Valuing Children’s and Youth Ministry – National Strategy etc.

We are not so much at a crossroads wondering which way to go -. as thrashing about in forest we hadn’t anticipated being there – utterly and completely lost.  Twenty years ago, “All God’s Children – Evangelism in Crisis” was produced – on the cusp of the 90s – the decade that saw us lose 500,000 children from the Church.  As with many reports, books, research it was received well  and people were concerned.  SO, concerned that – not a lot happened – and this was, if you remember, the decade of evangelism.  Whoever we were supposed to be evangelising – it certainly wasn’t children.  As an 18 year old, in 1986, I was paraded across a platform with 29 other young people (each of us were respresentative of 10 others . . . ) as, in the late 80s, there were thought to be 300 children and young people leaving the Church every year . . . during the decade of evangelism this rose to 1000 – was it the fact that we started trying to evangelise those we already had that drove them away – or was it the fact that whilst we looked out and around for fresh meat, we didn’t notice them leaving?

Time then, for another book and a report.  In the late 90s the term “tweenagers” was born (still just over a Decade ago, but before Facebook, Twitter, Social Media, before most young people this age had seen a mobile phone . . . ), tweenagers – seen as being neither children nor young adults (a transitional age group).  The research was right on the money and identified that this was the age (roughly 9-13 years old) when many who we “had” were making up their minds about Church and the Christian Faith – this is when they were deciding whether to hang on in there, or walk.  This is the age that most WALK.  Now, I still work with some people who believe that they will return . . . when they want a wedding (because of the wedding project), when they want a Christening (yes, because pretty soon we will have a baptism project), there is coming no doubt a “death project” . . . We are marking out our stall as the Church of England – we are good for three things in your life, when you want to get married, when you want to get a baby christened and when you want to die – a nice service for each of those events.  We might look at statistics in years to come and encourage ourselves with how many have “returned” for those life moments.  

The thing is, the Evangelical Alliance recently carried out a survey (another research project) and was worried about the faith and the morality of adults in the Church in their 20s and 30s – they also noticed that we didn’t have many in this age group . . . there was a “Symposium”, that asked some questions about where all the missing 20s and 30s were . . .

Well, we are back at those tweenagers (now yesterdays news by the way) and . . . they haven’t come back.  Despite the growth and plaudites for Alpha (and there is a Youth Alpha) . . . we do NOT see thousands of adults coming to faith each year – it continues to be true that most people come to faith before the age of 19 . . . .

THIS IS KNOWN AS DISSONANCE – The evidence tells us to value our work with children and young people, the Bible (Jesus himself) tells us to value children and young people . . . so much so that they are held up by him as an example for us as adults . . . we too often fall into the TRAP as adults of believing that we now know better (Samuel, despite being used powerfully by God when He was a child and being spoken to by God – before He even knew Him, DID NOT see what God was doing in picking David, another small boy – not even in the ROOM when Jesse brought his sons out, because what is the point?)  God does not look at outward things . . . does not judge according to outward things . . . Sammuel had “grown up” and forgotten . . . he probably did a “face palm” when it was pointed out to him.  With all the EVIDENCE telling us where we should INVEST for the Church to have a future – when it comes to children and young people nationally, ALL that our leaders can talk about (yes, I mean our Archbishops and those in nationl posts) is that we have SCHOOLS which educate 1 MILLION children and young people; The Children’s Society is great . . . and, if we scrabble around for a more localised example of people making a difference in the lives of children and young people – we can talk about the great work of Kids Company.  All True.  BUT, the ultimate difference for EVERYONE is made by Jesus Christ. 

We have a “Going for Growth” document that talks about a life “enhancing” encounter with Jesus . . . well, that is NICE, but we need a life TRANSFORMING encounter with JESUS CHRIST.  The Atheists at the moment seem to be in the process of stealing everything from us “religious people” that they consider life enhancing . . . I am struggling to see how they will notice a difference, or anyone else will, once they are DONE.  Why do I say that?  We don’t talk about Jesus being Lord, we don’t talk about the fact that He came for the least, the last and the lost . . . well, that certainly includes a significant number of children and young people . . .

Yes we educate a Million – that, by the way is just 9% of the children and young people in the nation.  We DO NOT educate through Church Schools 91% if the children and young people in this country.

What has ANY of this got to do with the two national posts of “Children’s” and “Youth” officer?

EVERYTHING.  The Church continues to write reports about important vital topics and shelve them.  A few years ago, Margaret Withers was the Archbishops Advisor for Children’s Evangelism (yes, we used to have posts that said “what they did” as part of the title!) – this was a five year post, the “Reach Project” explored how the Church engaged in evangelism and mission with children – it was great.  When the job was finished (and no, the work wasn’t finished . . . we hadn’t “done” children’s evangelism . . . !) reports were written and part of what Margaret Withers wrote up highlighted all that still needed to be done.  Made recommendations.  Received assurances. 

We haven’t done it.

We haven’t “done” what was talked about in “Youth Apart”

We haven’t got to grips with planting church in contemporary youth culture – which Bishop Graham Cray talked about – yes, we have “Fresh Expressions”, but so many of those (as understood) seem to be about having a bridging strategy to get people into existing churches . . . . we aren’t seriously trying to DO what Bishop Graham said,

Youth ministry involves entering young people’s world in order to plant the gospel and the church there – it is not a bridging strategy but a genuine commitment to new forms of church.  It is not a temporary way of holding them in church until they learn to worship properly like the rest of us” (Bishop Graham Cray, 2002)

We are still doing most of our activity on a “come to us” basis.  This was written a decade ago, is still true – what we do a lot of the time does not work – but we have not changed.  DISSONANCE!

Which brings me back to “All God’s Children – Children’s Evangelism in Crisis” – It still is in crisis, we haven’t done it.

Whilst we educate 9% through Church Schools . . . 97% of children and young people are not involved in church activities / church life.  We should be looking outwards, encouraging our churches to engage with their community primary and community secondary schools, we should have HUGE national resources coming to bear on reaching, nurturing and discipling children and young  people. 

So – What is wrong with the proposals from the Chief Education Officer?

1.  No consultation.  Imagine, if you would, that someone centrally at Westminster, decided to amalgamate our two Archbishops into one.  They did not consult, they did not discuss it with anyone.  They proposed it to the two Archbishops concerned.   The two posts being “ring fenced” for competitive selection to this new post.  But, do not worry . . there would be sutiable “alternative employement for the unsuccessful (now ex) Archbishop”.

2.  Children and Youth become Going for Growth Advisor.  In the Education Division, our Chief Education Officer is called the “Chief Education Officer” because, (and I am assuming this), the work they do is more than simply aligning themselves to a current trend or project – otherwise, we would also be renaming them to be called “Lets Not Let Gove Get Away With It Officer”, or “Oh Help! Academies Officer”, whilst the attention of the Chief Education Officer has to be able to shift and flexibily engage with current trends, moves, agendas, projects . . . their title is broad, their title “covers it” Education – is not just about Schools, it’s Further Education . . . and, also – because at the moment they two Officer posts for Children and Youth are in that department – Education also means voluntary work, local parish “informal education” with children and young people outside of school . . . they have, as perceived by those of us who work with them to have a broad remit – because this work is so broad.  Broad and complex, which is why there are two (There used to be FOUR . . . but this post has already been long enough, so that is for another day).  In my own department, I am the Adviser for work with Children and Youth People – can I do it all – nope, I also have a Full Time Youth Officer and a Full Time Children’s Officer.  Essentially, the specialisms are so different . . . the work is so diverse, the needs of workers regionally and on the ground are different, the kind of work engaged in is different.  One person, nationally, cannot oversee this effectively without an aspect of the work being diluted.  Also, calling them “Going for Growth” explicitly links them to a short term – current trend / project / strategy – which “finishes in 2015.  Advocacy for Children and advocacy for young people should be something that we just DO.  I am sure our Chief Education Officer feels free to just talk about, reflect on and input to discussions on education in its broadest sense.  It is at the heart of what the Church of England has been doing for 200 years . . . what predates the National Society – is the biblical imperative to nurture the next generation and pass on the faith.  The needs of Children and Young People are different, 97% of them are not involved with our churches . . . 10 million of them are not in our Church of England schools . . .

3.  How the money will be spent.  Ahh, this is where the rubber hits the road.  We will be assured in the coming days no doubt, that this does not consitute “a loss of funding”.  Money is not being “saved” in a sense, it is being invested, so the Chief Education Officer would argue in a more productive way . . . BUT, down the road there will be a loss of funding.  YES, and it is stated in the rationale document – I quote,

 “The savings in financial resources from the reduction of one post will be used to provide short SHORT TERM consultancies to deliver specific aspects of the Going for Growth Plan.  These will cover identified aspects of the plan that require specialist skills o a FIXED TERM basis.  THEY WOULD NOT FORM PART OF THE PERMANENT REQUIREMENT OF THE DIVISON.”

Another term for this is salami slicing . . . WE have had people working on stuff “fixed term” (i.e. Margaret Withers, Archbishops Adviser for Children’s Evangelism) and when they are done, they are done.  So is their work – once they are finished, we will have (possibly) one Officer left, with a redunant title as the Going for Growth strategy runs until 2015.

Finally, and thank you, if you have made it this far down the post . . . !  Here are some of the things that are being considered for the “consultants” (These are examples, given in a letter that was sent to Diocesan Directors of Education):

There are a number of ways in which this funding may be used, including support for data collecting in dioceses to enable us to speak with clarity about what impact the Church is having; additional support for the Church of England Youth Council to bring it more firmly into central decision making; bringing professional expertise to bear on building regional conferences for children and young people to explore their responses to faith and the Church, and build pilot programmes from their responses.”

Taking three of these things: 

1.  Support for Data Collecting in Diocese to enable us to speak with clarity about what impact the church is having . . .

Well, you could always ASK US.  It does not – in fact – cost anything, I do not charge the Church for asking me, I look at our Diocesan data and – more than look a the data – I hang out with local churches and local church leaders exploring their actual impact and making very local, specific recommendations – you could say it is a specialism.  It is part of “what we do”.  Stats are often WRONG, because stuff gets filled in wrong on the boxes . . . a consultant looking at St Thingamy Bobs return might be led to believe that they employed 70 people who worked with children on behalf of the Church – but, I know different (They have 70 volunteers, they employ a part time administrator in addition to the Parish Priest).  Knowing the Churches is more important than the specialist skill of “analysing data” . . .

2.   Additional support for the Church of England Youth Council to bring it more firmly into central decision making. 

Well, this isn’t what the CEYC thinks it needs.  Support from a consultant?  For what?  There is a way of bringing them more firnly into decision making.  INVITE them.  As far as I am aware, someone please correct me if not, there is nothing stopping the Chair of the CEYC being invited to be an ex-officio member of Archbishops Council.  That would bring them RIGHT IN, it would also significantly lower the AGE of those on ABC.  It doesn’t cost any money (well, ok – maybe a bit of travel expenses and an extra hobnob or two on the plate of biscuts at the meetings).  Things like this are an act of WILL – do we want young adults to inform us as the Church?  Do we genuinely want young people to help us shape the Church of the future?  To set the agenda – rather than be left off the agenda?  INVITE THEM.

3.  Bringing professional expertise to bear on building regional conferences for children and young people to explore their responses to faith and the Church.

Well, this takes my breath away.  I don’t know if this is well known in Westminister, but we have these things called DIOCESE’.  A whole bunch of us run regional conferences, events, training, stuff for children and young people to explore their faith etc.  I run something called “May Camp” (this year it is in June . . . ), so many of us DO this already – which seems lost on the national church, but what is implied – if the Chief Education Officer KNOWS we do this – is the belief that we need “professional expertise” brought to bear on our work.  I am staggered by the cheek of this.  Just imagine if the Chief Education Officer wrote a similar paragraph in a letter to Bishops about bringing professional expertise to bear through running regional conference for SCHOOLS . . . I do not think our Diocesan Directors of Education would let that get past first post. 

Reading this back – I don’t know if I have captured the problem or articulated this very well . . . I am outraged and frustrated and sad and yes, slapping my face with my palm. 

WE MUST increase investment (spend MORE money) on reaching, nurturing, equipping and sending childen and young people with the good news of the Gospel, it is more than life enhancing it is life transforming . . .

Children’s Evangelism continues to be in crisis.  We need a national team, not in the Education Division – we need to think seriously about what we are “storing up on earth” (in terms of property, land, museum pieces etc) and what we are foresaking in the process . . . . the average age in the Church of England means we sit on a TIME BOMB – in 20 years, if we do not ACT NOW – it will be too late.

One of the authors of “All God’s Children” signed my petition, Bishop Gavin Reid, here is what he said,

As a retired Bishop and as the main author of GS report All God’s Children I am convinced that children’s work and youth work are very different issues requiring diffferent areas of expertise. I also think it is vital that central church posts should “name the name” of “children” and “youth” at a time when the Church is very weak in its outreach to these generations.”

I don’t want to be part of a weak, diluted church that struggles nationally to talk about evangelism and outreach . . . we have a HUGE job to do.  Now is not the time to cut posts (we are mimicing something that is going on nationally – instead of making a clear statement about our intent), now is the time to launch a fresh evangelistic initaitve, now is the time to put all those great reports and books into action . . . while we still have time.

At 43, I want to know that I have done everything I can for the next generation – I see this as a watermark, a line in the sand, a point of no return . . . . a national conversation in the Church about something OTHER than GENDER would be great, how will we mend the GAP – we are in dire straights.  Lets Act.

