Nick Shepherd (Centre for Youth Ministry) is leading this morning’s main session based on his research of how young people’s faith is formed.  The key question is how do we work with young people who are trying to be Christians and form their Christian identity.

Let’s start by depressing ourselves as then the only way is up.  Let’s look at some statistics on the chance of a young person becoming a “believing and belonging” Christian:

  • 50% if they have two parents committed to church
  • 28% with one parent who goes to church regularly
  • 0.3% given parents with no church connections

These numbers represent the task we face, the downward trend we’re working with.  The people who wrote this paper say there is a high-life – every generation the church loses 50% – but youth work is where we’re countering that – it is in the 12-17 years old time frame is when identity is formed.

It doesn’t matter how: Jason Gardner believes inter-generational, Nick believes specialist youth ministry – but that is irrelevant – it is dealing with this trend that matters.

One of the focus points is placing a place where young people can form creative identity.

  • What’s it like for young people trying
  • What do they do to try to make faith
  • What should we be doing to support

Youth work in and out of the church are very different tasks – there needs to be some overlap – the crossover is important, but they are essentially two very different tasks, starting from very different points, because of the experience of young people.  We need to reflect on how we keep the 50% leaving church and to massively up the 0.3% from no background.

With the help of Abbi and Lucy we’re going to see some drama about a church youth group based on the real comments of Christian young people bought up in the church.

Toughing it out when you’ve been brought up in the Church

It’s tough, they have to wrestle with their faith.  Being a Christian is precious for them, it is tough for them:

  • Nagging doubts
  • No one else has faith in their school and/or wider circle of friends
  • Niggling questions

Finding a place to be Christian

Christian family has been the place to retreat, and family is still supportive, but they need a group, a place to go to engage with these.  It’s why Soul Survivor, Spring Harvest etc., are such an oasis as there is a crowd full of people like them.  The crowd effect is important.  But at the same time their weekly youth group is really important to them.

Another drama – “we’re paid to be their friends” – cutting but true!

Christian youth groups give Christian young people a place to be Christian.  Nick guesses that 60-70% influenced by other young people and 30-40% influence from the youth worker.

They need to get into a group – building ecclesiasial presence – the task the church takes to make faith known and help young people understand their place in the world.

Trying it out with no idea about it

Another drama about those coming to faith outside the church: issues of self-identity, self-harm, what family and friends think.

It’s about starting from a place of no idea and no interest.  It’s about knowing those changes, experiencing those changes and leaders challenging young people with the “now what?” question.

We used to think we had opportunities, that there was opportunity for faith, but there isn’t a blatant sense of spirituality, read The Faith of Generation Y by Bob Mayo et al.

Young people have no background or link with it so there need to have opportunity for lasting change.

Now hearing another drama based on young people’s actual comments – these are great dramas – I resonate with lots of the comments and helping to illustrate well lots of Nick’s points.

Finding yourself in a Christian place

Building places where young people can find themselves and their identity.  Where they can literally drop-in to faith.draw nearer and nearer (for example a youth leader inviting young people to their child’s dedication) and doing something to go deeper, e.g. Alpha course, taking on responsibility.

This is more than good connections or outreach but thinking about the kind of youth work we’re trying to do and build.

For the last 10 minutes Nick is going to be bring the two threads together.  It has to be…

Collaborative youth ministry

It’s a joint effort – all the young people and leaders involved.

It’s a group task – we need to think not just about individuals but about the groups we’re working with.

It’s an intentional activity – creating spaces where they can meet with God, where they can engage with faith.

Creating Christian places

Suggesting a model of creating Christian places, but youth workers need to reinterpret this in your context.

  • Building/Joining
  • Providing/Attending
  • Evolving/Investing

Think about the place you’re in, the young people you’re trying to work with, what are the young people doing to engage with faith.

We can break this down into the activities

Intentional Christian community – your purpose in coming together is to engage in Christian faith – that is church but can be elsewhere.

Building & Joining: creating community, claiming space – a group Nick worked with just put art up in a room and gradually took it over.  Claiming it as a Christian space that is welcome and inviting but clearly Christian.  Joining: coming along, committed to experience – young people often do this in their own time and way – the conversation outside of formal youth ministry.

Providing & Attending: providing a place to resist, reflect and receive.  It’s why young people look reflective prayer and silence.


Sorry internet dropped out but back again – don’t think we missed too much


Evolving & Investing: being fluid and flexible, being focussed and faithful is really important.  Young people want transformation, especially through sharing and testimony.

But let’s not forget young people know the route often better than we do – they know the places to go and we need to engage with them on how to do it.

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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