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10 January 2017

Church missing the opportunity to speak to young people about key issues, report warns

The majority of churches in Great Britain are failing to talk to young people about the issues they’re facing, according to new research.  

Youthscape, a Luton-based charity delivering innovative youth work across the country, has launched a report call Losing Heart, which surveyed 2,054 churches across England, Scotland and Wales to identify the needs of those working with children and young people.  

The report found only half of churches “often” speak to their young people about the basics of the Christian faith.  

Chris Curtis, the CEO of Youthscape, said: “This report is more a sober warning from a doctor than an autopsy of a dead body. Youth and children’s work in churches isn’t dead, but we’re badly out of shape and a change of lifestyle is urgently required.” 

Losing Heart claims the majority of the churches “never” discuss the subjects of pornography, same-sex attraction, other world faiths and drugs and addiction with their young people. 

In the report, Youthscape writes: “We were surprised to see the results … which reveal that only 50.2 per cent of the churches regularly talk about the basic beliefs of the Christian faith with their young people, and under 10 per cent of the churches surveyed regularly talk about sex and relationships, other world faiths and pornography in their youth groups.” 

Youthscape also found that churches, especially smaller ones, do far more children’s work than youth work. 

Nearly all churches polled offered some form of children’s work on a Sunday, although this varied from 80.3 per cent of small churches (up to 50 congregants) and 98.7 per cent of large churches (more than 150 congregants).  

However, the same was not true for youth work: 89.1 per cent of the large churches offered youth work on a Sunday, while only 49.7 per cent of the small churches did.  

The disparity is also seen in the effectiveness of the ministry offered.  

While only half of respondents believe their youth work to be effective, nearly three quarters – 73.9 per cent – believe their children’s work is effective.  

Shockingly, 41.4 per cent of the small churches surveyed said their youth work was “ineffective”. 

Churches know they are struggling with their youth work and children’s work, but admitted in the survey they don’t know what to do to change it.  

The report said: “The overall tone of 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.” 

To complement the findings, Youthscape polled 100 11 – 19-year-olds through an online survey to gauge what the age group is most interested in.  

The most popular topic, with 47 per cent of the young people saying they were “very interested” in, was mental health and self-esteem. However, this is one the least discussed topics in our churches, with only 10.2 per cent of respondents often talking to their young people on this – 48.6 per cent “never” did.  

The research found that churches need more leaders volunteers to work with children and young people, for aging congregations to seek younger leaders and whole church involvement.  

Interestingly, when asked what was needed to improve, there were very few refences to God’s involvement, prayer or the work of the Holy Spirit – only seven per cent referred to God.  

Chris Curis wrote: “It’s hard to hear the difficult findings contained in this report. At this early stage, more work needs to be done to understand why this has happened and, more importantly, what action we need to take.” 

The CEO admits this is a generalised view, and said it’s important to remember that there are bright spots where youth work is thriving, and children’s work is clearly doing even better.  

He concluded: “The bigger picture is clear: it tells us what many of us know from our day-to-day work. The doctor’s warning must be heeded and this report is a good moment to galvanise ourselves into action.” 

Youthscape will be responding to this research through their work and priorities over the next two years. To find out more, read the full report or get involved with the work of Youthscape, visit the website here.