The second live blog will be our keynote session, led by John Stephenson.  He is Associate Director for Scripture Union and leads a team in the North East and Yorkshire region. He has been involved in youth work for over 30 years as well as being involved internationally with training youth leaders in Dubai and Egypt. He has three grown up children and is a season ticket holder at Old Trafford!

As this is a live blog please excuse typos and spelling mistakes!

We’re kicking off with worship from Pete James and his band.

Damian is up sharing notices about The Hub – including the exhibition stand and bookshop; Come Dine With Me – register in The Bisto, 1-2pm.


When we think about young people stopping their faith it is really about how do they establish a faith that actually lasts.  Been involved in some form of youth work for 40 years!  Remember as 15 year old running a Coffee Bar in his church breaking all Health and Safety rules!  Since then worked on residentials, as a youth worker, with Scripture Union and more.  Too often we measure our success by those who go into full-time Chrisitan ministry, but not really interested in that – much more focussed on those in the world.

Investing in young people is the most important thing we can do.  In a time of recession we often look back at the past with rose tinted gasses, we think about Sunday Schools that were full – but that isn’t completely true.  Youth work isn’t working, all those investments in employed youth workers in the last 15 years, there are less leaving then there used to be but where are all the young people.  What is it that we’re doing that means they don’t engage with church.

This morning we will look back and look forward.  This is a no brainer – why would anyone want to disagree with young people coming to lasting faith.  Aware that as he shares things he is aware that 3 fingers will point back.  There is no silver bullet that guarantees faith in young people, but there are principles that help young people to grow and have the most opportunities.

George Carey said on Tuesdays in The Telegraph the Church of England will be extinct in one generation.  We’re always one generation away from extinction but it is more serious now.  Church is getting older at a faster rate than the general population.

Is the church passing on responsibility of looking after the young people to a paid worker.  In reality we are looking at sewing seeds in young people.  The church sighs a relief as someone volunteers – gives them the keys and a CostCo card for tuck shop – we mustn’t let them off the hook.  We sow seed and expect some to die, to wither, but we forget some seed fell on the good soil, and produces fruit 30, 60, or 100 fold.  We should see some fruit that will last.

Fuller Institute in the USA has been doing research on good youth groups, what happens when they go from school to university.  The research found that in good youth groups in 3 years after leaving 50% of the group would have given up on faith.  Not satisfied with that, not good enough.  The reality is that in this country it is even worse.

Recently discovered ardening, it involves mud, getting wet, and it is hard work but planted some fruit trees and looked forward to the fruit.  The trees grew, the blossom came, and the Pear tree had 1 pear, the Apple tree had 2, and the Plum tree had 3!  Not a great harvest.  Frankly felt disappointed, a bit let down.  So okay numbers aren’t the big thing, but actually fruit is, faith that really grows.

Fuller found:


A behaviour based gospel

A two table church

Dry cleaner parenting



  • A grace based gospel
  • Welcomingyoung people at one table
  • Ministry partnership


The two table model is the adult table and the children’s table at a posh dinner – we do it in church with adult church and Sunday School – how can we make it so 14 year olds feel it is their church.

The Gospel That We Teach

We want young people to stick with faith so we need to be clear about the gospel we teach.  How would you know if they were doing well with their faith?  What criteria would use?  What does discipleship actually look like?  Get answers like they’d pray, they’d know the Bible, they’d live a Christian lifestyle, care for the poor – it all comes down to doing things.  We’ve turned the gospel into a gospel of behaviour – become a believer and be good.  We decide if they’re ready for leadership we tick the boxes – are we ready to take the risk on people even though they’re not quite ready.  We focus on outward behaviour, but the gospel isn’t about that, it is about grace.

When aged 28, oldest son had leukaemia, he is now a long-term survivor of cancer, as he’s dealt with these thoughts around suffering.  Aged 12-28 thought it was about doing things, earning GOd’s love.  When he was doing nothing due to son’s illness he realised God doesn’t love him any less.  Nothing I can do can make Him love me any less or any more.  What we teach reinforces that it is about how they should live, how they should behave, it ends up focussing on how they should be good – that’s what Christian parents want – be nice people not too radical about faith.

How many of our programmes focus on about doing good, or about trusting in God.  Young people didn’t have faith to deal with new situations.  We need to teach them to trust God in all circumstances, he is reliable and with them.  If we don’t we leave them in chains living a life of God, when we want them to be free, free from the yoke of slavery.

