Where are all the young people?

One of the most important debates in General Synod last week was on children and young people in the Church of England—or rather, why they aren’t. The paper we were offered summarised the analysis of where young people are in the Church based on church attendance returns, and built on a question asked at a previous Synod by Charlie Skrine who is on the staff of St Helen’s Bishopsgate. The paper and its accompanying research can be read here online, and it is very sobering reading; it should be read by anyone in church leadership who is at all concerned with mission. Some of the headlines were summarised as follows:

  1. We have many opportunities as a Church to engage with children and young people through schools, Messy Church, Toddler Groups and midweek youth and children’s ministry. These activities often happen outside Sunday services and are picked up in Statistics for Mission in Worshipping Community Statistics and October count mid-week attendance. We have more limited information about activities that are not acts of worship or fresh expressions of church.
  2. But we also need to recognise that in 2018 we reached a new stage where nationally Sunday attendance for 0-16’s dropped below 100,000 for the first time ever.
  3. According to the single church returns, 38% of these churches have no 0-16’s and 68% of them have 5 or fewer 0-16’s.
  4. The statistics show that under 16’s are not distributed evenly across our Church. In the 2018 Statistics for Mission, 903 returns reported having 25 or more 0-16’s which equates to 41,540 under 16s. This means that 44% of all of 0-16’s are to be found in 6.4% of churches and parishes.
  5. Decline among under 16’s is much faster than decline among all other generations. The number of under 16’s reported in Average Child Sunday attendance has decreased by 20% over the last five years compared to a 12% decline in average adult Sunday attendance.
  6. There is no room for complacency as even amongst those churches and parishes with 25 or more 0-16’s, there is still a pattern of decline. Of the 903 returns with 25 or more 0-16’s in 2018, only 394 (44%) had experienced growth in the last 5 years compared to 461 (51%) who had experienced decline.
  7. We need to remember that there is no one simple solution which will solve all the issues we face. There are some common themes which emerge such as engaging with Youth & Children’s ministry organisations such as Messy Church or Open the Book or developing relationships with Church of England schools but there is clearly no single way to do children and youth ministry. (Of the 903 parishes with 25 or more 0-16’s 359 (40%) had a strong link to an affiliated Church of England School.)

As I have been reflecting on the reality here, two issues have surfaced for me. The first is the question of where all this began to go so badly wrong—when did we see this dramatic failure to engage with young people, where previously this had been an area of strength for the Church? The main group that is missing in church attendance, and which shapes our demographic more than any other, is those in their 30s and 40s, that is, half a generation younger than me. These are people who were teenagers and young people in the 1990s, during the massive cultural shift effected by Thatcherism and our embrace of neoliberalism and individualism as a society. I wonder if, in these changes, we sought too much to be moving with culture, in the name of being ‘relevant’; it is striking now that those churches which are reaching young people are more counter-cultural, offering contrasting values to the mainstream of society in many ways. And it is this group’s children who are now, mostly, not coming to church, demonstrating the importance of parental influence. On both of these questions, see further below.

Secondly, what is the value of the Church of England’s involvement in Education? How come we have so much contact with young people—and how come it is, by and large, having so little effect? It is worth noting the comment above, that some of the churches which are doing well have a strong link to a Church school, but links with schools are possible in other contexts, and it is striking that the Church school on its own, without the ministry of the local church, appears to have little or no impact.

The research appendix attached to the paper adds more detail, and includes some strong conclusions which many will have found uncomfortable.

2.2 Parishes with large congregations are more likely to have children and young people than parishes with small congregations

2.3 Parishes with 25 or more under 16s are likely to either employ a youth, children or families worker or have a strong link to an affiliated Church of England School

2.6 Parishes in an urban setting are more likely to have children and young people that parishes in a rural setting

2.8 Parishes with 25 or more under 16s are likely to have big ministry budgets

All these basically point to the dynamic that young people like to be in larger groups, where there is a more exciting and positive peer dynamic, and that larger churches offer the economies of scale which allow the creation of a specialist youth focus to ministry. (My own anecdotal research suggests that, overall, larger churches don’t have general economies of scale, in the the ratio of paid ministry staff to church attendance is more or less the same, regardless of size of church. But in a large church, ministry staff can specialise.)

