sake of everyone that has humanity and the flourishing of persons at its heart, anyway, here it a teachers view:
Having been a teacher for nearly 20 years in an area with selective and non-selective schools, I have seen the effects of poor behaviour on education. Schools must cater for a huge variety of students with varying conditions and issues. Unfortunately, educators are not always equipped to cater for and manage these issues in the classes they teach and, when things get really bad, schools must show they are doing something to offer a suitable provision to the students; maintain a semblance of education for that individual; whilst also allowing the class they were in (and the teachers affected) respite from the anxieties and actions of said individual.
When I began my teaching career, schools were able to refer students to ‘alternative provisions’. Though difficult environments, these provisions usually offered affected students a smaller, safer, more intimate environment to engage with teachers and education.
Unfortunately, funding has put a halt to these provisions running effectively and, in some cases, running at all.
Schools have found that teaching is out-dated or poorly supported so students make no progress and, if there until Year 11, leave with no qualifications.
Schools are,  more and more often, managing exclusions (temporary and permanent) within the mainstream environment.
Effective provisions can be a safe inclusion zone within the school where a child is ‘isolated’ from their peers in a room, usually with a supportive member of staff or school (senior or middle) leader to monitor them. These staff members will usually engage in conversation and offer support with work. The meaning of ‘isolation’ has perhaps been sensationalized in the press of late with some students (and potentially their parents) realising a voice is being given to their complaints of infringement on human rights…sadly many people fail to realise what this truly means. Isolation should not be confused with ‘solitary confinement’ and is a part of the education environment which focuses on learning both academically and socially.
The need for classrooms to be consistent and effective learning environments whilst also facing the challenges of increasing class sizes (teacher recruitment and retention is a whole other factor to figure in) will undoubtedly mean this issue does not pass by quickly. Schools are, additionally, judged on the exclusions made and, in order to show they are not opting for exclusions as the immediate response to more severe behaviour breaches, they are putting the above mentioned isolation rooms in place.
It should be noted that external exclusions – where students are sent home to be supervised by parents – have become more and more ineffective. Working parents cannot monitor their child at home and, if at home, most parents are not able or willing to enforce the need to complete school work on an excluded student. Thus, an external exclusion becomes a ‘day off’…more of a treat than a punishment. The internal isolation provision allows for student to be monitored in school.
Some schools may cultivate an environment which allows for the brightest and most compliant; though many non-selective and comprehensive schools are working tirelessly to instill in students of all social and cultural demographics to abide by rules which support being resilient, caring and co-operative. Work is constantly done to support students beyond the school gates and now, much more than when I even started teaching, students are seen as a holistic person with feelings, anxieties and experiences which may affect so much about their learning.
Many schools are providing counselling services, support services and educational services in order to support students and their families. There are very few external support centres (Sure Start type provisions exist in very few areas). Funding is pretty much non-existent and (already stretched) school budged must now factor in so much more than just teaching and learning.  Links to churches and youth services are invaluable – where available.
It saddened me that, the other day when I mentioned a youth club, a 14 year old boy asked me ‘What is a youth club?’. I became a teacher out of youth work experiences and have seen a steady decline in what is provided out of school for students. The traditional clubs (Brownies, Guides, Scouts, Boys/Girls Brigades) seem to be less popular amongst certain groups of teens and there’s a gap in what can offered to them.  I still dream of owning a house a la Byker Grove and allowing a safe space for social interactions, sports and activities out of school because, ultimately, teenagers need to believe they are ok: their struggles are real, their anxieties are fair; their failings need carefully patching up and pushing back on into the world again.
Schools can’t do it all and get it all right…so somehow there needs to be the funding because it’s the perpetual truth that the teenagers are today are the adults of tomorrow and we should be nurturing them.’
There is much to reflect on, here, and I thank the teacher for wanting to share these reflections with me, and with you.
To conclude, and in support of teachers, i will end with the words of Paulo Freire:
‘There is something mysterious, something called ‘vocation’, that explains why so many teachers persist with so much devotion in spite of the immoral salaries they receive (though this may have changed a little) . Not only do they remain, but they fulfil as best they can their commitment. I would like to emphasise that even the loving commitment to ones task does not dispense with the political struggle in favour of ones rights as a teacher, the dignity of ones profession, and the care due to the students and the teaching space that both teacher and student share’  (Freire, Ethics, Democracy and civic courage, 1998, p128)
What needs to change – where do we start..?
Thank you for reading, another of the pieces on this blog on austerity and its effect on young people is here , and there are many others on this theme.
All my work on this site is done for free, if you would like to make a donation, you can do so on the link on the right. Thank you

