A fascinating glimpse into children and youth ministry in the UK has recently been released – Losing Heart. Over 2000 churches of all sizes and denominations surveyed and the insight gained is intriguing.
This cleverly presented and very readable research synthesizes the survey’s findings down to three big ideas:
- Churches, especially smaller ones, do more children’s work than youth work.
- Churches are failing to talk about the topics young people want to discuss.
- Churches know that they are struggling with their youth and children’s work but don’t know how to fix it.
Reading the research, I was caught by the fact that most churches spoke confidently about their children’s ministry, but their confidence took a dive in relation to youth ministry. In fact, while almost all churches had some form of ministry to children, many of the same churches had NO ministry to teenagers – they had already left the church.
“The tone of overall responses from the churches was pretty desperate. Many lack the people, the funds and the time to keep their youth and children’s work going, and many don’t have any youth work, or any young people (and in some cases children) to start with. When asked what was good about their youth and children’s work, many simply answered: ‘not a lot’. There is a desire to offer something to children and young people, but many churches don’t have the energy or the ideas to make it happen.”
The seeming irrelevancy of a lot of the youth work taking place was also apparent. While almost three-quartersof young people spoke of wanting to talk about sex and relationships, less than 10 percent of youth ministries are recorded as being willing to do so ‘often’. Equally, two-thirds of young people were interested in discussing same-sex attraction, while only 3.6% of youth ministries did so often, and a further third did so occasionally.
But the research is not all doom and gloom – there are some green shoots, and the case studies toward the end of the report have some great ideas and practical examples of everyday congregations doing some great things.
One particularly encouraging story was of a small church who took seriously the great research initiated by Fuller’s Sticky Faith, and Mark Yaconelli’s Contemplative Youth Ministry. Armed with these insights, the WHOLE CHURCH took the initiative of youth ministry (rather than outsourcing it to a few). Adults were empowered to connect with young people through receiving training in the simple techniques of active listening and empathetic presence. The result was a church-wide mentoring program enabling intergenerational connections amongst numerous adults and young people
You can download the report here:
(Thanks to Chris Barnett at CTM for pointing the research out to me)