What if churches signed up to be ‘Young people Friendly’?

Fresh from my last post on the 16 statements of intent from IDYW (please give it a look) to re-imagine a new youthwork provision for young people in the UK, it crossed my mind that there might be a necessity for churches to have or create a similar statement of intent for its involvement with young people. Call it a charter or statement of purpose, or a set of common principles, that help young people to know not only how they might be treated, but also what might be expected of and on them. One of the ongoing discussions, both north and south of the border is whether youthworkers themselves should be registered into some kind of professional standard, equivalent to the kind that teachers and doctors do. I wonder whether, instead of the person of the youthworker, if the faith sector adopts it, being registered, that the settings or churches which are in reality individual organisations should be encouraged to make some kind of pledge, or commitment that begins a process of culture change within them, rather than have the youthworker be responsible for being the catalyst of that change.

So, there are many charters, red kites and certificates, but I am yet to find one that doesnt instill confidence in the viewer of it, whether its the hygiene certificate at the restaurant or the first aid registered persons on the wall of the church kitchen. There, at least is something of confidence that is created when persons or an organisations signs up to something. It gives credibility, to a point. The same could be of a church or organisation that goes out of its way to sign up to a pledge, a charter for young people. It shows that an organisation is for young people as a whole. A statement of intent to be a young person friendly? Image result for youth charter

It might mean that parents, or young people themselves have that same confidence, either of a group of volunteers or ‘paid’ group of people who are facilitating the youth provision, confidence in being treated well, confidence in being listened to. Confidence too in terms of safety. Interestingly, that ‘base’ line has often been met, as a reaction to culture and controversy, the base line of ‘safety’ in terms of policies, disclosure (DBS) checks and risk assessments is usually the first on the ‘basic’ list of any youth provision. So that is why I think its should just be lumped together in ‘safety policies’ – there needs to be space in the 10 points in the charter for other, maybe more productive, positive aspects of what a young person might want to expect from a church or faith organisation.

If a church is really keen and committed to developing a welcoming culture for young people- then there wouldnt be any reason not to publicise a commitment to do these things.

So- What might be in such a Youth Charter for churches or faith organisations? I am sure many of you will be able to articulate these things better than me, and add or want to change things, but as a start- what about a commitment to do these things? Importantly – how might it be worded so that young people themselves are the hearers and readers of it, and they have confidence in the church?


  1. We believe that you are made perfect and we will accept you as treasured and part of Gods ongoing plan- and nothing you do will change this.

  2. This Organisation has done everything possible to ensure that the setting and people are safe for you, and we will listen to you if you think that we could do better, or we let you or your friends down.

  3. We want you to be involved in this provision and contribute to it – create it with us, we pledge to give you space to make decisions, lead and for your voice to be heard at all levels of the organisation.

  4. We want this to be a place where you feel at home, where you can make a cup of tea, find a space and be yourself.

  5. Please do not be afraid to ask difficult questions, provoke and challenge us – we want to hear your voice, even if it makes us uncomfortable.

  6. We promise not to make changes to the youth provision without consulting you

  7. It is our dream to help you grow, to be more fully human in the process of exploring faith within this faith community.

  8. We might fail together in trying new challenges together, but we commit to create risks so that we are all challenged in discipleship.

  9. We want to create spaces for you to use your imagination, ideas, and dreams for church, worship and serving the local community

  10.  We believe that you deserve better from churches who have let you, or others in the community down, please accept that we want to do better.

  11. We promise that this is a space where you can talk to anyone about anything.

  12. As an organisation we pledge to use positive language about young people – even young people we dont know yet, and who we want to get to know, you deserve much better than what the media say about you.

It might be that some of these things are a ‘given’- but so should be having a food hygiene certificate in a kitchen. What would happen if churches and faith organisations singed up to something like this kind of 12 point charter, which recognised to young people either in or outside the church that it was committed to creating a young people friendly culture, not just ‘appoint a youthworker’. A church that reimagined its youth provision as part of its whole ministry and organisation, a church that saw young people differently.

