Mistakes for Church based Youth Workers #1

A couple of years ago, I wrote a piece on mistakes Churches make that undermine an employed youth worker project. This has been quite useful to send to Churches who are exploring the employment of a Youth worker.
I reckon I should perhaps give some thought to things that youth workers do (or fail to do) that undermine a project too.
Drawing from experience (ouch) and observation I reckon one of the key ones is:
HAZ1.jpgFailing to communicate with the Church!
Parish based Youth Work becomes a very busy world and a world that happens, for the main, away from the majority of the congregation. The congregation are paying for the project and hold all sorts of realistic and unrealistic , conscious and subconscious expectations of what the youth work will look like and what it will achieve! It doesn’t take much for muttering concerns (valid or invalid) to really damage the support for the youth work.
Now this doesn’t normally happen until the end of the first year BUT if you’ve not worked hard at communication in the first year then you are left ‘fire fighting!’ and there is a huge danger of resentment in the congregation and in the youth worker.
My theory is that communication with/to the church and key members (parents, funders, people in different congregations) is a priority. Communicating what you are doing (what you are not doing) and why, the challenges and the successes, the frustrations and the difficulties and the way that you spend your time is vital.
One of the real dangers is that quite a few members of the congregation will be expecting the results to be BUMS ON SEATS in the Sunday morning service*, which isn’t likely to happen without the church changing significantly. We need to be communicating what is realistic to expect and what is not, helping Church to understand the young people, and young people the Church.
So, getting practical I reckon:
1. Spend time with key people in the Church, tell stories, share vision, listen and where appropriate respond. Make communicating what you are doing and how you spend your time a priority.
2. Work at getting young people more involved in the life of the Church, and the Church in the life of the young people
3. Avoid the numbers game BUT DO collect (and keep collecting) data. That is, make sure the work is not assessed on BUMS on SEATS (either in Church or youth group) but do present hard data. e.g “Last year we didn’t have anyone involved in Camp ministry but this year we have 4 young people putting their faith into action on Camps and mission trips” or “The youth group has moved from being just social to seeing lots of the young people praying, exploring and putting their faith into action” or “For the last few years we’ve had no one under 30 coming forward to use their gifts in Church but now we have 5 young people actively involved in the life of the Church!”

4. Invest time in being present at Prayer group, House group BBQ etc and where appropriate take a couple of the young people with you. Conversely take a member of the congregation along to some of the ‘youth things’
5. Share Vision with the congregation and the leadership team.

6. Don’t assume that because you’ve written stuff, people know or understand. The written stuff has a use but is no substitute for the upfront spiel and more importantly the conversations. (Thanks for inspiring number 6, Simo)
I’m not sure this list is definitive BUT I am convinced the principal is vital, YOU are part of the Church and the Church want to know, understand and share in that ministry (even if it doesn’t always appear that way!).
(*BTW I am not a huge fan of the Youth work being divorced from the body of the church but it takes this communication and understanding to begin a process of greater integration).

11 Replies to “Mistakes for Church based Youth Workers #1”

  1. Ian
    How right you are, the frustration comes when people ignore it, in my last post I wrote a full A4 page each month for the magazine giving updates on all the work we were doing in the church, town and schools. I remember being at one meeting after 3 or 4 years in the church and someone standing up and saying they thought it would be really good if the church started trying to get into the local schools, something we were doing very successfully, we then got moaned at because we didn’t communicate it, the fact was the person in question just didn’t read or listen to the communication we put out because he wasn’t really connected with the youth work so it wasn’t relevant.

  2. Simo,
    An excellent point and definitely frustrating. I’ll need to add this in as I think part of what I have learnt is that we need to be ACTIVE in our communication and make sure that conversations happen with (jargon alert) … Stakeholders.
    Even if newsletters et al are generally read they are least likely to be read, digested, considered by the most dangerous critics.

  3. With my PCC/Standing Committee hat on, I’d just like to back up the importance of having some way to feedback into the PCC/Church Council about what is happening with the Youth Work, ideally (and I can hear the response from Youth Workers across the world here) it is best if someone close to the coal-face of the Youth Work is actually on the PCC.
    Although reporting back is useful, every so often you’ll get some youth work related item that will come up. For example at one of our recent meetings, one of the PCC brought up ‘problems with the Youth Group’ under AOB and was concerned that the Youth Group wasn’t involved enough in the Church – in actual fact it was that the Youth Group hadn’t been visibly helping lead a family service as a group (most of them are involved as choir or servers) recently, and since the person involved hadn’t been to the Christmas Concert either, they hadn’t seen the two items they’d contributed there.
    Most people mould their vision of the Youth Work by what they see from the pew on Sunday morning. If those same people are also on the Church council who are footing the bill, but haven’t got visibility it is a recipe for problems!

  4. I think the important factor is often how much the church are interested in finding out. Even if you tell peopel something several times in several ways it doesn’t always stick.
    I recently updated and moved our Youth noticeboard in church where I now post the newsletter I send to young people every month as well as details of all our groups and a key member of the church said to me as a consequence “Gosh I didn’t realise you did so much!” My initial reaction was to be upset but realised that this person had no connection to youth work so wouldn’t “look” for things for children or grandchildren. I had another person surprised to see me at the church hall on a Saturday saying “You working? on a Saturday?!” WE’ve got four young people coming on our ADULT quiet day next weekend which should do a LOT to raise awareness. I’m really keen to make it clear that they don’t need “something special” for a quiet day as some people would suggest that. Also we’re about to have LOTS of young people in church for a cross-town event so I imagine they’ll notice that!

  5. These are good points. Just today I realized once again how incredibly important it is to communicate with people on the team as well as people who we hope will buy into our vision. Though my involvement is mostly with Christian TV channels and internet outreach the same principles apply.
    A lot of times people don’t know what we are doing for the Lord, but the Bible does promise that eventually our good deeds will be known. Even so, it helps to have a good reputation with others so that they will stand with us.
    Thanks for writing.

  6. I have found the book ‘ the Ministry of Nurture’ by Duffy Robbins a very helpful book in helping with youth work

  7. this is quality ian. will come in very useful me thinks!! im doing two days a week for my church, just started in fact, so im going to put it to good use straight away.

  8. Thankyou Ian, very useful and I have copied it to file. Being new to working in churches but having had to fight for my funding for past projects a lot of the points are similar. The wonderful difference I notice is not focussing on ‘targets’ and ‘numbers’ nor being put in the horrible position of justifying working with a young person over or under the target age group. Oh joy…..So refreshing. So much to learn!

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