2.5 A majority of the churches and parishes with a large number of children and young people are in the evangelical tradition

The bottom line here is that churches that reach children and young people are those who really believe that faith is important and makes a difference, and so is worth the effort.

2.9 Resource churches feature heavily within the list of returns with 25 or more under 16s

This is an important observation. Although a number of resource churches have grown large in a short space of time, and many will be in the evangelical tradition, this nevertheless offers further confirmation of the value of resource churches and the church-planting strategy which is being supported by the Strategic Development Funding.

The paper offered to Synod a fairly straightforward motion, but this was subject to a quite large number of quite detailed amendments, which you can read here. This meant that the debate was less focussed that it might have been; someone commented to me that it was marked by ‘defensiveness and exceptionalism coupled with spreading the diminishing quantities of jam ever thinner and avoiding tough choices.’ Ali Campbell, who has worked in youth ministry for many years, and now acts as a consultant in this area, offered a critical analysis of the paper before the debate, and reflections afterwards. I reproduce what I think are his most helpful observations here with permission. For me, the most crucial point is about the importance of parents and the home.

Debating Amendments. I get there is a process with motions being presented in papers and, if amendments are put forward, they need to be discussed and voted on . . . but, this gives very little space for serious consideration about what is contained in the paper! I listened in and watched via Youtube – it was something approaching 90 minutes before we got through the amendments and then – finally – Synod could consider the paper as a whole – for all of 15 minutes! There has to be a better process for something so crucial!

  • Either a paper like this needs a whole day of discussion and consideration or amendments tabled need to fast tracked through by those presenting the paper (i.e. if, on reading the suggested amendments, it is acknowledged there might have been an oversight or something should have been included in the motion, say so at the outset. A few amendments seemed obvious additions – e.g. Growing Faith being integral, which was brought by Bishop Paul Butler – did it need a short talk about why? Just lob it in so we can crack on with an actual debate!)

DYOs and CWAs. What are those I hear you cry? Well, in some Diocese’ there are youth officers and children’s advisers (or youth advisers and children’s officers, take your pick). There is a cursory mention of them in the acknowledgements and thanks at the end of GS 2161. In the debate (what there was of one) I didn’t hear them mentioned. What I did hear mentioned, more than once, is how limited the resources are “at the centre” and this was used it seemed to me, to justify the – misguided – plan to invest resources in places that are already well resourced…

  • There needs to be a re-imagining of these roles nationally and every Diocese needs be encouraged to invest in the provision of this kind of support. Within each Diocese where these posts do exist, these servants of the church need the tools, resourcing, budget and profile that befits their vital role.

Theological Reflection. Dry bones anyone? I start with asking that question, a touch facetiously, because theological reflection seemed to be entirely absent from the GS 2161. You might remember the passage in Ezekiel 37, “Can these bones live . . . ” . . . “Oh Sovereign Lord, only you know.” Then comes the instruction,

Prophesy to these bones and say to them, “Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.”

What is dead can come to life! We need to rediscover our prophetic imagination. The desolate places need water, where the land is dry and parched of the laughter, the joy and the presence of children . . . we need to be there as the church, we need to be resourcing and investing in those places as a church. DYOs and CWAs can help – and do – resourcing from the centre is not what we need to make this happen! The initiative, “Every Day Faith” is not limiting it’s effort to those places that “get it”. Scripture is littered with the least and the last being called and equipped by God not the biggest, best and the greatest in number! You might recall the army that was reduced in size (Gideon commanding, you know – one of the least and the last) 32,000 down to 300 so God would get the glory.

The approach being adopted to invest in the places that already have does not, in my view, represent the values of the Kingdom.

  • A theological narrative needs to develop that brings inspiration and hope – we will see life come from nothing! The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is in us (Romans 8:11). We can, with the Spirit’s help, do this. We also need to consider again what we mean by “ecclesia” – “Church” was repeatedly mentioned in the context of attendance on Sunday morning, but this is just one facet of the community of the called out ones.

Parents and the Home. I think I mentioned this in my blog post of Tuesday, but in the 48 pages presented to Synod, parents were mentioned just the once. [IP: actually families were mentioned many more times…] I’ve written about this, talked about it, taught about – others have to – yet somehow the story doesn’t change.