Maybe I have taken too many hopeful pills – but what might be the dream for every church that began to work with young people? What might young people like to know as soon as they walked in..?


Why young people arent the answer to the church’s status anxiety, they deserve better.

My most recent post highlighted the problem of developing practices of youth work due to the social or moral Anxiety about young people. The fear of young people being victims of crime, the fear of anti social behaviour, the fears of poor education or the less than specific ‘life outcomes’. These fears perpetuated by the media, create a narrative and cause policies and initiatives, often knee jerk and short term to be done ‘to’ young people and communities, the majority of which dont work.

In the piece I suggest an alternative.

A part of me hopes that the desire of faith groups and organisations to work with young people has a purer motive, for the good of young people, to develop their gifts and social capacity, to help them become contributors and participants in a local world that they are game changers… however, though knife crime, or poverty, or loneliness do not feature highly in the anxious attitude churches especially have about young people,

it is often the status anxiety of the church that causes them to regard working with young people as a necessity

It is not the anxiety of the young person that a church might develop working with a group of young people, it is more often the anxiety regarding the status of the church itself. Its very existence might be at stake if young people are not involved in it.

There is also another subtle anxiety that a church may develop.

If a church does not have young people in it, and neither does it act in a youthful way, then it begins to be regarded as inauthentic. This is the conclusion of Andrew Root, who suggests that one of the reasons that churches are embracing contemporaryness is that it stops them feeling old, and old is not a marker of authenticity in todays secular culture. I have written extensively on this on a previous post, and this is here: Have churches embraced youthfulness – but given up on young people? .

The danger of an anxiety ridden church, is that young people become the feel-good factor. It can often be the case that people comment ‘its nice just to have the young people’ churches. Understandably so, as it can help an older congregation feel as though the baton is being passed on. There is significant mourning of the closure of a youth ministry practice, or heightened memories of when ‘there were 50 kids in the sunday school’ – because thats when it seemed there was the energy and ‘feel good factor’ through the presence of young people.

Status anxiety is currently rife in the church, and young people can often be viewed as the solution to that anxiety. No doubt younger people can give energy to a faith community, vision and creativity. But status anxiety and using young people as the solution immediately casts a strain on the ethics and motives for developing working with young people.

If its Status anxiety of the institution that is one of the motivating factors for developing work with young people, then this is more selfish than being anxious about young peoples welfare themselves. It’s an internal worry, an existence worry. It’s trying to alleviate institutional pain through developing practices with young people, they are pawns in a strategy.

But anxiety cannot be the principle reason, and to be fair it isnt all the time. Yet it can often be.

It would be better if a church community did at least have social or emotional anxiety about young people and this spurs them on to work with them. The tragedy is that, as Naomi Thompson identified in ‘Young people and the church since 1900’ the church is guilty of farming out the work with young people to professionals and only gaining from it by chucking money at their own problem. There’s no doubt money is still needed in spades. But accompanying this is systematic change. And the deep stomach clenching compassion for young people across every community and town. Have this and make disciples first. Make this the primary worry and anxiety.

It’s status anxiety that affects the church’s performance (Vanhoozer, 2014 p186) a desire for success might cause marketing to be deployed and hope for creating an attractive church. An attractive church is one that is low in status, vulnerable and follows the way of the Cross. Subversive ministry with young people values and respects them in a world that markets and targets them.

Young people might not be the answer to the church’s status anxiety. In that way they become nothing better than an outcome or target and our objectives relay a selfishness. Young people deserve better.


Root, Andrew, Faith Formation in a secular age

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

Vanhoozer Kevin, Faith Speaking Understanding , 2014

Why the knife crime concern shouldn’t lead to increased but ‘anxiety motivated’ youth provision- young people deserve better

Moral Panics about young people are not new.

Anxiety makes news, and sells newspapers.

