Youth Work and Going for Growth

I know, two blog posts in one day . . . I just had to respond to Churchmouse following the post, “Youth Work and Going for Growth” . . .

Mouse does not hold back . . . but it is strange, mouse agrees (“I could not agree more”), with the thrust of the report and what is required . . . but then says,

“So now we have a new website designed to support this all encompassing call to (in)action” – I think, “(in)action” is not fair.  I arrived in my Diocese, as Adviser for work with children and young people in November 2005 and there was a national “youth strategy” in place that (from my perspective as a “newbie”) had very little that I thought the local church could engage with.  That can not be said of “Going for Growth”.  Whilst it is not all I personally might want it to be . . . it is one heck of a step forward:

  • For the first time we are working under the premise of a shared vision for ministry with children and young people (not separate, unconnected strategies).
  • Wide ranging consultation took place in advance of the presentation to Synod, this was not simply an “instituational” response to the challenges of youth and childrens work.
  • It is a work in progress and “Going for Growth” is aspirational and progressive and about developing something – the previous youth strategy had “fixed points” for engagement and did not reflect the needs on the ground (or engage with how fast things change and the need to adapt our methods of engagement – if not the message).

Mouse then says,

“Nameless groups in central functions of the church putting websites and reports together is not the way to make real change happen”  – I was not aware of shadowy, anony[mouse] people engaged in the process – I was engaged with and participated in the consultation before the report and presentation was made to Synod (as were many youth officers, childrens advisers etc around the country – not nameless and not central). 

We must face up to the fact that we are failing to engage young people, and the demographics of the Church of England represent a ticking time-bomb which must be dealt with” – you better believe it!  I have been “facing up to this” for the last 25 years, from being 18 . . . and paraded across the platform at an ecumenical worship event as a symobolic representation of (at the time, in 1986) the 300 young people who were leaving the church every year . . . this then became 1000 leaving the church during the 1990s (the decade of evangelism) . . .I am absolutely awash with statistics – but the ticking time bomb “went off” in the 1950s.  We are now at a point where we need to engage in “pre-evangelism” because most children and young people are growing up with no awareness of the Christian faith whatsovever . . . we are living “after Christendom”.  I admit, some are slowly realising this . . . but not those of us whose job it is, at regional level, to support, train and equip the local church for mission and discipleship with young people – AND, I am in a Diocese that is willing to give me the resources to make a difference (not sit and write reports about the problem) . . the stark fact about the state we are in is that we must make a difference now (previously, we have sought to plan for making a difference at some point in the future should it be deemed necessary or expedient – i.e. financially viable).  We no longer have the luxury of time.  Recent research indicates that 90% of adults attending our churches did so as children . . . the very basic reality is that the fewer we have in the church as children and young people – the fewer we will have in the future as adults.  If we have not been great at reaching children and young people with the gopsel – we have been, completely inept at reaching adults who have never been to church – the challenge with that now is – it is most of the adult population!

[youth work in the local parish] “relies on individual parishes either getting by with volunteers from the congregation to do “something” with the youth, or in mustering up enough money to employ a youth worker.  The latter option has been going out of fashion recently as the recession has put a big squeeze on budgets all round.”

A couple fo quick points on the above:

  • Youth work, if it is to be effective, needs to be owned by the local church and a bulk of those who engage are going to be volunteers – just like most ministries in the local church.  Without volunteers, just about everything the church does would grind to a halt apart form the Eucharist and the sermon – the “volunteers” are more than that, they are ministers of the gospel in their own right (whether at Diocesan or national level we “license” or “commission” people or not), there are many outstanding extra-timers serving children and young people up and down the Diocese of Chichester, and I am sure that is reflected nationally . . .
  • We are not seeing a decline in employment (or a desire to employ) just the opposite.  There is an increasing sense that professionally trained and equipped youth workers need to lead a team of volunteers, equip young people to navigate the choppy waters of contemporary culture, need to be aware of the latest legislation, need to be in a postion to network with the local authority, local district council, parish council – especially in this time of cuts.  When I arrived in the Diocese we had 30 salaried youth, childrens and families workers . . . we currently have 41 – and a significant number of curates see childrens and youth work provision as essential for the health and vitality of the church.

