Thriving youth ministry in estate churches — the key factors
The Revd Amy Bland (Ry 2019-21) is Curate at Euxton Parish Church in the Diocese of Blackburn. As part of her MA degree, Amy conducted research into what affects large youth ministries in estate churches. Shining a light on estate churches where youth ministry is thriving, Amy uncovered three key factors, and we're delighted to invite her to share her findings.
The background picture
Church decline statistics are banded round all the time. There are hundreds of articles online shouting out bad news. There are fewer than 100,000 children in Church of England churches on Sundays. Child attendance declined 20% over the last five years compared to a 12% decline in adult attendance.[i]
And when looking at the picture in estate churches (churches in parishes with 500 or more social houses), the figures seem to be worse. Approximately 20% of Church of England parishes are estate parishes. However, only 14% of parishes with 25 or more under-16s are estates parishes.[ii]
Exploring the successes: 3 key factors
As part of my MA research, I had the joy of exploring estates churches with 25 or more under-16s recorded in their Average Sunday Attendance. I heard stories of thriving children’s and youth work, of difficulties but of a resounding sense that this was important work and something that was really important to the leaders I talked to.
Through gathering and analysing numerical data, as well as interviewing a number of these churches, I aimed to investigate what affects large youth ministries in estate churches.
My findings fell into 3 areas: Sharing Spaces, a Church for All, and Resourcing Leaders.
1. Sharing spaces
Sharing spaces was a theme that a number of interviewees picked up on. Youth ministry seemed to work well when the people of the church were involved in other spaces in the community, especially schools, and when people from the community could use the church space, without it needing to be a Sunday service. Sharing spaces meant people “bumped into each other” in a number of different spaces and so deeper relationships were formed.
"Sharing spaces meant people 'bumped into each other' in a number of different spaces and so deeper relationships were formed."
For this to work well, a number of interviewees commented on what made space good – this included being in a good location for the parish, e.g. opposite the school or centrally in the estate, and that a space could be used for a variety of purposes.
2. Being a church for all
Being a church for all was something that came through in my research. A church for all was one that invested in intergenerational relationships, mentoring, welcomed disruption that can be caused by children and young people, and evangelised to the whole family. When a whole family can feel comfortable and welcome in a church, they are more likely to stay, and it is easier for their children to come to church, as they don’t have to make the decision to come unaccompanied.
"When a whole family can feel comfortable and welcome in a church, they are more likely to stay"
The church is a unique collection of people, a mixture that is not seen in many other aspects of life. It offers the opportunity for people of different ages to come together and learn from each other.
It also offers the opportunity for adults to invest in children and young people. These adults may be from particular professions or with particular interests that differ from a child’s parents, and can therefore provide young people with insight and encouragement from different life experiences.
3. Resourcing leaders
Thirdly, resourcing leaders was important in the churches I interviewed. Often the question of how important it is to employ a youth worker surfaces in these discussions.
"I found that when someone had oversight of the youth work, it had large numbers."
I found that when someone had oversight of the youth work, it had large numbers. This could be a paid worker, a volunteer, or a clergy person. Nationally, 56.3% of churches with 25 or more under-16s employ youth workers.[iii] However, when looking just at estate parishes this figure is 40%.[iv] I suggest this is because estate churches are financially disadvantaged and so cannot afford to employ a youth worker, rather than the lack of need.
A number of interviewees commented it can be difficult to find the right volunteer person to have oversight of youth work in estate parishes. Employing someone can spur on growth and fill this gap. In order for estate churches to be able to employ a youth worker, perhaps some more funding or access to resources is needed.
In the case of one interviewee, youth workers and sports ministers were shared by churches across a city, which meant both city centre and estate parishes could benefit from this expertise. Resourcing leaders also incorporated retaining leaders for the long run, having a diverse team of volunteers and raising up peer leaders. Older teens can be role models who relate well to younger teens. In one church I interviewed, they were running a paid work-experience scheme to employ 16 and 17 year-olds to be leaders in their youth work.
There is some great youth ministry happening in estate churches across England. Although the figures may be showing decline, this is not the case in every church and there are lots of lessons and ideas that can be shared between churches. If the Church of England is to be a Christian presence in every community, it needs to continue to be a presence for the children and young people of estates, and I suggest this can be done well through sharing spaces, being a church for all, and resourcing leaders.
Find out more
If you would like to find out more about this research, you can watch a video summary of my MA dissertation above or on the National Estates Church Network Youtube channel. If you would like to get in contact with me to ask any more questions or read the complete dissertation, feel free to email me:
The Revd Amy Bland
Curate, Euxton Parish Church
[i] Jimmy Dale and Dave Male, GS2161: Children and Youth Ministry, February 2020, p. 2.
[ii] Dave Champness, Estate Churches on the List of 903 Records Referred to in GS2161, 2020, p. 1.
[iii] Dale and Male, Children & Young People in the Church of England and the Factors That Are Common to Growth, 2020, p. 24.
[iv] My data collection
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