Regarding knife crime in London, it feels like we are in the middle of another one.

Neither is the process that these moral panics become policy affecting and begin the process of some kind of institutional and funding change. A cursory look at the 150 year history of Youth work in the UK, and anxiety has been one of the key motivations for the development or change in youthwork practices.

That cursory glimpse reveals that many anxieties have been perpetrated in order to justify the implementation of state provision for young people or the ‘wider’ communities. Its not that long ago that ‘The Broken Families’ initiative, flying in on the back of fears about ‘broken Britain’ made a huge splash, with colossal funding, and sadly barely a positive impact to its name. So its not just young people who suffer, but they do even in these programmes too. But focusing on young people, their social and conditions relating to poverty spurred the victorian philanthropists of their day to develop Saturday and Sunday education all of which had mixed motives of social help and Spiritual education, and hopes of social mobility chucked in. Other anxiety about young people practices include the development of uniformed organisations ( to help young boys be ready for the war), and anxieties in the early development of youthwork included : social unreliability, young people and criminal activity, and the failure of young women to ‘live up to the feminine ideal’ (From Bernard Davies, History of the Youth Service in England, 1999) Youth work at that time unashamedly targeted the working class boy and the factory girl. As both in different ways threatened the norm.  And provision that attempted to address these fears and anxieties ensued. From Girls clubs that focused on needlework and cookery, to boys clubs that emphasised manliness. Yes, in the late 1900’s, these anxieties drove volunteers to develop clubs and groups with these slightly less than altruistic purposes in mind.

Fast forward 50 years, and the Moral Panic is the lack of attendance at the once popular youth clubs. At least this is one of the motivations for the emergence of detached youthwork, as pioneered by Geotchius and Tash in the last 1950’s, early 1960’s. Coupled again with the fears of young people post war, post subscription and where the employment rate of young people plummeted, as well as education infastructure becoming under the strain of under-investment and a booming population of school age children.

As I mentioned above, the Moral Panic Politics that affects intervention policy is not reserved for the historic. Citizenship in schools was the result of limited under 25’s voting ( when all that was needed was someone who would bring hope to young people and listen to them). Within a narrative of  young people as ‘anti-social’ developed high surveillance of young people, from detached youthwork that required data recording, CCTV cameras, and schools that need lock downs and cameras, everything is about social control and surveillance, based mainly on fears about young people. Or where the majority are inhumanely treated because of the effects of one or two, 300 miles away on a TV programme.  Moral anxiety shapes narratives and creates policy. And barely any of these motivations that have generated youth work provision have created the right approach for provision, or had the desired impact.

The current debate is about whether the demise of youthwork provision in London has led to the increase in knife crime. Because youth work even at its worst is more preventative than interventionalist – and the end of session review doesnt include ‘ did this session stop kids carrying knives’ then it is not going to be easy to say. Causation and Impact is difficult to say. And thats not the point of this piece. Cause is difficult to pin down, and the state reductions may contribute. Though these get the voluntary and faith sectors off the hook. Was no one else prepared to do anything in local communities? i bet they are and are overworked and understretched trying to find funding all the time. However, whether youth services has contributed will be difficult to say, this piece makes the case though: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/apr/05/cut-youth-services-violent-crime-sure-start-child-tax-credits

The point of this piece, is to say that if we’re going to learn lessons from the past, then we need to say that young people in the UK currently deserve more and better than being subjected to anxiety motivated provision. Even if that anxiety is very real, as i can imagine it will be where life and death is at stake in the knife crime context. Whether youth services had an impact might depend on a number of factors.

But please can the result of the conversations not be that this anxiety is the key motivation for new provision, funding or policies about youth work provision. Whilst there may be need for short term interventions. We need policies that are shaped less by anxiety, than opportunity, shaped less by fear and more about developing young peoples abilities. Young people have far more to give this world, than be tarnished by a targetted programme, more than what education can squeeze out of them, more than be a number on a data sheet.