Youth Groups / Youth Workers / Children’s Workers . . . compartmentalised groups for children and young people will NOT solve our challenges. I’m afraid it is the pursuit of these things that have helped create the environment we are in. Not because they are not valuable – these roles are vital – but we continue to fail in our assessment of what makes the difference.

Headlines from the Church of England and Hope research a few years ago, “Talking Jesus” focused on just how open young people were to hearing about God (which is fantastic) but in the key things mentioned when the research was released not much was made of some of the starkest statistics – despite the way our culture has changed. Namely, the impact of parents and the home environment on faith formation.

Of the top six influences for people becoming followers of Jesus, for both adults and young people – growing up in a Christian family was top. Top I tell you, TOP.

That is just one report, one piece of research – but the impact of parents and their role in formation is key. For a wide ranging summary of 54 (yes, 54 research projects and surveys and reports) then it is worth looking at the key findings from the Theos report, Passing on Faith

By means of an extensive study of the existing literature on this subject, Passing on Faith reinforces that which has been advanced for years by those involved in children’s ministry within the Christian tradition. The assimilation of research studies in this report confirms that:

  • foundations for faith are laid in childhood;

  • the role and responsibility of the family is central in faith transmission (a theological assertion as well as an observation of child development theory);

  • enduring adolescent and adult believers are largely the product of caring, supportive, stable homes, where faith is seen, heard and experienced;

  • modelling is key: parents need to ‘be’ and ‘do’ what they want their child to become.

It continues to stagger me that mission to and in and with the home is not front and centre for the NCIs (National Church Institutions), every Diocese and every parish. So, it was super frustrating to see just a small reference in GS 2161.

  • The Household of Faith needs to be a priority for mission – to give confidence to parents as they seek to share their faith and live it out in front of their children, to encourage church communities to connect with the diversity of family life in our society today, to build connections with homes where there is limited engagement with the church.

Growing Faith and Joined Up Thinking. This connects with the previous point about parents and the home. The Growing Faith initiative is the most exciting thing I’ve seen the Church invest in – probably within the last 20 years. Bringing together as it does the need to be holistic in mission to children and young people (hooray!) with Church / Home and School all featuring. I’m grateful to Bishop Paul Butler for ensuring this was mentioned in the motion through his amendment.

The fact that this had to be added is troubling. There needs to be far greater joined up thinking if the NCI (National Church Institutions) are going to bring forward initiatives and projects they have to form part of a cohesive narrative. I have no idea to what extent the Department for Education were involved in putting together GS 2161 – if anything, the youth evangelism role (and the task group focused on youth evangelism) needs to sit within and work within the parameters of Growing Faith.

There is something holistic about Growing Faith that is drawing strands together that have previously been running in separate silos – the last thing we need, with Growing Faith having only been launched last year – is to have break away initiatives that dilute the progress and bring confusing mixed messages about national priorities.

  • Everything related to investing in ministry with children, young people and families should sit within the Growing Faith initiative. 

I think Ali’s observations add important depth to an important report, and I hope that both will be carried forward as a priority in the Church’s national strategy on reaching children and young people—as well as shaping the approach of local churches in this area too. All these things have application at a local, as well as diocesan and national level.

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35 thoughts on “Where are all the young people?”

  1. I was wondering if we were measuring the right thing. Is the data this report is based on assumption that young people of faith will want to attend traditional services on Sunday (where the counting is done)? I think the church has broadened its view when it comes to mission but I suspect that the expectation is that this will then result in more bums on seats in traditional services. But people of faith might find this is not where they want to be. But the church is stuck in this model of providing priests and communion in certain spots. I’m not saying it would be easier to measure faith of the community in any other way, but I’m not convinced that training young people to appreciate traditional services on a Sunday morning is the best use of the faith out there. But I’m open to being convinced otherwise.

    • Thanks Hazel. I think Ali also raises the question about *Sunday* engagement, and in my experience it is engagement at other times (e.g. in small mid-week groups) that is also crucial in building faith for young people—or anyone, come to that.

      However, I am not sure anyone is suggesting that attending ‘traditional’ services on Sunday is what is required. All the churches I know with thriving work with young people are a long way from ‘traditional’!

    • It looks to me that if we applied the rules that youth workers want applied to evaluating youth work to children, then we’d be able to count all the people at CoE schools. It is a crucial thing about whether young people are part of the Christian community or simply at a CoE youth group. Sunday attendance seems to me to be a good proxy for this.

      Although the Sunday-metric might be a little under, excluding genuinely faithful church-involved young people who simply work on Sundays, in the main if they are not desiring to join the greater body of church for Sunday worship then what’s going on? At the church to which I go, they’ve recently revamped the Sunday service and have the youth work immediately after. So that most Sundays there’s some ten youths at the front and part of the congregation. Which I think is healthy for both them and us.

  2. One thing about Gideon is that he was commanded by God to reduce the army size. We don’t see any principal being espoused by the prophets or in the New Testament to engage in deliberately less efficient manners to reflect greater glory for God. Paul worked as efficiently as he could, and many others in the church that put effort in helping Paul work as effectively as he could.

    On the school point, one thing I have to wonder is what the assemblies teach. Lots of children simply don’t think Jesus existed. The fact that this isn’t historically credible should be taught in all schools, but certainly CoE schools have a particular reason. I wonder if the issue is that they teach what children what to think in 2020 (climate change, transphobia, racism etc.) instead of how to think for life (a historical awareness, logic, open-mindedness etc.)

  3. Hmmm, how I wish for detailed statistics within my own Baptist family….

    We have some of course but they are limited, and there are generalised statistics for ‘the UK church’ but they are at least as sobering as these.

    For my part as a “Families Worker” I find that these observations hold true. It is much easier to sustain a larger and pre-existing youth or children’s ministry than it is to start one, or build it from low numbers. I have also found that direct work with the family as a whole bears more fruit than compartmentalizing them into the subgroups. One of the main challenges in my current setting is that wild variability of size on any given Sunday; some mornings it might be 5, and other mornings it could be 25.

    I would add two further points though, that I think need to be considered. It is possible that they are covered in the report, which I confess I will not have time to properly absorb, but my suspicion is that they aren’t.

    1. Tying in with your article about church management from the other day, I observe that Churches tend to be poor at training and empowering volunteers. More than preaching and leading worship, children’s ministry cannot be achieved by a soloist: it categorically requires a team to function (if nothing else for safeguarding reasons). The churches that tend to have effective and growing children’s ministries also tend to have a good number of young adults and students too, with time and capacity to learn, and I wonder if there might be some correlation here?

    2. I don’t think you can have a conversation about making children’s work effective without talking also about how to integrate children’s and youth work into the worship and prayer life of the church. We often have a seen-but-not-heard attitude to children in our churches, and places that seek to accommodate younger children more effectively often to do so by effectively removing them from everyone’s line of sight, and you don’ value what you can’t see.

    Lastly, I was at Soul Survivor this week for their winter worship conference. Some of the speakers were leaders from Causeway Coast Vineyard church in NI. They were telling us about how they rebuilt every one of their ministries, including children’s ministry, around this principle: that “if it does not lead the lost to Christ, we don’t do it”. I felt very challenged by this, especially in regards to how little we as children’s workers think of what we do as in any way evangelistic.

    Lots to thin about,

    • Mat,
      Call me an old fashioned, oldie but I’d have thought the main purpose of children/youth/family work is propagation of the Evangel, in any Christian denominational stripe, otherwise it is…what?…Another social voluntary organisation, whether it is stand alone or linked to the/a church?
      The Good News is the only category that is unique to the Christian church, a deposit of particularity in any generation.
      The why question ought to be first, ought it not? What, where, when and how questions follow on do they not?
      A simplified improvement methodology is to interrogate a problem with the “5 Whys”, persist in asking why.
      It is also worth remembering that improvement methodologies, differ from research methodologies.

      • Your not wrong. I just think the emphasis is often lacking.

        I’m certainly not suggesting that I or any other youth/children’s worker intentionally removes the gospel from what they do, rather I’m suggesting that the ‘what, where and when’ questions often get disproportionate focus and attention than the ‘who, why and how’ questions. The former after all are easier to see and measure, and tend to be the metrics by which effective youth and children’s work are measured.