Youthwork is good for young people and society , heres 50 reasons why (#yww18)

Its Friday of National Youth work week and to celebrate all things positive and empowering about youthwork practices in the UK.

The NYA have run a campaign on describing youthwork, and the evidence of these can be seen via Twitter here are few of the images, from the twitter feed, to capture some of the sense of what youthwork means to many people involved in it:

 

But what does the sector and the many 100’s of youth workers say about themselves- for, it is one thing stating what youthwork is all about – another describing the good it does for young people and society. Over the last 24 hours I have shared on twitter and facebook

(via the In defence of youthwork page)  the question as described above:

In what way is youthwork (or ‘are youthworkers’) good for young people and society? 

These were the responses to this question, unfiltered and unsorted:

  1. Believe in them
  2. Support, encourage and cheerlead
  3. Trust them
  4. Love them
  5. Deal in hope
  6. See potential, not problems
  7. Meet the needs that teachers struggle due to the formality of their jobs
  8. Guide, support and enthuse
  9. Start where the young person is at
  10. Be there
  11. They are trained listeners
  12. Advocate rights
  13. Helps young people develop real life skills to cope as adults
  14. Transforms young peoples lives through meaningful mutual engagement, allows young people to fulfil their potentials
  15. Provides young people with a safe space where they are able to be themselves and realise their potential – coming from someone who has been youth worked since she was 11 and loved it so much that 10 years later she’s a youth worker!
  16. Gives spaces for young people to throw off pressure to grow up too fast & be young, have fun.
  17. Gives vulnerable teens a place to be safe and access services that can help and support them
  18. Offers young people the chance to access a vast range of opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t
  19. The encourage growth and enhance their future chances
  20. To give young people a voice and give them a listening ear to hear and reflect issues that are important to them an not the system
  21. Enables young people the opportunity to develop unique relationships, where they can question, be heard and feel valued. These relationships are different to parents, teachers and peers, being based on mutual trust and respect, with the young person at the centre.
  22. It’s a relationship which the young person chooses to participate in, in which the young person is valued as a whole person. This relationship is a safe space to explore and the only agenda is around the young person’s growth and development as a whole person.
  23. Because it offers safe relationships with adults outside of the family which is beneficial for young people
  24. It’s the only service that has a voluntary relationship with young people for me it was the first time I ever felt listened to and valued inspiring me to become a youth worker which I feel is a privilege
  25. A youth worker advocates and protects the interests of young persons
  26. Enables young people to build positive relationships with other young people and adults outside of their family
  27. It may make better adults!
  28. Providing valuable informal education that is not provided in schools and homes. This can be life changing for some young people
  29. Youth work provides at least one example of an adult who can empathise with and think like a young person – bridging the gap between childhood and adulthood. An example of how you can continue to be yourself even into adulthood, rather than change to ‘become and adult’
  30. Give young people some time and space to be their true selves
  31. Empower them
  32. Actively inspires and enables self determination
  33. Takes support to them, in their community, in places they feel safe and people they feel confident around
  34. Offers a space for young people to develop their authentic self through an accountable social education programme, which allows for mistakes and growth
  35. Youthwork offers a safe space for young people to be themselves be heard be supported be empowered and treated with respect
  36. All young people feel respected and valued
  37. I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve met now “grown up’s” who tell me how brilliant a youth club session/residential/activity was which they took part in and others who sought me out for support as adults because they remember what we did as youth workers.
  38. Inclusive and challenges young people to explore their identity in society
  39. An adult yp can laugh/ have fun with but also be safeguarded by! Without youth workers referrals to early help services and social care would be higher!
  40. when a young person see’s that a youth worker doesn’t hold the weight of judgement in their eyes when they look at them it makes the young person lighter, they feel that they can shed the weight of years of being taught they are worthless.
  41. Youth work can be a place of political education and political participation of young people, with the aim of having social action.
  42. It’s a place where young people can test out ideas around identity, belonging etc and open up their world view by meeting people they may not normally come into contact with, trying new things and having their viewpoints challenged.
  43. To help with transition to adulthood
  44. Youth work changes young peoples lives for the better. It plays a transformative and educative role in the personal and social development young people. It helps young people explore and understand their own and others identity and gives them the skills knowledge and tools to positively impact, change and shape the world around them
  45. Helps young people connect with their community and become valid members of it
  46. Youth work embraces and celebrates young peoples lived experiences without judgement
  47. Youth work enables young people to grow in understanding of themselves, those around them and the society in which they live. In addition, to having their own space to have fun, free of judgement.
  48. Despite the overall feel of some of these statements, I think it is also important to note that youth work as a practice does not see young people as victims or in need of ‘saving’ as such, unlike many other professions working with young people. Youthworkers work with young people to empower them, and believe they can source their own power. Youth workers aim to understand the world from the young person perspective, respecting their choices, feelings and views, and providing accurate information so young people can make their own informed choices. This also means sometimes (often) we have to watch as they make, what we believe are mistakes, and be there, without judgement when they are ready to engage.