I am no expert in knife crime, and i dont attempt to be. But if youth services are to be re-ignited across the UK, then can they be done not with anxiety in mind, however difficult that might be given that its often default position. Youth workers often have to ‘respect the individual’ young person yet mine the conversation had with them for its data. How respectful is this? but thats what anxiety driven practices do. They target and try and force the issue. And young people are the pawns in the impact and outcome agenda.

Good youthwork takes time. Good youthwork is about respecting and listening to young people. Good youthwork gives young people a voice, and empowers them to activism. Its not anxious ridden. ‘Young people are not at risk – they need to be thought of at promise’ (Cormac Russell, here: http://www.nurturedevelopment.org/blog/taking-strengths-based-approach-young-people-moving-risk-promise-part-1/).

Can we create youthwork provision, practices that encourage the promise of young people? Rather than anxiously try and be the thing that stops them getting into trouble?

Can we resign anxiety driven youth provision to the past? (And whilst we’re at it, the technology fears and ‘loneliness of young people’ might be in the same category. might.., )

I only hope so. I fear though, knee jerk is on its way. Young people yes, even young people who carry knives, deserve better.

Anxiety might make and shape news, should it shape policies and provision for young people?


From Bernard Davies, History of the Youth Service in England, 1999 from http://www.youthworkwales.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/History-of-the-Youth-Service-in-England—volume1.pdf accessed 10/4/18

Young, Kerry, The art of Youth Work, 1999, p11

Goetchius, Tash – Working with the Unnattached, 1967

Various articles on the impact of The broken Families programme are on the Guardian website, and Children and Youth Now website. One is here: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2012/jul/18/louise-casey-troubled-families-problem


Youth Ministry and Discipleship for ‘Generation Non-Religion’ – what needs to change?

On the face of it this piece of research would indicate that Youth Ministry has failed. 70% of young people in the UK are non religious. For all the Generations X, Y and Millenial. None matters, in a secular, or even post secular world – non religious observance is rife. Even Spirituality is relatively scarce.

This piece of research was circulated in the media today, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/21/christianity-non-christian-europe-young-people-survey-religion,

The Headlines from the Data were, for the UK as follows:

Remember: Young people are defined as 15-29 year olds, (not the young people of youthwork of under 18’s)

70% of young people identify as non religious

6% as non christian religion

24% as Christian religion, 7% of these anglican,

59% of young people do not regularly attend religious services, the UK is 4th highest with this number.

The UK however only has the 9th least praying young people for the whole of europe. (65%)

The report compiler said that :

The figures are published in a report, Europe’s Young Adults and Religion, by Stephen Bullivant, a professor of theology and the sociology of religion at St Mary’s University in London. They are based on data from the European social survey 2014-16.

Religion was “moribund”, he said. “With some notable exceptions, young adults increasingly are not identifying with or practising religion.”

The trajectory was likely to become more marked. “Christianity as a default, as a norm, is gone, and probably gone for good – or at least for the next 100 years,” Bullivant said.

But there were significant variations, he said. “Countries that are next door to one another, with similar cultural backgrounds and histories, have wildly different religious profiles.”

Today Theos published its own comment on the data here: https://www.theosthinktank.co.uk/comment/2018/04/06/generation-noreligion-what-the-data-really-shows-about-youth-religiosity?platform=hootsuite

So – what do we make of all this then?

I cant help think that for quite a while most of this is obvious. Even the most large youth groups in churches across the UK might only connect with 10% of the young people population of a town or city, maybe higher in a village, but that leaves well over 90% of young people not connected. One message from these statistics, is that the way of trying to evangelise, be relevant or practice faith in the UK over the last 50 years has barely made any difference. We have one of the lowest proportion of religious observance in 15-29’s in western europe.