The Gospel of the Moral We Promote

Most of us either meet with a youth group at the same time as church, or at a different time to church but it matters more that they come to youth work then church.  We’ve bought into the model of separate youth work.  Church is boring, full of old people who won’t change, we need trendy young youth workers.  We’ve bought into a model that is about separate youth work.

Emily is from a small town from Filey, on North East coast of Yorkshire, in 3rd year of youth ministry degree.  Heard from God she needed to come home from uni and tell young people about Jesus, really didn’t want to go back, but eventually went back.  Church is traditional with good organ worship, no youth band, mainly aged 70+ in the churches.  Didn’t have a youth worker or a youth group – a small group of young people took her under her wing, and their vicar invested in them hugely.  It was that relationship that helped them to grow so much.  The church put such trust in them, aged 14 would preach once a month, it was an optional service but so many older people came, not just to support the young people but to learn from them about God.  Residentials were a massive support, not just to meet other young people, but she’d never seen Christian young adults on fire for God.  Seeing them annually made such a difference.  Aged 18 did a gap year as a Camp Intern for SU in Australia, for her last week they put her in sole charge, gave her so much opportunity, risked so much, would we have let an 18 year old fully run a residential in the UK?  We say we want to risk and enable young people but are we really willing to risk on our young people – we need to give them opportunities – we need to trust in them and prove that we do trust them.

We live in a consumeristic society, we can’t avoid it, but we’ve made faith into a consumeristic society.  We tell them they’re not really the church yet.  The church is one of the few places where there is the possibility of inter-generational relationships, and if we’re not careful we deprive them of this.  You can choose your friends but not your family.  We have a family in Christ, some of whom are weird, they’ve got hang ups, some don’t like each other, but do family.  It isn’t easy, church needs to change to, but we must not buy into a consumeristic church.

One of the problems we have when we read the Bible is that the world “you” is singular and plural – we always read it as me – an individual – but often it is a corporate thing.  When does the church family meet together?

The People We Ignore

Of course we wouldn’t admit to ignoring them.  Young people don’t like them, parents are so demanding and difficult.  THe Old Testament showed most festivals and spiritual nurture took place in the home.  In the New Testament they had the problem that families rejected those who came to faith so the church came to take on the role of being an extended family.  1 Timothy 5 shows how we care for the widows, but we just take over that responsibility.  We take over the responsibility for spiritual growth for parents, we say you don’t have to do anything we will do it all, parents breathe a sigh of relief, it gets them off the hook.

There’s a bit of work that suggests young people need faith clarifiers and faith advocates.  Advocates recommend faith and say it is a good thing, clarifiers ask the questions of faith.  Christian parents are good advocates, but young people find it difficult to ask the questions as it feels like they betray them.  The danger is we ignore the advocacy role, we need to affirm the faith their parents have, but we need to give them space to clarify their own faith.

What are we doing to partner with parents, to make sure we pull in the same direction?  How do we work with non-Christian parents – they’re much less likely to trust you, what about those relationships to prove that we can be trusted, the danger is we just become a babysitting service.  Do we assume that not all generations will come together to all-age, the Tearfund research shows to get the family we need to reach out to dads.

Krish Kandiah wrote about how it takes a whole church to raise a child – parents, leaders, youth leaders, congregation and more.  The young people are not ours, they are everybody’s.  What does it mean to allow relationships to grow intentionally across all generations to help them feel it is their community.  Not saying there is no place for separate age-related activities but if that’s all we do then they will struggle to make transitions.  We need to see them as full members of the church, exercising their gifts, praying for us as we pray for them.

The Practice We Promote: Too Keen For Decisions Than Discipleship

What did Jesus do, he chose 12, they probably wouldn’t get through the SU Volunteer Application form, he didn’t say let’s run a programme, but invited them to be involved, will we have the courage of Jesus when we say come and be with us, be part of what we do.

On January 1st will have been working with SU for 25 years, will ask the question what would I do differently, would do less events and spend more time with people, work more with small churches than big churches, more in ordinary services giving young people a chance to lead and fail then how polished it was, admit I need to work with parents, church leaders and congregations more than I did.

Not the answer to this, God’s answer is the church, so how do we work with them with all their failings and my failings.  It means change, and none us like change, talking with those who don’t get it, intentionally thinking how we involve parents and the church congregation, helping young people that life doesn’t revolve around them, life is not shaped just to meet their needs, but about allowing people together, allowing traditional things as people like them, but encouraging contemporary things as they too are important.

Are you up for Mending the Gap as Jason Gardner said, showing that there should be no gap in church.


Married to the amazing Sarah and raising Jakey, Daniel, Amelia, Josh & Jonah in our blended family. Passionate for Jesus, social work & sport.

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