With two from me: 

49. Youthwork give young people the opportunity to build a relationship with an adult in which they can choose to say no. 

50. Youthwork provides a way of helping communities think better of young people through social and community activism, narrating a positive story of young people. 

 

Wow…

 

At the end of youthwork week, lets endorse, celebrate and cheer for all the good that youthworkers do, in all the many places where voluntary relationships occur between themselves and young people, in organisation buildings, on the streets, community centres and churches, lets remember how much of what we are all doing and trying to do for young people we share many values, dreams and desires for the discovering of young peoples gifts, abilities and exploring with them places in the community and the future orientated , youthful fight and frustration we need to accomplish this. For all who stand in the gap, who take on the fight of funding bids, trustee meetings, community hostility and pressure from systems, outcomes and managerial expectations for the sake of young peoples rights, participation and welfare, be encouraged, and thank you.

Is the tide turning ? We hope so. And if these 50 reasons aren’t good enough to convince policy makers and funders of the value of youthwork, then Im sure we can think of 50 more.

Thank you for all you contributed to this piece with your comments and responses to this question. It would take another piece to credit you all individually, so thank you.

Church; Be thankful that being young and trendy isnt the starting point to developing good youth work

Which is quite a relief. Isnt it.

The amount of times I hear, ‘but we’re just a bunch of old people, no young people will relate to us’ – or ‘we’re just too different from them’ or ‘we’re too old’  … And it makes me sometimes want to scream.

The fact may well be that unless youv’e been blessed with an eternal youth or maybe even decide that you didn’t want to grow up since being a teenager, then the chances are that in a number of ways you will be distant from the exact goings on in the lives of young people. Even this year all the exam grading changed again, so yes, GCSES are 1-9, not A** to F. Not to mention that they don’t buy singles anymore. (i know..) They use words like woke, and sick. Image result for trendy

So, when it comes to working with young people an ageing church could feel like it is unable to , because it feels out of touch, only ‘in touch’ because of the ad hoc moments with grandchildren, or ‘what they see on the news’ about young people. That distance keeps widening. And at the same time as young people are into well, who knows what they are into, you’re more likely to be found in the garden centre than the shopping centre.

There have been two competing strands in youth ministry, and they seem to be at loggerheads. The first is that youth ministry has strived to be relevant. Which can mean trying to keep up.