Every trick in the book may have been tried to ‘reach’ young people, but a different tack might be, that faith has not been made meaningful, challenging enough, it is less a dynamic movement for social and spiritual transformation, than an organisation content with its laurels, and young people – especially young people with ideals and a desire to change the world, are no more likely to join the church to do this, than sign up to greenpeace. But that might be what I think too. We know that faith is transferred predominately through parents, (but that is largely young people in the church already, to stop them leaving) – the challenge is that theres 70% of young people not involved in religious services. 

I would have been in interested to know in the data what the figures were for the under 15’s and what the differences are. I guess in a way from 15 many young people have their own choice about whether they attend church or not – rather than being dragged by their parents. It is worth thinking then about what churches who kept young people beyond the age of 15 looked like, when fuller youth institute did the research; this is what they found on churches who kept 15 year olds, the report is on this previous article: https://wp.me/p2Az40-NP

If nothing else, this data announced today should be a wake up call, to churches and affiliations not doing anything positive, innovative or meaningful with young people, that they should. But also that there is still plenty of young people to go around right across the UK who have no connection with a church. The challenge might be finding them, the challenge might be connecting in a meaningful way, the challenge is making faith dangerous and meaningful in risk adverse conforming churches.

Somehow, we need to make the christian faith something worth believing in.

And make Discipleship the active, prophetic, dangerous yet life and human affirming thing it is meant to be – challenging the very conformity that churches gravitationally pull towards. Jesus is more disruptive than that.

Richard Passmore on Facebook today saidd – we need a new way of being christian, on the back of the research. Id say we need to provide more spaces for an action orientated, dangerous discipleship to begin.

What do you think?

How might churches communicate to young people that church really is a healthy place for them?

Most church websites, when talking about young people say something like this:

We have lots for our young people to get involved with. From mid week groups to mentoring we’re passionate about walking alongside the youth to help equip them in their personal lives.


Our Connect Groups meet in _______ for all aged 10-17yrs old. Great fun, with food and talking about what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

or, now and again, the section on youth and children may even include aspects of policies:

______welcomes children and young people into the church. At our 10:15 service on a Sunday morning we have a range of groups catering for all ages from 0 to 18 years. We also have a range of mid-week groups.

See more about the groups and events we have for chilren (under 10s) and youth (10s and over) by browsing the tabs on the left.  All our groups work within social service guidelines for adult:child ratios and our volunteers are regulated through the Diocesan Child Protection Scheme.

_____Protection of children and vulnerable adults policy is linked with the Diocese of Durham Safeguarding document available here. (and then a link is provided)

And though these three examples arent completely representative, two were large anglican churches and one a charismatic church in the north east, they are three of the larger churches that might be able to put more resources into keeping a website updated. If I was a young person, what i would hear from these website is that my only access to be included in a church is though being part of groups or services. Activity and being busy is the connection with faith and the church. And in the main, it is good to know what is on offer. Thats what the website is all about.

Some churches want to let everyone know what they think about young people, often saying that ‘here at _____ church we think youth are amazing’ , or that ‘we believe young people are a chosen generation and ready to be raised up to win hearts for Jesus’, though i am not sure that this jargon isnt going to put some young people off, less make them curious.

One of the things that the Fuller Youth Institute identified about a church that was able to keep young people, in their research of over 1500 churches over 4 years,  that had 15 year olds in them, was that church was a healthy place, that took young persons intelligence and critical thinking seriously and where faith became meaningful for them. (The link to the research is here on this post of mine in this site: https://wp.me/p2Az40-NP )

So, in thinking about creating and being a healthy place for young people – i wonder what does the church website communicate about young people- and how the church is a healthy place for them? (and yes a website isnt everything, but it can be an entrance point)

As someone who is meeting young people on the streets with all kind of questions, and concerns about their life, faith, identity and sexuality, through being involved in detached youthwork projects – I guess I would want to be able to know – and so that young people could see from the church website whether they might be accepted or welcome into the church if

  • They were struggling with mental health or depression
  • They had a disability
  • They were diagnosed with ADHD (as an example)
  • They were LGBT and identified as being part of the LGBT community and also wanted to explore faith.
  • They didnt like being part of groups

as a few examples, there are others.