    • Your point, Kyle, about teaching how to think, is spot on, notwithstanding the liberal tropes that seek to countermand, undermine, thinking Biblically, which is far from their spoon -fed stereotypes.
      In a brief conversation, last week, with a sixth former, from church, who is the CU lead in his state school, it was clear that he knew how to think. It was refreshing to speak and listen to him and hear that one of their most well attended recent talks, open to the whole school was on the question of abortion.
      Generating interest in the meetings, was difficult, emails are ignored and old fashioned posters torn down.

  4. I believe Priests are to be looked at here. They are the human focal point in a parish church and if they don’t get the message of youth then we have no chance. Time and time again elderly congregations hold sway , they wouldn’t except youth 40 years ago and nothing as changed.
    PCCs need radical powers to push change through quickly to ensure that those in collars with no soul establish vision and let in the light.

  5. Can reasons be put in a comment? I don’t know – but let’s see.

    The Church I grew up in was part of a C of E school in Canada. It was staffed by ex-pats. There was establishment. There were few women since it was a boys residential school. Church was automatic for everyone except the RCs. 90% of the congregation was under 20. We had the Scriptures read by us and to us twice a day. This is the church that came through the wars. Some of us were in the choir which unfortunately was run by a man suffering under 900 years of abuse. The place, in short, was Dickensian, filled with physical and sexual abuse excused by “you have no idea how much less brutal this is compared with the old days”. And I haven’t mentioned church history, colonialism or the Shoa. We were presented with religious generalities in our Scripture classes.

    There must be, I think, some other model to measure. Some of us, by accident or design, learned to actually read and sing. Some died of aids. Some took their own lives. Some remained for the beauty of the tradition, but found themselves fighting against the abuse they were raised with. If Christ was that body, he was re-crucified uncounted times by the structures and rules of the game.

    We count Christianity as the most numerous of the world’s religions. And we worry about the continuance of this ‘establishment’. It still does some useful social work. It still has a beautiful tradition in some places. All the questions it needs to address present themselves to every generation and every tradition without fail.

    We are no longer part of the pink world – the British Empire. We are part of a single humanity, a single body. We cannot know this body with only a competitive will to power.

    There is still so much local beauty to be pursued: music, science, language – with all their history of joy and conflict. And there are great teachers – so let us grow out of our narrow confessions and into a wideness we cannot know in advance.

    I recall doubting my religion teachers. The whole theological structure seemed too small and though I admired the rise and fall of empires and thought the pink world would never fail, I was really within a very narrow and self-centered frame. The children leave because of such narrowness.

    C’mon Bob – enough is enough – press Post Comment.

  6. I think the influence of parents is much greater than that of children’s workers in bringing children to faith, and keeping them within the church. And yet, I have not seen or heard any teaching for parents as to how to bring their children through.

    My own children sadly, decided not to continue in their church groups in the mid-teens, despite very active church work for them. This was also the case for many other church children, yet other children all continued to show a very strong faith and active participation. Is this due mainly or even entirely to the level of faith of the parents?

    • Thanks for your candid reflection Richard. ‘And yet, I have not seen or heard any teaching for parents as to how to bring their children through.’ Yes, I think this is of critical importance.

      Do you have any reflections on what would have been helpful to you as a parent, or on what you might now do differently in the home?

  7. It’s a tricky one this and one I’ve been engaging with for many decades now. And of course I am ministering in Wales which has a slightly different context and where 97% of Welsh Churches (across all denominations) have no children or young people in on Sunday mornings. Just above the figure of 95% that Scripture Union suggest for the whole UK. And the family aspect is important. 56% of the present church are there because they grew up in Christian homes as opposed to 6% coming in through Alpha I think was the figure Care for the Family were suggesting. The difficulty for us is that it is 56% of an ever diminishing figure. It isn’t enough to rely on families passing on faith to their sons and daughters – especially when there is plenty of research to suggest we are not doing that well at it (and that is intended to be said without guilt – the Stick Faith stuff says there is no silver bullet in regards to what ensures children stay, although they do add that if there were, seeing adults worshiping would be part of the equation – so inter generational worship is really important. And of course we join with our friends in praying for the return of the prodigal).