The second is that there is a call for those who work with young people to be authentic.

I dont think it is possible to have both. And young people normally see through the former, and ultimately prefer the latter.

The problem is that in churches we have convinced ourselves that the former is more important, trying to keep up, trying to ‘entertain’, trying to ‘keep’ and ‘attract’ young people will take a certain kind of youthful looking energy driven relevancy. But will it? Of course the problem with this thinking is that the numbers of 20-30 year olds in the church has dropped so significantly (because the previous generation of young people in the church escaped by 1/3) – then its left to the few 40-60 year olds to do youth work. Including the retired teachers, the clergy, the volunteers, the mums and dads. And there is no point in all of them trying to be cool. Because for them cool was wicked. Cool was the 80’s. Cool may have even been the Beatles. And so, if this generation of people thinks that they need to be cool, trendy or relevant to work with young people – then frankly there wont be any youth work done by churches in the UK. or at least not soon. And trying to be trendy is hard work and counter productive, because its fake. Its also not hugely respectful of young people and the space they might be trying to create for themselves.

Image result for trendyFortunately, and thankfully, there are ways of making youth work not about those who lead it. Its not about us, thankfully. Its about the young people. (and its about God, but thats for another piece). Very early in my youth work vocation i realised that the sooner we realise that youthwork is about being interested in young people, rather than them being interested in us, the better. We do have to be interested in the lives of local young people. That just takes some hard work, listening, learning and being present. What is going on?

What is going on with young people and how they communicate, how they travel around the local area, how they use local facilities, how they cope with situations, how some have access to opportunities compared to others…

What is going on in regard to young peoples mental health, well being, fitness, spirituality?

What is going on in regard to pressure, expectation, fears, dreams and ambitions?

What is going on in regard to helping young people use their gifts, skills, abilities not harnessed elsewhere?

If we can re-tune our thinking to think about young people and be interested in them, have empathy with them, connect with them then this causes any youth work to be about them, not about us. And ask – what might we be able to do to help young people? to be practical in their situation? What if the church can provide spaces and resources for young people to develop their own space, activity and community action? Rather than be ‘leaders’ of it?  Running a youth group is tiring, energy sapping and sometimes feels a lost cause, but – from the outset why not develop a participative approach where young people gather to make it happen using the safe welcoming space that could be in the church hall or main building.

If were interested, and have a desire to do good, and desire to show empathy – a desire that might be counter cultural in todays polorised generational society where young is pitted against old, and vice versa- this isnt Biblical its the Daily Mail remember. Then this might go a long way to trying to be authentic. It may well also be relevant, but in a more meaningful way that ‘just trying to be trendy’.

You dont have to be trendy to empathise, or trendy to listen, or trendy to walk alongside a young person, or to help them flourish, or to build rapport with them, or to mentor them, disciple them.

Maybe we do have to be youthful though, a kind of youthfulness that believes that young people can dream, can hope, can make something of themselves in the community their are in, a youthfulness that has hope for the future. A youthfulness that wants to still make a difference, however corny that sounds, and accompany that with a state of mind that doesn’t want to be the person who takes the credit for being that ‘difference-maker’. If we’ve given up on youthfulness and a that state of mind, then it might be argued that we’ve also given up on God and his redemptive transforming power, and lost sight of the eternal goal.

Be thankful you dont have to be trendy to start working with young people. And there are countless ‘un-trendy’ people who are being the saltiest salt and brightest light in the light of young people across the UK, but by providing places of welcome, conversation, listening and hope. Someone to talk with, a person who is there. Something this seemingly insignificant to our large ministry or weekly activities is hugely significant to every single young person, lets not forget this.

That doesnt mean to say you might not need advice, or guidance or support in trying something new – remembering that you may have survived the type of youth ministry you were subjected to – but others didnt and that might not be the best starting point today. But start with young people now, not history, or programmes, start by listening and learning in the local and the present. Shake off the shackles of falseness and attraction thinking and build from the ground, and build with young people not just in mind but present from the outset.