And if a church is active in sharing its inclusiveness- especially via its website-  then its going to be easier for a young person, or a young persons friend to feel as though the church is thinking and ready to accept them within it, regardless. And if theres something said on the website, it also communicates to a young person that the church has discussed and thought through the specific ‘issue’ (if LGBT is seen as an issue). It communicates confidence, as well as inclusion.

A church might say it welcomes all, but for young people especially, this might need to be more specific, and should be.

Moving on to other matters; What else might a church website communicate about young people? And communicate about its community and attitude that it might be practically for young people? could it include things like:

  1. Come along and be challenged to try a radical lifestyle of self denial and a faith that is controversial? 
  2. In this church we welcome young people who have tons of questions!
  3. If you’re here longer than 6 weeks be prepared to get involved and serve (we want you to be part of what we do) 
  4. We love to give you new space to try new things – especially that help you show Gods love to the local community
  5. Dont worry if you have doubts – we all do – just come along and join in finding out more together
  6. Oh and we all fail, so just give things a go – thats what we’re all about

again, i would think that there might be more things that could be added- but what might be the kind of messages that could be communicated to young people on the church website – to say that church is a healthy place – a place for curiosity, participation, questions and doubt and connectedness.

At the very least, as one church did do, mentioning something about how the church is making steps to ensure that those who work with children and young people are adequately disclosure /dbs checked is a good thing. It should be a bare minimum – but what about other policies that a church could communicate about how it works with young people – such as confidentiality, inclusion of aspects said above, or even a complaints policy/whistle blowing policy for children, and young people and parents to be able to make complaints should they need to. All part of a transparency to a point, and creating a healthy space for young people.

Then, how else might church be a healthy space?

  • how or who decides that groups change or end – that affect young people
  • might young people be avoided of embarrassment factor – being asked to do services from the age of 12 unless they want to
  • where peer groups can stay together – regardless of age
  • where young people can develop their gifts – not just pigeon holed into what the church needs doing
  • and they were not pressurised to do the thing that the leaders want them to do, because its what the lleaders feel is how faith is/was expressed – ie the worship youth event, or the summer festival – when there are other alternatives to being together and connecting spiritually.

And again, i would think there were other things, for churches to think about in terms of how they might be healthy (and challenging, meaningful) places for and with young people to participate and be disciples of Jesus in. The fuller research also identified other examples take a look at the report.

What do you think – how else might a church communicate, that it is trying to create a healthy space for young people? And let young people know more than just the activities on offer in a church.

Some of the inspiration of this post is from  the book ‘4 views on pastoring LGBT teens’ , a copy of which can be ordered here: http://www.gemmadunning.com/p/4-views-on-pastoring-lgbtq-teenagers.html

If young people are in church – why after the service we shouldnt ask them; ‘How was school this week?’

Put yourself in the place of a young person for one moment. Its 12pm on a Sunday morning. They have just endured ‘being at church’ with their parents, and awoken out of unconsciousness by the rousing final hymn, or just returned back to the coffee area after being shephered to ‘their groups’ to keep them out of the way. Theyve survived another sunday, almost.

Now they’re hovering, maybe near the coffee, more likely near to the biscuits and cakes. Nearly always near the biscuits and cakes. Counting down the minutes until they can leave, and hoping desperately that their parents arent the social wizards they normally are, so that they are about to be the ‘last family to leave’ the church.

Because, that means that other adults might talk to them. Try and be well meaning.

And – what is the most likely conversation that the young person is going to hear?

Its rarely – ‘how was the service, or youth group (as most of the adults have forgotten about this already) – no its the ‘other’ difficult question, it happens every week…

How was school this week?

Imagine that, the young person, has endured church for 90 minutes, now has to react to this well meaning adult, who has put themselves in the same position their parent does at 5pm every day. On receipt of the stock answer ‘fine’ .