    But two things worry me. Firstly, it is clear that we measure the things we value. And if we only measure Sunday morning attendance (still the pattern in the Church in Wales and it is going to take me a few more years to change it) we send the message that everything outside of Sunday is less important. Secondly, we have to invest heavily in child evangelism, defined as communicating the Jesus story to some boys and girls who wouldn’t hear the story in any other way). So Messy Church and Outreach Clubs and Youth Groups (not the open youth club type, they don’t work – gatherings of young people for purposeful discipleship) and Schools work and Camps.

    And of course I’m biased – we all have bias – I wandered into Church when I was 16 years of age from a non churched family because Christian friends invited me. I wandered into a Pentecostal church and I promise you, if they owned chandeliers, they would have been swinging from them. I became a Christian there, went to Bible College 3 years later and have been working for churches (in a paid capacity) for the last 30 years. So without child/youth evangelism I was never getting in. And teenagers equipped to tell their friends was such an important part. So I get a bit lost in these debates.

    We must equip people to tell others about Jesus at all ages and we must invest heavily in communicating Jesus to young people and children. And of course the stats help us again. If you are 30 years of age and part of a mainstream church, you are likely to be part of this for life – subject to everyone behaving properly. But up to the age of 30 we have a great big hole. So let’s put some resource where it is actually needed. But that’s just my thoughts on a cold, wet, Cardiff evening…

  8. I recently read the C of E’s report “From Anecdote to Evidence”, summarising findings from the Church Growth Research Programme of 2011-2013. The finding then was that 48% of churches had 5 or fewer under-16s. Less than a decade later, the proportion is now 68%.

    I fully endorse the emphasis on parents needing to model Christian faith (rather than living in a way indistinguishable from non-Christians and leaving it to the church). It used to be that nearly 90% of Christians found Christ before they were 18. By 2004 the percentage had fallen to 64% – I don’t know what it is now. From this I infer that it is increasingly difficult for the gospel to get through to children; mainly because of decidedly un- or anti-Christian influences. Among the under-13s, half came to faith through their parents. Among 13-21s, the main influencers were 20% parents, 20% friends, 20% events (youth events?), 16% relatives and 10% minister (incl. youth worker?). After age 21, exposure to all these is much less. Stats from USA-based barna.com.

    What are ‘resource churches’, by the way?

  9. I think that lumping all under 16s in one may be hiding some trends. It would be helpful to see how the numbers work out if one were to consider 0-3 (pre-school), 4-11 (primary) and 12-16 (or -18, i.e. secondary) separately. The needs and approaches for each group are rather different. I suspect that the drop off in numbers would be most marked in the 12-16 group, when the connection to family is reducing and peer pressure is increasing.

  10. If your read the report, there are some interesting quotations from those involved with the 5 largest churches for the age group (three of which are in the London diocese). This one, from North Finchley, struck me particularly:

    “Numerical growth was never our main focus, we want to grow, empower and equip young disciples of Christ. Our numerical growth is symptomatic of a healthy youth ministry, not what made us healthy.Reflecting I would probably say that key factors in growth included Creating an environment in which young people can encounter God by meeting their spiritual, emotional and physical needs, having clear transition strategies as opposed to retention strategies (empowering young people to successfully navigate faith deconstruction, reconstruction and ownership) and finally empowering, equipping and releasing young people to be Christ ambassadors within their influence circles”

    This is clearly aimed not at primary-aged children. Rather, it is for those beginning to think for themselves. One significant problem, I think, is that ‘Sunday School’/’Junior Church’/’Kids Church’ can provide a simplistic diet, very appropriate to a 6 or 7 year old. However, just as children move on the nature and depth of their school work, what is presented to them in a Church setting must keep pace with their development. It should always be stretching them, so they know that they have never mastered it, let alone left it behind because it seems childish.

    The key word in four of these reports is discipleship. Perhaps at the core of the lack of children in church is the lack of adults who are consciously wanting to be disciples, and churches which are seeking to make disciples.

    • David,
      This is an example: the young man I mentioned above, and spoke to, was at an early morning , pre-work, (and school) week day men’s prayer breakfast. He was there with his Dad, pleased to be there. Discipleship indeed. Or rather the outworking of church and parental discipleship.
      It is hoped that his younger sister will take over running the CU when he leaves for Uni. Discipleship indeed.
      The meeting was led by a congregant, a man in his early 30s with a young family, notwithstanding that the Minister was present: again discipleship.
      In some Sunday morning services, children read out scripture, and prayer, and very well too. And there are different children age groups as they leave the main service, unless it is an all age/family service , however we may classify it. There is little doubt to me that they will be well taught and inducted into the faith.
      What astonishes me is how well behaved, unwhingeing, all the children are across all age groups and there are a good number. They are well integrated, it seems to me, discipled by adults and parents seeking their children to grow into and in the faith rather than a liturgical formula.
      And all in an Anglican church.
      It gladdens the heart.

      • “In some Sunday morning services, children read out scripture, and prayer, and very well too. And there are different children age groups as they leave the main service, unless it is an all age/family service”

        Sometimes I think that instead of being inclusive of children (and maybe low expectations of what they are able, even need, to engage with in worship) items can be childish, even patronizing. The pursuit of the outrageous, as merely eye catching, isn’t helpful.

        Plus… Children vary in what they can and want to engage with. Does boisterous tend to be the default?

  11. In my time at theological college, I was shocked how progressive/liberal the youth section of the college seemed to be. In their common room they had a picture of Ghandi with a quote, but no scripture and when I spoke with the students most of them were at the progressive end of things. I often heard from those in the youth work world that there was little difference between being a church youth worker and one in the secular world, it was simply about loving young people.

    In my days of doing youth work our focus was discipleship and evangelism and yes we made loads of mistakes, but we saw many young people come to faith and many trained into leadership of their peers.

    I wonder how much youth work is infused with a progressive ideology/theology which is implicitly or explicitly universalist (therefore is not looking to see salvation – I know that need not necessarily be the case, but they do seem to go together) and sees little difference between working with young people in church to those outside the church.

    Where are the “orthodox” training centres for training youth workers? That is intentional on making disciples who make disciples?

    Also definitely agree on the lack of emphasis on the role of parenting (speaking timidly as I am one !)

    • Andy,
      I’ve see that in two places in the Methodist church, where the Youth Worker had been trained in largely in the secular ways, with little or any Christian input. That is not to say that nothing can be learned, positive and negative from such qualifications, but for church ministry, it needs to be grounded in doctrine even if it is taboo in some churches.

  12. One thing the statistics do not show though, because even for the more detailed ‘worshiping community’ figures lump 18-69 year-old’s together, is that we are largely missing the parents of children today. Without their parents how would younger children ever come to church? And if they do not come as younger children they are unlikely to be in church when they are older.

    • Yes, I think you are spot on here.

      One important impact that the new resource churches will have is that they are attracting people in their 20s. Guess what they will be doing in ten years’ time?

      • Yes resource churches are reaching this generation we can see that around here.

        Perhaps Archbishop’s Council should press for the age bands in the “worshiping community” to be split to get proper data on this. It wouldn’t be practical to do this for weekly counts (except perhaps in October), but for the Worshiping community is should be practicable.

  13. So a vital part of the question becomes “So where are the parents?” I think any questioning down that line should be carefully examining the academically rigorous study by Steve Aisthorpe that he published as “The Invisible Church: Learning from the Experiences of Church-less Christians” – the answers, as you suggest, seem to lean heavily on the pastoral/mutual care and structures other than the main Sunday service.

    I also feel from experience that Sundays on a regular basis need to have a format and atmosphere that is welcoming to the young family and those with additional needs. Accessibility, integration, welcome, care have to be key words for a church to genuinely be church.

  14. You comment, Ian, that:
    ‘2.5 A majority of the churches and parishes with a large number of children and young people are in the evangelical tradition
    The bottom line here is that churches that reach children and young people are those who really believe that faith is important and makes a difference, and so is worth the effort.’
    That may be part of it, but I’m not sure it’s fair to imply that no churches outside the evangelical tradition think faith makes a difference. Could there be other factors at play here? Are evangelical churches more likely to employ youth workers (for financial or other reasons)? Is that style of worship more likely to appeal to young people? I’m sure there are things to be learned here, but it’s not going to be helped by a simplistic ‘we’re the only people who think faith is important’.

    • Surely Ian didn’t really mean that evangelicals are the only church tradition which “really believe that faith is important and makes a difference, and so is worth the effort.” Perhaps re-wording there would help?

