Growing numbers of churches throughout the UK are employing youth workers. But to what effect? A recent survey commissioned by Churches
Together in England reveals that churches that employ youth workers compare favourably with churches without a full or part-time youth worker over a wide range of criteria. For example churches with salaried youth workers are more likely to be growing numerically, have more members involved as volunteers in youth work and in evangelism – and the evangelism in those churches is more likely to be innovative. What’s more people who attend churches with a full or part-time youth worker are more likely to feel they ‘belong’ and are ‘growing in their faith’ than attendees of churches who don’t employ a youth worker.
These are just some of the startling results of a major survey of over 100,000 adults who attend 2,000 churches in England – conducted during 2001.
The 2001 Church Life Profile is a well respected piece of research – but only now have the researchers published the results which apply to church based youth work.
The Youth Workers Profile survey explores the extent to which the employment of youth workers by local churches impacts the life of the church and also estimates the numbers of people involved in youth work (as salaried and volunteer workers), plus the numbers of young people who attend church youth groups/clubs.
This survey result has given added weight and support to an earlier piece of research by Peter Brierley of Christian Research, who claimed a couple of years ago that UK churches employed around 7,000 youth workers. The Youth Workers Profile survey suggests that English churches employ 6,000 youth workers and claims this is a conservative figure. Add on the churches in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and Brierley’s claim of 7,000 – which was regarded with scepticism by many at the time, looks spot on. In fact, the limitations of the Church Life survey, which failed to attract a fully representative number of New Church, Pentecostal, Roman Catholic and Black Majority Churches – mean that their 6,000 figure may well be a significant underestimate, given that many churches within these denominations employ youth workers/pastors.
The Youth Workers Profile survey reveals that 17% of churches in England – or about one in six – employ a youth worker, although only about half are employed full-time. This represents a phenomenal growth compared to 20 years ago, when although hard stats don’t exist, most would agree barely one in a 100 churches employed a youth worker. However, denominational, para-church and inter-church bodies also employ youth workers, so the total engaged in youth work on behalf of churches will be much larger – possibly double!
The survey, which was presented by Alison Gelder and Phillip Escott, highlights that Methodist churches are relatively unlikely to have youth workers (they comprise 22% of churches without youth workers, but only 12% of churches with youth workers). United Reformed churches present a similar pattern, while Baptist churches and Salvation Army corps each form a higher proportion of churches with youth workers than without.
The survey goes on to reveal that 44% of the employed youth workers are female – very different from the gender mix of senior ministers in a church where 85% are male. Less than one in five (17%) were unpaid, and one in eight (12%) were people who had retired from full-time work. Exactly two thirds were under 40, and just 4% were ordained.
Around 6% of all the churchgoers who were sampled claimed to have a youth ministry or youth leadership role (one person in 16 of the total church attendees). This is half the number who claimed to be involved in children’s (under 12s) work, pastoral care, leadership of adult small groups or church oversight, one in five (21%) of churchgoers are involved in leading, planning or assisting in church services. However, this still means around 87,000 church attendees in England are involved in youth work or youth ministry in their churches.
The Youth Worker Profile survey gathered information about the sort of youth (12s-25s) activities churches provide. Around a quarter of churches (24%) provide a youth club, which is open to all young people and a further one in five (19%) provide a youth club for young people associated with the church. However, this means that over half (57%) of churches do not provide any activities, club, fellowship or other provision specifically aimed at young people.
When asked if the church held services that could be described as ‘Young People’s Worship’ (and distinct from all age or family worship), 14% answered in the positive.
How many young people?
Comparing research from other studies as well as their own findings, led the authors of the Youth Workers Profile survey to suggest 320,000 12-14s attend church, in excess of 300,000 young people between 15 and 19 attended church, and 100,000 20-25s attend – at least once a month. However one in four churches have no young people between 12-14 attending their church. A further 52% have ten young people or fewer in this age group. So only around one quarter of churches attract significant numbers of 12-14s. This backs up the oftquoted adage that with young people; ‘like attracts like’.