Put it bluntly, unless young people talk about school, in a different context to school, dont mention school. Its a key rule on detached youthwork, it should be the same rule in church.

Now a young person who isnt in school that day, has to try and be polite, (its a church) but also is two days since being in school, and probably isnt looking forward to Monday, is being seen in church through the lens of being a school pupil. It could be the last thing they want to be reminded of. A successful pupil might be under alot of pressure, a struggling one, might not want to talk about it.

Maybe ‘school’ is a safe and easy topic for the adult to ask about – but that doesnt make it what the young person wants to.

What’s even worse is asking about school only so that the adult can regaile their own school stories, experience and how thjngs were wirse ‘in my day’ because.. well that isn’t empathy. It’s borderline narcissism.

It’s especially relevant as there could be so many other things to talk about with a young person in that space. So – and these are taken from this article on the excellent nurture development website: http://www.nurturedevelopment.org/blog/abcd-practice/good-life-conversation/

They might need adapting – but what about some of these questions:

What contributions do you like to make to others?

What’s your thing?

What do you like doing that makes you forget time?

What matters to you that you’d join with others in doing?

What are the three activities you do best?

What are the three skills you would most like to learn?

Which clubs or groups do you belong to?

If you could start a business, what would it be?

What are your favourite games?

How do you have fun?

Do you have other hobbies or special interests we have not talked about?

Have you ever made anything?

Have you ever fixed anything?

What is your greatest accomplishment in life so far?

Essentially, what Cormac is getting at in this piece, is that there are gifts, strengths and abilities that each person has, and this is an attitude we should have about young people when they are in our churches. Having a broad and deep understanding of young people might mean we see them not as learners, who learn things in churches and also learn things in schools- but as gifted, and contributors. We might talk the talk about ‘learning from young people’ but often our interactions reveal that we push them into being learners. For church to be a place young people call as ‘home’ and ‘safe’ on a simple level, we need to develop ways of interacting in conversation with them that give respect, time and attention to them, their interests, intelligence and contributions.

Though, if we want to start a conversation with young people- and keep it ‘light and friendly’ how might it avoid ‘school’ which might not be light and friendly for the young person to talk about?

If we even have any young people in churches left, it might only be a small thing, but if all five people after the service just talk about school to them, then thats got to be tiring hasnt it?

When fuller youth institute identified that ‘a healthy place’ is the kind of place a church needs to be to keep 15 year olds in it. It is in conversations and connections where this is- as adults we have to be better at talking with young people and creating this.

Ps- and I have done it too, and felt bad afterwards too as the energy sapped from the young person during the conversation.

Why is The Greatest Showman is providing joy to young people?

Whisper it quietly, there is a new ‘youth obsession taking over’ , as every week since Boxing Day, 1,000’s of young people in the UK  have been hearing a story of hope, of life, of inclusion, dance and controversy. No they haven’t been attending churches, or signing up to ‘old labour’ , it is not a superhero film, or Pixars latest, no, many young people in the UK are in the throngs of a ‘Greatest Showman’ obsession. More young people (i think) saw this film on its opening night, than go to church in the UK – probably.

Maybe it is the ‘High School Musical’ Generation finding its feet again with a new outlet, that was satisfied with repeats of Glee for a few years, maybe its that the film has managed to pitch itself delicately in the middle ground, so that fans of Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron go home happy,Related image

maybe as a film it has developed its own rise above the ashes and beaten back where critics ahead of its release were casting doubt on its success. What i do know is that for the first time a film has gone back to the No1 in the ratings (we 9/2/18), in its 6th week of release, something unheard of. What is also known is that the soundtrack has been nominated for awards, but also downloaded and streamed in its millions. And the sing a long showings have sold out.



Image result for the greatest showman

So – What is it?

