So, next week our youth work pretty much closes down so everyone not a youth worker can run the children's Easter club. Which means I have time to spend doing things I normally wouldn't get to do. One of which is visit other youth projects and steal all their great ideas. Due to some lack of organisation on my part, I've got some space at the start of next week, so if you wouldn't mind, I'd love to go see how your youth work works so to speak. If you're interested get in touch.
"So much ministry with children and young people is a noble effort to be more interesting than God, but the anxiety to keep the childrens' attention will only disclose an underlying fear that God perhaps is not so very interesting after all..."
Samuel Wells - Praying for England: Priestly Presence in Contemporary Culture1
1 I've only got this quote and have no idea what this book is like. It's a winning quote though.
Unsuprisingly while they claim to be Christian the BNP don't get the gospel. Apparently White British people have more a right to the gospel. Someone should tell the Holy Spirit to stop wasting his time over in them foreign parts.
In a brief moments reading I'm going to get to why those statistics about young people dropping out of the church are much oft misleading and unhelpful, but before we get to the crux of it, some background.
I like doing youth work, because I like young people. And one of the many reasons I like young people is because they are much more open. And not just in a "they'll answer honestly when I ask why they punched someone in the face" but in a "they'll punch someone in the face instead of hiding up all their anger and pretending it's not there". Not to say that it's better to punch someone in the face than to hold in your anger—I'm fairly certain it's not—just that I'd rather spend time talking to someone about why they punched someone in the face, than spend time talking to someone trying to find out if they were alright, and was there anything they needed to talk about, and you know, if they were having problems with their work colleague it would probably be better to talk about it now than seethe for nine months, get wastingly drunk at the office Christmas party, and then urinate in their desk drawer.
Anyway. Part of this specific joy of working with young people is that you get to know fairly quickly whether Jesus is someone they're taking seriously. If a young person doesn't like Jesus they'll tell you. Or if they think this Jesus sounds pretty cool, but you know what, so does doing whatever the hell I want to do, they'll tell you. Or if they think Jesus is awesome, they'll tell you.
Because you know those stats you see about legions of young people dropping out of church every week? Those are all teenagers who haven't ever been taken up with Jesus, who haven't ever seen God as uniquely satisfying, who haven't ever come to trust in the goodness of God and rejoice in what the gospel is for them. And because young people are open like they are (and because they go through massive transition periods like moving to university that make it that much easier) they'll just drop out. You can try and put scaffolding up around there unbelief that'll make them stay for a bit, like fun games, cool leaders, and copious trips to Starbucks for Frappacinos, but it won't last. They'll drop out and you'll lose them.
But adults, adults don't drop-out of stuff so much. They're not so open (and they don't have the same natural major transition periods) and they can make self-reinforcing scaffolding. Adults will find reasons for church attendance to be useful outside of the gospel. Things like "giving the children some good moral guidance", "support structures", "common ground" can become the same sort of scaffolding as games can be with young people.
Which brings us to the aforementioned crux of it. With those stats and figures and explanations and stuff you can see the stuff about young people and panic about them, but they're just the most obvious sign of a much wider issue. What you need to know about those figures of drop out of young people is that they are the same for adults, just the adults keep attending. The adults they'll carry on turning up and they'll stay involved, but they are no more excited about Jesus or taken up by the gospel than any of the young people who've dropped out. Because the problem of the church is rooted much deeper than not engaging young people. The problem with the church isn't that it doesn't engage young people with it's activities, the problem with the church is that it doesn't engage people with it's God.
There's a game you can play when Andy Hawthorne is speaking. It's imaginatively called the Andy Hawthorne game. As he speaks, count how many times he says the words Manchester. He is slightly passionate about the place. Last night he averaged a Manchester every minute, and even when asked to speak on a project started and developed on some of the worst estates in Manchester it'd get old quite quickly if he didn't talk even more about Jesus. Because if the guy's passionate about Manchester, it's only because he wants to see it won over for Jesus.
If you're not familiar with Eden and their parent charity The Message Trust then this is what you need to know. In setting out to reach the youth of Manchester, they recognised that Christians had to go and live in these council estates where the young people were. If you think God is calling you to do this, applicants were told, find a job in Manchester and come commit your life to a sink estate and it's local church. And people responded to the call, moved into these estates and promptly had their cars vandalised or their windows knocked in. But people heard the gospel and people became Christians. And so, they said, maybe this model is worth spreading around the rest of the country. And this is why on Thursday night this week, two hundred people turned up to hear them officially launch Eden in London.
For a launch night, it was quite light on information about the projects themselves (we learnt that it's starting in four estates in four spread out parts of London, from the East End to halfway to Wembley) but that wasn't really the point. The point was to get people excited and praying. And it wasn't because they made the projects sound important, again this was the glorious thing about it all, it's because they made much of what God could do, and had done, and will do again. The emphasis was that the power of God was to transform the lives of broken people into those who would sing His praises, and that He was still eager to do that in crappy, run-down, hopeless, council estates so that he would be glorified. Andy Hawthorne showed where the emphasis was when he spoke at the start, talking about why any of this got set up in the first place; "it grieved my heart that these young people did not know Jesus."
"Beware of the greater reaction which will take place after you have acquired the language, and become fatigued and worn out with preaching the gospel to a disobedient and gainsaying people. You will sometimes long for a quiet retreat, where you can find a respite from the tug of toiling at native work—the incessant, intolerable friction of the missionary grindstone. And Satan will sympathize with you in this matter; and he will present some chapel of ease, in which to officiate in your native tongue, some government situation, some professorship or editorship, some literary or scientific pursuit, some supernumerary translation, or, at least some system of schools; anything , in a word, that will help you, without much surrender of character, to slip out of real missionary work. Such a temptation will form the crisis of your disease. If your spiritual constitution can sustain it, you recover; if not, you die."
Every few months I want to look something up on this and spend ten minutes Googling around for it. London Profiler is Google Maps hacked together with freely available government data on London to give you area by area breakdowns of things like education opportunities, various types of crime, and ethnicities. Geeky, but super handy when you need that sort of data.