Where have all the youth workers gone?

Published: August 18, 2021

Young person asking a questionBarrie VoyceBlog by Barrie Voyce, Senior Youth Connector for the Diocese of Gloucester

Recently a friend of mine, Paul Friend, wrote an article for Premier Christianity which asked the question “Where have all the youth workers gone?” 

Like me, Paul has been involved in youth work and ministry for over 20 years, the organisation he leads, SWYM, has been at the forefront of training youth ministers over that time, and recently SWYM have started to branch out into Gloucestershire. I’m delighted that they, and Paul, will be working with some of our churches over the coming months and years.

Paul’s article addresses the very apparant lack of experienced, qualified applicants for youth ministry roles in churches. Its a problem we see here regularly, with roles re-advertised or staying unfilled, or compromises made with job-shares, temporary positions or “wider” children, parent and youth minister rolese created.

Paul highlights three things he thinks have contributed to the current situation, and I’d like to explore these in terms of how the recently launched Youth Connect strategy for the Gloucester Diocese is seeking to rectify some of these. Straight off the bat, I want to make it clear that our response is in no way perfect or complete – we have a long way to go, and Youth Connect is (hopefully) just the start of that.

We haven’t invested in or valued training as much as we should have

When I took a Youthwork and Theology degree 15 years ago, there were at least 4 different organisations I could study with, and around 150 students embarking on this level of training every year. Today there are around 20 new youthworkers entering training across the country. Opportunities are scarce because the need is not there. But as Paul says, its not just about “professional” training, its about on the job training for volunteers, young leaders, church leaders too. Partnering with SWYM will help us address some of this, but we are also launching our own in-house Developing Youth Ministry programme starting in September. These 2 hour sessions are aimed at anyone with a heart for young people in their church, and will equip you with the skills needed to run really effective ministry.

We haven’t paid enough or provided long-term job security

In the article, Paul writes freely about the constraints on finances which lead to short term contracts and low pay scales. One thing we need to do is think creatively about how we deliver great youth ministry without a huge burden on the local parish. Youth Connect aims to inspire groups of churches to work together, join in with each other and pool resources. Part of doing that is making sure we have a clear vision for what we want our ministry to be, and the Youth Connectors can help explore, define and communicate vision into our churches for long-term, sustainable youth ministry that builds disciples.

We see adult ministry as promotion and we back that up with words and actions 

When I joined the Diocese team back in March, so many of my friends said “you’ll be getting ordained next.” It seems like everyone sees that as a natural progression from youth ministry – becoming a vicar. Its a sad truth that so many people I trained and worked with over the years are now in “adult” ministry, never engaging with young people (and often really missing it). I actually find it heartbreaking! There are a bunch of us (like me and Paul) Youth Ministers in our 40s campaigning to get the best young youth ministers to stick at it for the long haul, but in order for them to do that, there needs to be the security mentioned above, and career progression. Youth Connect will create 4 new Youth Connector roles for experienced, senior youth ministers to begin that journey, but we do need more opportunities for youth ministers to be considered as senior members of our church leadership in their own rights.

What next?

I’d like to challenge us in 3 ways:

1 – If you know a youth minister (in your church or someone else’s) then give them some encouragement for who they are and what they’re doing. Celebrate them! And pray for the next generation coming through – that God will rise up a new cohort of passionate youth ministers for the long term.

2 – Sign up for the first of our sessions – Young People in the 2020s – find out what it means to be a teenager today, and why youth ministry is so vital.

3 – Challenge your church to have a vision for the young people in your parish. That doesn’t mean your church needs to employ a youth minister or even run a youth programme. Find out what else is happening for young people locally, in other churches, in their schools. Pray for them, pray for their leaders, join in if you feel called to.

Together we can put the needs of young people, the needs of our communities and the needs of our churches at the centre of our prayers, vision and ministry. You never know, it might all start with you.

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