What about The Greatest Showman that has thrilled and delighted. It has (and I have seen it) many redeeming charming features, yet at the same time, where critics have labelled it as fake or hollow , because in an age of authenticity i guess, we have become used to the failings of lead men trying to sing ( Pierce Brosnan in Mamma Mia, or Russell Crowe or Hugh Jackman (again) singing in Les Miserables (2012)), and be authentic in doing so – The Greatest Showman is instead slick, and gives off much more a whiff of a series of music videos. So it is not that it is in any way authentic that gives reason for young people to be attracted to or love it so much. It isnt as real, and that, actually hasnt mattered.

Image result for lines from the greatest showman

For all its fake-ness, it doesn’t lack charm. But also doesn’t lack edge. The flawed genius making something against better odds or judgement (or his wifes permission), who used the weird and wonderful in humanity to initially be pawns in his business, yet through the opportunity find themselves strong together, and with abilities able to delight and provoke reactions in an audience. The class war that ensues pits the view of art from the upper class against the lower class, yet those who perform for the bourgeoisie are shown to be more needy, fake and hollow, that the genuine band of ‘freaks’ clumsily assembled in PT Barnums Theatre.

At this point the line, made by PT Barnum to the theatre owner up the road is key; ‘You sell virtue to the burgoise, whilst we provide joy to the poor‘ was a particularly apt one, and one not as popular in the craze of turning movie quotes into pictures (see above, left).  And, for young people, joy is what they find in the greatest showman itself. It is unabashed, it is loud, proud and confident. (NB what is it churches offer…? )

It would be sniffy and patronising to say that young peoples attraction to this movie is because it a popcorn veneer of real life, an escape of caleidoscope images and sounds, and Zac Efron. This misses the point. It misses the point because young people are cleverer and smarter than this, yes even those who have seen The Greatest Showman 8 times. For what it is is as much as story of inclusion, of hope and fulfilling dreams, that many many young people are not finding elsewhere.

It would be easy to rail off where young people have lost hope in the world today, The Greatest showman isnt just an escape, it is a place of hopes, of dreams, and where many people who had been written off for their ‘weirdness’ found a space to dream, be united and redeem their weirdness into abilities and dance in the faces of those who scorned them.

The Greatest Showman is a story of liberation, it encapsulates some of Augusto Boals Theatre of the Oppressed and challenges the order, masks, and hypocrisy that entertainment and theatre became. In the current climate, it gives hope to the young person seeking to develop their own music ability (but told repeatedly that it wont amount to much), it gives hope to the young person afraid of what people think of them, that it isnt just the establishment that dictates the dream. It is a story about the risk taking required to cause something to happen, the imagination that goes against comfort, risk taking that is sometimes misguided. Image result for lines from the greatest showman

It is a story of inclusion, in an era where young people, who are growing up more inclusive than ever before, where those who are lost are included, where it is more than just the one talented person who gets to stand on the stage, but the many, the downtrodden and those who dont fit. And more and more, young people are not able to fit, not fitting for many reasons, through being misunderstood, maligned, politically, sexually, socially or spiritually.

The Greatest showman has given young people the opportunity to sing ‘This is me’ and be defiant, be confident and be brave and so it might be the song of the young person is more sure of who they are, rather than the questioning song of culture that wants young people to be afraid of themselves and sing instead ‘Is this me?’.

Is there something about Theatre, about Joy, about Community and about inclusion that The Greatest Showman that is delighting and encapsulating the imagination and dream of young people across the UK and beyond, yes. Might this be something that in youth work & ministry and the church that is reflected on? – this is not just a craze for young people, it is a revelation of what kind of community and world that they might just be hoping and dreaming for.

This is from the BBC, in its 11th week, TGS is still very popular! http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-43385034

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

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

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

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

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

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

However, the church has embraced trying to be youthful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Ward, Pete, Selling worship, 2005

This is my third post arising from Andrew Roots book, the second ‘Where does God act in Youth Ministry is here: https://wp.me/p2Az40-1bR

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

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

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

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

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

we had a successful evening when 3 young people turned up

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

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

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

Image result for hart's ladder of youth participation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: