Engaging with Young People Outside the Church

8 July 2010 — 4 Comments

On Tuesday I gave a short presentation at Link Up, an event organised by the YES team of Chichester Diocese for those churches working with young people.

My brief was to talk about engaging with young people outside of the church environment – something I’ve done quite a lot of in my work. As I had very limited time, I outlined some key points before taking a Q & A session – and they didn’t go easy on me! Below are the four things I mentioned:

What are the key things for churches to consider when looking to do youth work in their communities?

  1. Have a clear rationale
    It is really important to understand why you are doing youth work and what its purpose is. “Because we thought it was a good idea” isn’t a good enough reason! There are two main reasons that Christians run youth activities, and they often blur into each other; to tell young people about Jesus (Evangelism), or to do something of benefit for the wider community (Social Action).
    Both of these reasons are perfectly valid and rooted in scripture, but will probably require a different approach. For more detail on rationale for Christian youth work, check out this article. Once you are clear on why you’re doing it, it’s important to communicate this to your church, volunteers and the young people so that everyone is aware of what they are coming to. If it’s evangelistic then be up front about that. There are too many examples of churches putting on a free social event for young people, then once they’re in making them sit through a gospel presentation! Is that really an honest approach?
  2. Research
    Find out what else is going on in your area and then do something different! Be unique, creative and distinctive. If there are two youth clubs that play pool and table tennis, then offer movie nights or badminton! Also, run on a different night to the other activities. Rather than set yourself up in competition with other youth clubs, allow young people to attend more than one! That way you can promote and endorse other activities that run on different nights and give them more choice.
  3. Build relationships with young people
    Putting on events and activities may initially attract young people, but if you want to keep them coming along then you need to get to know their names! Youth work is built on the idea that young people can choose to attend (or not). They are far more likely to continue coming if they have a good relationship with the workers, so spend time chatting and getting to know then as individuals.
  4. Build partnerships with other agencies
    Go to all the boring meetings, they are often the best places to find useful information and network with others and they often bring opportunities for funding too. Go to the council meetings, youth service events, local strategic partnerships, etc. In addition, get to know the shop keepers, local councillors, youth workers and key people in your community. Find out what others think and what they are doing. I find many professionals are naturally suspicious of a church’s agenda, so be willing to listen and learn rather than promote your own activity.

There were plenty more things that I could have talked about. What would you add to this list?


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I am a qualified youth worker, writer and consultant based in Littlehampton, UK. I've worked in the voluntary youth sector for over 12 years, am married to Kirsty and we have two daughters named Hope and Eloise. Check out 'Journeying Together: Growing Youth Work and Youth Workers in Local Communities' and read my opening chapter.

4 responses to Engaging with Young People Outside the Church

  1. Additional suggestion: to win children over to our side in hte fight to keep our country out of the hands of radical militant atheists?

  2. LOL. Thanks Dougal, although I guess that point wasn't high on my list!

  3. LOL. Thanks Dougal, although I guess that point wasn't high on my list!

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