Young people’s involvement in church
A substantial number of young people attend church youth groups (around 225,000), with significant numbers actively involved in church. Getting young people involved in the life, work and witness of the church is vital to aid their growth and give them a form to express and exercise their developing faith. Churches that encourage active participation by young people do best in retaining them.
Churches were asked to state how many young people between the ages of 12 and 25 were involved in church life in various ways.
Youth Involvement (Total)
Choir 40,067 ?Worship band etc. 64,615 ?Bible study or fellowship groups 131,886 ?Church Council 23,773 ?Small group leaders 21,090?Evangelistic outreach 22,640?Community service 17,567?Children’s ministry 45,986?Youth ministry 28,168?Leading/assisting in leading church services 102,614
In churches who employ youth workers there is a greater proportion of the congregation in every age group from late teens to middle age. Middle age parents of teens are increasingly attracted to attend churches where there is a lively youth ministry to appeal to their children.
Increasing numbers of adults are moving churches so their children and teens can mix with others their age in church settings.
Belonging and believing
Church attendees were asked about their sense of belonging to their church. Attendees in churches with an employed youth worker are significantly more likely to have a strong and growing sense of belonging.
Another expression of church vitality is the involvement of church attendees in outreach activities. People (of all ages) attending churches with youth workers are almost twice as likely to be involved in church based evangelism activities and are much less likely to say that their church has no outreach activities at all (about half as likely). However, they are slightly less likely to be involved in social justice or community welfare activities. Churches with youth workers are much more likely than other churches to be organising outreach activities of all types.
Attendees Age Profiles
Youth worker employed in this church
Aged 15-19 Yes 5%, No 2% ?Aged 20-29 Yes 6%, No 3% ?Aged 30-39 Yes 12%, No 8% ?Aged 40-49 Yes 16%, No 12%?Aged 60-69 Yes 18%, No 22% ?Aged 70-79 Yes 16%, No 22%?Aged 80+ Yes 9%, No 12%
Involvement in Church based outreach activities
Youth worker employed in this church
Evangelism activities Yes 14%, No 9% ?Community / justice / welfare activities Yes 16%, No 17%?Both evangelism and welfare activities Yes 6%, No 4%?No activities Yes 6%, No 12%?Not involved Yes 58%, No 58%
These results demonstrated that churches who employ youth workers are much more likely to be satisfied with the provision for young people. Again, there is no indication of cause and effect, and explanations could be complex. For example, it could be that the presence of a youth worker frees up the senior minister or other members of the church to carry out other duties – or encourages them to do so – rather than that it is the youth worker him or herself who is carrying out or instigating all these activities. However, although there is a significantly higher proportion of satisfied respondents in churches who have employed a youth worker it is noticeable that even here the majority are dissatisfied with the provision of ministry to 19-25s.
- This survey throws up several surprises. One is that inner city, suburban and rural churches are equally likely to employ a youth worker.
- Another is that the presence of an employed youth worker corresponds with a greater likelihood of the church being involved in sports ministries, which appeal to men.
- One wonders what the impact would be if more churches employed youth workers – instead of just one in six, what if one in three churches made this appointment? Would the benefits this survey identified also follow?
- Although there is no direct correlation, it cannot be assumed that simply hiring a youth worker brings all the benefits this survey revealed, but it certainly seems to be an attractive option and one which more and more churches are going for.
- Bible colleges and other Christian training organisations, which run Youth Ministry courses, report that their graduates do not face a shortage of options. This is in turn driving up the salary and benefits packages churches are offering. They may not be an automatic guarantee of growth but it seems churches are more than ever mirroring these survey results – hiring a youth worker could be one of the best decisions they make.
The statistics quoted in this article come from Profile of Youth Workers 2003, a private report by Alison Gelder and Phillip Escott, commissioned by Churches Together in England Co-ordinating Group for Youth Work. Copyright Churches Together in England 2003, used with permission.
Satisfaction with youth work
Church attendees of all ages were asked: How satisfied are you with what is offered here for children and young adults?
Youth worker employed in this church
Very/satisfied with under 12s ministry Yes 82%, No 68% ?Very/satisfied with under 12-18s ministry Yes 67%, No 41%?Very/satisfied with under 19-25s ministry Yes 43%, No 27%