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Rooted in the Church

December 26, 2016

ritcThis is a report from the Church of England’s education of­fice that says that young people need space and time to explore faith” and must be welcomed without judge­ment if they return.

It is based on two surveys: one com­pleted by 641 people aged 16 to 30, and the other by 878 parents whose children were aged 11 to 30, and who attended, or had attended, a C of E church. They were recruited through -218 churches. Three-quarters of the young people were confirmed; and 55 per cent of the parents said that their child’s church attendance had declined.

Qualitative research was also carried out in longer interviews. The aim was to “explore the relationship between the Church of England and young people, to better understand what helps young people stay rooted in their faith and church lives”.

The recommendations encourage the Church to provide a “friendly, non-judgemental space for young people to see as constant and un­conditional parts of their lives”. When asked how they would describe the “perfect church”, young ople were , most likely to select friendly”, “encourages participa­tion”,_ and “non-judgenientie. par­ents felt that too many people used

“Many of our respondents urge church leaders to learn to let go ,” the authors write. “This does not mean churches walking away from young people who are drifting, but rather allowing them the space and time to explore faith during the inevitable moments of transition in their lives.

“Churches need to learn how to accommodate ‘dropping out’ and how to welcome back drifters, This necessitates a culture of inclusion, acceptance and welcome. In the same way, churches need to see transition in a more unified way: one individual church’s ‘loss’ might be another individual church’s `gain’.”

One parent suggested that churches needed to allow people to come back “without carrying huge baggage. . . All this talk about forgiveness implies that there is some-g to forgive.”

Young people who were asked about the main influences on their attendance at church were most likely to cite “personal faith” (87 per cent), followed by “sense of com­munity” (62 per cent). When asked about their preferred method of worship, two-thirds selected “mod­ern”: 21 per cent selected “youth-focused”.

Interviewees raised concerns about separating youth from the whole church, with many talking about “the importance of bringing the whole church together on a Sunday morning”. There was a “broad consensus that young people are not truly encouraged to be part of the Church’s vision and strategy”.

56 per cent agreed that the Church offered them leadership op­portunities, but they warned of tokenism.

One church leader in Coventry spoke of fresh expressions to get hold of young people” as “almost vampiric, because it is blood to feed on”.

Almost half of the young adults said that their church had a chil­dren’s or youth worker.

Most of those who were involved in the follow-up interviews said that youth leaders needed to be of a similar peer group to themselves. They spoke about “how having an artificially ‘hip’ youth leader from an older generation can often be a turn-off’.

Parents raised concerns about “burn-out” among youth workers, and the report contained evidence about the value of paid youth work. Small groups and mentoring were mentioned, and respondents em­phasised that these relationships should be “spontaneous”.

Political groups holds their interest considerable less than church.

‘Strong leadership’ and charismatic style are nowhere near so important as many think.

Key conclusions

Following this research, the evidence suggests that:

Churches should aim to build a culture of intergenerational relationships

Churches should be inclusive of all ages in both leadership and worship

Churches should recognise young people and young adults as equal members of the Body of Christ

Churches should be encouraged to explore the possibility of admitting baptised children to Communion before Confirmation

Churches should become unconditionally welcoming places for young peoplel

Churches need to do more to support their youth workers and leaders


the average age of church “dropouts” among young people is 14.5 years, with peaks at 13, 16 and 18 – ages which broadly correspond to the beginning of secondary school, the end of Key Stage 4 (GCSEs) and the end of Key Stage 5 (A-levels or equivalent).

“The generation now in middle age has produced children who are half as likely to attend church.”

other types of membership clubs, sports organisations and voluntary associations also struggle to retain young people beyond the age of 16 – a trend which is linked to a drop in “social-connectedness” (Young People Social Attitudes Survey: 2003-2012). According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, “virtually all leisure activities that

involve doing something with someone else, from playing volleyball to playing chamber music, are declining”, as well as a decline in the sense of trust in other people and in institutions (Joseph Rowntree Foundation: 2000).

“the marked fall-off in religious attendance has not resulted, yet, in a parallel abdication of religious belief ” – a phenomenon she describes as “believing without belonging”  which is more accurately understood in terms of an “unchurched” rather than a “secular” society.

“strong religions provide clear-cut, compelling answers to questions concerning the meaning of life, mobilise their members’ energies for shared purposes, require a distinctive code of conduct, and discipline their members for failure to live up to it. Weak religions allow a diversity of theological viewpoints, do not and cannot command much of their members’ time or effort, promote few if any distinctive rules of conduct, and discipline no one for violating them”. They conclude that the “weakness” of a “mainline” church like Methodism and Anglicanism stems from the top: a “weakening of the spiritual conviction required to generate the enthusiasm and energy needed to sustain a vigorous communal life. Somehow, in the course of the past century, these churches lost the will or the ability to teach the Christian faith”.

Several of our young adults mentioned the lack of youth representation on functional bodies of the Church as another example of inequality. Parochial Church Councils (PCCs) and Synod were both discussed. While some parents expressed reservations that PCCs would be the most appropriate place for this kind of participation, there is a broad consensus that young people are not truly encouraged to be part of the Church’s vision and strategy.

“If you give children jobs to do then they will be there and do them to the best of their ability. And often they will do it better than the adults.”

“There is a feeling of this is how we do things, this is how we have always done things and this is how we will always do things and that’snot right sometimes.”


““Hiring hip and cool people to run youth group is a gimmick and is not effective as it is very superficial in most cases … Young people don’t want to be targeted but rather want a genuine, meaningful experience.”

a large mosque serving 10,000 Sunni Muslims in Washington D.C. “deliberately seeks young adult leadership to ensure it will thrive in the long term; in the mid-2000s, its Sunday School director was 25, and all four executive officers were in their 30s”.

 The report is online here

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