  15. I just had a quick look at the stats (available to download in Excel from the Church of England Statistics page, based on 2011 census data with some updates for 2018 estimates) and it is important to put the youth statistics above in context. For example, where we talk about the uneven spread of young people, that is also true of where young people live. Half of the under-16s in the country live in just 13% of parishes. Further, around a quarter of Church of England Parishes have fewer than 50 under-16s resident in the parish. We can also see the changing demographic of parishes in the more general sense – around a quarter of parishes saw their resident populations shrink between 2011 and 2018.

    I’m not necessarily drawing any particular conclusions from this, other than to contextualise the stats.

    Take the 38% of parishes who reported no under 16s in their congregation. If we were to rank the parishes by size of resident population under 16, the bottom 38% would average around 60 resident under 16s. By no means an impossible task to engage them, but worth contextualising the approaches that would be needed in this context compared with the largest quarter of parishes, which average around 2,500 under-16s resident in the parish.

  16. I though point 2.9 (‘Resource churches feature heavily within the list of returns with 25 or more under 16s’) was titled a little clumsily. 65% (58/89) of all resource parishes feature in the list, but they make up 6.5% (58/903) of the list.

  17. Several thoughts on this interesting thread

    1) Our failure to effectively evangelise Fathers’ doesn’t help: my parish experiences showed that if we aimed at the Fathers as well as the mothers, we got the whole family. We might have got fewer families than those who focused on the children and mothers, but our families stayed.

    2) You have to be intentional in what you teach, distinctive in how you live, and genuine. I am not sure how many churches are confident enough in the Gospel to teach it and live it.

    3) We can be very good at entertaining children and poor at actually teaching them what the faith actually is

    4) We do not teach enough on how to nurture faith in families.

    5) On Church schools, I have been in 4 dioceses and actively involved in Church schools and on DBEs. The Church doesn’t actually value church schools enough, there is always the push back along the lines of what about non church schools. Off course non church schools matter, but church schools are a real gift which we should appreciate and seek to bless while we still have them. As a person brought up in quite a mixed up family (nominally Anglican mother) (d (Jewish Father), I learnt about Christianity at both my CofE primary and CofE secondary. And that pre knowledge wass key to me responding to an evangelistic sermon in my teens.

    • Thanks Vernon. I agree very much with points 1 to 4, particularly 1 and 4.

      On 5, I would like to ask some questions. As far as I am aware, there is simply no evidence that a school being a Church school increases the likelihood that children come to faith one iota. However, churches which make use of the connections with their church school *can* be very effective, as the report notes.

      So the difference is all in the attitude of the church, rather than the school. Are we doing the right thing with Church schools?

    • “1) Our failure to effectively evangelise Fathers’ doesn’t help: my parish experiences showed that if we aimed at the Fathers as well as the mothers, we got the whole family.”

      *We* knew this in the 1970s… (in one of Michael Bottings early books). Why has it become” unlearned”?

  18. Churches are like Karate clubs. No young members no church 35 years on.

    All the peripheral activities like Scouts Cubs Music clubs sports for the young have disappeared. Messy Church is awful. Fine if you are two years old but men and grown kids need other reasons to come to church.

    A decent choir is one way of getting families in but how many churches have choirs? Or an organist? Or the organisation to encourage local fund giving?

    Many dioceses have no problem with extended interregnums when in fact no priest = parishioners push off to find some other church.

    Taking three weeks to bury the dead in SW England creates much anger with families. Jews and Muslims get buried quickly…. why not everyone ? The attitude of many priests who find it normal to wait three weeks before burying the dead is a major sorepoint for many families. Certainly that is what made me walk out of a church and never come back.

    Publicity for the the C of E is a disaster area. Unclear messages about binary racism etc. means lots of young people ask the question: why bother getting involved? Often the person running the youth group is 84 and does not want to let anyone else do anything (if there is a youth group.) Church and parish committees often are completely indifferent to new ideas, people give up after a while.

    Rowan Williams’ comments about Sharia did a huge amount of damage. He might have been the wisest fool in Christendom but state churches in countries like Denmark, Sweden or Russia have fared much better in the last twenty years than the C of E which sees nationalistic pride as a Sin not an asset.


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