There is usually some support offered by dioceses, but this is normally on the basis that there is someone there to help if you need them, rather than someone with the job of getting out in the diocese and making new things happen” – ok, this really got me!  I lead a team of support (we are collectively called “you, equipped to serve”, www.yesonthenet.org.uk) we are part of the co-ordinated “Church Growth” team in the Dicoese of Chichester, we support, train, equip the local church for ministry with children and young people AND we seek to be proactive in the way we do that . . . as mouse knows (I am assuming this), parishes are autonomous . . . some engage with Diocesan support that is offered / some do not – but, in my particular Diocese, we have 389 parishes . . . we offer proactive support – most of the time, if I chase down a parish, or ring a vicar up or visit an area . . . I generate work for myself and my team.  There is stacks to do!  Effective support, nurture of a new team just getting something off the ground in a place is time consuming and labour intensive . . . there are three of us who are full time – I could employ more to DO more, but budgets being what they are . . . . we manage!  Most of our work is “out there” with the local parish, engaging with what they need . . . not sitting in an office waiting for the phone to ring  – although, if I am not in the office . . . some of those in the 389 parishes might phone and wonder where I am and why I am not there to answer their query . . . such is the job!

Simply putting out resources for parishes to work with is a recipe for inaction“.  I agree – up to a point.  One of our areas of “expertise” is in knowing what is available for people and helping them find the right resource for a piece of work.  This is not inaction!  If we pool what we know, and contribute to the “Going for Growth” website . . . it will become a place of fantastic free resources, reviews, articles and teaching material – that is my hope for it anyway. 

Finally, the Going for Growth website is the opposite of an institutional approach.  If anything, I sense from mouse and institutional response!  It is a bit like saying you have a problem with the “church” . . . you are the Church.  Going for Growth is open to anyone to join in, post resources, share what they have . . . it is not top down – but it will only be as good as peope make it, by using it . . . . rather than look at what you perceive to be “inaction” mouse . . . what action are you taking to make a difference for children and young people?  What might you have to contribute to the website, got a great resource in your archives . . . ?  Lets have it!  Drop an email to Mary Hawes – I am sure all contributions will be greatfully received.

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2 thoughts on “Youth Work and Going for Growth”

  1. Ali

    Thanks for this response, it’s a great piece. There are many things that I would agree with in there, so I won’t attempt to go through point by point and rebut. Just a couple of thoughts really.

    Firstly, there was quite a different response from another diocesan youth advisor on my facebook page:

    “Going for growth is a document that alot of us youth advisers were just presented with at a conference last yr! We do the best we can, with little or no budgets, and try to spread ourselves as widely as we can over the 100’s of churches we each look after with our half time roles. I would welcome helping individual Parishes asking me to help them set up a group if they asked me to mr lovely church mouse, and there is so so much more I would love to do for the COFE if only I had the time 😦 x”

    I have no doubt that there are many fantastic people doing excellent youth work. However, I also have no doubt that our provision is hopelessly underfunded and understaffed. It is great to hear that in your diocese there seems to be stability in the number of youth workers, however, I suspect this is not the case nationally, and I know it is not the case in my diocese.

    In your post there are some interesting statistics. You have 3 people at the diocese covering 389 parishes, so you’ve got a lot of ground to cover. You also mention that in the diocese there are 41 youth workers – that leaves 348 parishes without professional youth work. I have no doubt that all these people do a fantastic job, but the numbers just don’t give you guys a fighting chance.

    I guess what I would be looking for is a strategy which looks at each area and seeks to ensure there is sufficient youth and children’s provision in each area. If this is being delivered by the parishes already, then great. But if not, I don’t think we should allow the inevitable result of this to occur, which is the slow death of the church. Someone must step in. If that means ensuring sufficient parent & toddler groups, messy church, youth church and other such activities, then these really can be co-ordinated at the area level, but only with sufficient resources.

    And the provision of sufficient resources is just a matter of priorities.

  2. Well said Ali! I think Mouse is commenting from perhaps a less informed position than he usually does and is not aware of all that the diocesan youth officers and Children’s Advisers do to support, encourage and enable parishes to engage with young people.

    My own diocese has, in the past 12 months increased the team working in this capacity, such is the recognised need to be better equipped to meet the demands to be working more effectively.

    Rather than the more negative slant in his comments, Mouse should be applauding that, despite the struggle to keep budgets from being cut, many dioceses are all that they can to ensure Children’s and youth work continues to move forward, reaching beyond just those that are are already part of the Church. In fact, in some areas we are also helping to support churches from other denominations who have lost their own specialist support services, because they can no longer afford them! This is particularly true in deeply rural areas such as mine.

    Graham Richards
    Children’s & Youth Work Adviser
    Richmond Archdeaconry
    Ripon & Leeds Diocese

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