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8 thoughts on “Valuing Children’s and Youth Ministry – National Strategy etc.”

  1. Thank you so much for this. I’ve worked with young people for a number of years and I got/get sick of the argument – “they will return” – they need to have been there in the first place! My sons aged 22, 26 and 28 see the church as irrelevant to them. They believe but see the church entrenched in the same issues it has been arguing over for decades.
    I shall forward this blog to my diocesan advisor here in Coventry. Who else should I write to. I’ll of course write to both Archbishops but if there is any way I can help to stop this nonsense then please just let me know.
    Rev Elaine Scrivens

  2. Elaine, I don’t know if its worth writing to one of your synod reps – I gather a question is likely to be asked at synod. If nothing else the mechanism for making these decisions ought to be questioned; and the post(s) should be geared to what is needed on the ground. The church’s energies need to go into implementing the various reports and initiatives rather than constantly writing new ones…

    Sarah

    1. It is depressing and you have articulated it do well. My 18 year old son is leading a tiny CU group at a local sixth form College – about 5 of them out of a student body of 2000. Interestingly the Public School system does much better – a strong argument for Chaplains…?

  3. IIts no surprise really since the writing fo the follow up to youth apart 2000 (?) they wrote that with NO consultation – i wrote a letter at the time (newly in post didnt go down well) suggesting we concentrate on the proposals from youth apart b4 venturing onto new proposals! From my last look over 50% of what was suggested there remains undone. Nationally both under John Hall and Jan Ainsworth parish youth ministry has had no look in or leadership, The sad conclusion was always going to be cuts because their focus is education – not ministry

  4. I can relate to much of what was said – my experience in the first evangelical church that I attended, was very much focused on getting new people in and not bothering about those who were already there, so much so that when we first went there were regularly over 200 people each week, with standing room only. After a few big pushes to get new people in, there was less than half that number in regular attendance. Focus was on young people and the elderly who had been going for 50 years or more felt that they were being pushed out…

    Next one was very different – several different styles of service were held on Sunday mornings, and the “Family Service” was the more evangelical one. Here the children weren’t even given hymn books, even when the “songs” weren’t being projected. The kids all sat around the walls playing in electronic games until it was time to leave to go to their “activities”.

    Next church was much more Anglo-Catholic. Here, my son, who was 11 at the time, began to take an interest. So much so, that he spoke to the vicar about “feeling that Jesus was being kept from him, as he wasn’t allowed to take communion”. Result – confirmation classes, leading to confirmation at age 11.

    At age 12, the Diocese decided that they would sack this very supportive vicar who had helped our son forward in his faith…taken him seriously and who meant a great deal to him.

    As a result, our son feels that the church has completely let him down, and now refuses to go

    We then attended another church where we at first felt very welcome, although our son still refused to come. We did manage to get him to come along, once, when we were involved in leading the service with the curate, whilst the vicar was away. We needed someone to operate the computer and projector, so we asked our son. He enjoyed this and was thinking he might start coming if he had a role to play.

    Cue the vicar…and nothing – a chance to involve a young person in the services and encourage them back to church after a very distressing experience in another church was completely lost.

    Move on two years, and things moved from bad to worse – and in preparation for “Back to Church Sunday” we were basically given no choice but to stop going to that church.

    Move on another year, and the vicar had moved on, so we thought we could try going back, and seeing what reception we received. Congregation were really welcoming, and the members of the choir who had been there when I was one of the organists couldn’t have made us more welcome. Unfortunately, the people who mattered, the clergy, whilst yet again talking in the service about preparations for “Back to Church Sunday” were fairly ambivalent, and basically said, we’re OK for musicians now, so we don’t really need you…

    SO – yes – the outward focus doesn’t only affect the young people and children – it affects other regular members of the congregation.

    If our experience as a family is anything to go by, it’s a wonder that there’s anyone in any church…

  5. A considerable rant Ali, in which I am well pleased. I was about to write something myself on this but will instead simply link to this.

    I would only add as an overarching theme the tendency within the church to hang on to the coat tails of managerial culture without really having the historical precedents with which to understand the effectual link between policy and practice. In our target driven culture, the church has pursued the line of perpetual research and report in this and other matters without really understanding why it does so, but only to provide justification for its choices in an environment of scarce resources. The net result can only be an endless perpetuation of the kind of nonsense that is currently proposed. Removing one officer in order that resources can be re-directed into research and targeting is of itself an indication of this self-fulfilling meaninglessness. Employing people who can actually do stuff which makes a real difference, seems to be terribly passè.

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