on Saturday, 11 June 2022 at 11.26 am by Peter Owen
categorised as Opinion
Annika Mathews ViaMedia.News Young Adults – The Missing Generation?
Pete White Church Times Youth ministry needs long-term investment
“The C of E’s plans to ‘grow younger’ will falter without funding to train specialists”
Auguste Comte was not, of course, a believer, but he never spoke a truer word than when he declared that ‘demography is destiny’ If demography is indeed destiny (as it is), then the Church has almost no future. Ms Mathews’ article is salutary, but it ought to have been written 40 or 50 years ago. The national situation is not ‘bleaker’ as she suggests, but utterly, and existentially, catastrophic. It is far, far worse than anyone in authority – presently in Frank Drebin mode – seems prepared to admit. She refers to the diocesan picture being ‘mixed’; what that means,… Read more »
I am interested in your point 2.
Can you give examples of churches where the Sunday 4 – 6 pm slot has proved fruitful? It seems a narrow window. Have any Anglican churches explored Saturday evening? Certainly the 95% are all busy on Sunday mornings at sports, car boot sales etc.
Examples would be Horncastle (Lincs), Chatteris (Cambs), Scole and Stow Bedon (Norfolk), Clayate (Surrey), Bathford (Somerset), Southwick and Westhampnett (Sussex), etc., etc. Those are/were all-age services (what would have been ‘family services’ in the 1980s or early 1990s, when families actually attended. The provision of cake at places like Bathford or Southwick seemed lavish and might have been significant components in what seemed like me to be success. Of course a good many churches have messy or evening prayer services in those slots. It doesn’t always work of course, although success will often depend on how it is done. Saturday… Read more »
Dear Froghole, the churches on your list that I know are Bathford and Horncastle. No sign on their websites of anything in the 4 – 6 pm window. I wonder if they didn’t survive Covid?
At Horncastle (where I went in 2017) it might have ceased and/or evolved into the ‘pastoral tea’ (see here: https://www.stmaryshorncastle.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/Week-Commencing-22-May-2022.pdf). I could ask Debbie Knight (the SWA administrator, whom I correspond with from time to time). Bathford (where I went in 2015) does have a monthly evening prayer at 4:30. Its main family worship now appears to be a ‘Muddy Church’ once a month at 10 AM. It’s perfectly possible that they didn’t survive the pandemic. A good many places have sunk since early 2020, and further to Michael H’s post, I was back in the disaster zone that is… Read more »
I should add that I have now attended services at the overwhelming majority of churches between Broadstairs and Barnstaple, and the great majority of churches between a line from Worksop/Caistor down to Brighton. Other examples of family worship in that slot which come to mind were the Salisbury Plain benefice, which apparently started after I went there in 2014-16 (but that might now have disappeared, along with the mid-afternoon summer talks they were giving at St Mary’s chancel in Chitterne, which do not now appear on the website) and Haselbech (Northants), where I went in 2017 and where there were… Read more »
Not sure that changing service times will achieve very much. On a couple of occasions I foolishly acted on ‘If only you had it later, we’d come.’ I did and they didn’t. But maybe, just maybe, the nascent move to a 4-day working week will alter the character of the weekend for some, with Friday becoming the chores and Tesco day.
Many thanks for that. I am perhaps too much of a ‘structuralist’, believing that patterns of work and rest will determine people’s willingness to engage in community activities. Of course, there are many reasons for the decline in churchgoing, but I recall my experience of several churches during the 1990s (when I would worship at several churches in what was then my local area). In the early 1990s the Sunday schools were still running – not as vigorously as during the 1980s perhaps, and there was still a critical mass of young/youngish families. By the mid/late 1990s all that had… Read more »
Thank you for your thoughtful response. Indeed, a 4pm Messy Church flourishes not far from me, but without any evidence of transitioning to something more age appropriate in due course.
Too late I fear, but the huge investment of resources in church schools, while laudable in itself, would have been better directed toward youth workers to address poor Christian formation in most parishes. In this respect, given their peculiar soteriology, Evangelical churches were always going to be quicker out of the post-Christendom blocks than central to Catholic parishes.
we’ve got a very young family, and even the recent move of communion from 0930 to 1100 on the 1 Sunday a month we actually have it has produced howls of anguish.
Cafe church, our other monthly service has now moved to 1600 from 0930 and my wife has flatly refused to engage with it as ‘church is something to do first thing then you’ve got the rest of the day.’
So our church – and I’m on the PCC! – has just lost its only young family.
Froghole, you may be interested to follow the ministry of the last rector of Bathford, which you cite above. She has achieved a major transformation at St Nicholas, Corfe Mullen using the same imaginative and empirical methods as in Bathford.
A niche counter-cultural example of a 4-6pm Sunday slot which is fruitful – BCP Choral Evensong at Great St Bartholomew, London. The live streamed service is at 5 pm, very well attended in person and online. Although I’ve left Church of England, I join in online every Sunday. I agree with Froghole about the catastrophic decline in attendance. I’m one of thousands who haven’t returned since March 2020, accelerating the decline. I know very few agree with me but the decision to lock down every church in England – some for as long as 14 months – was a catastrophic… Read more »
Michael: ‘I know very few agree with me but the decision to lock down … was a catastrophic self inflicted wound”. Au contraire, I know many agree with you, me included. It was totally unnecessary – and the thing that narks me most is that the ABC has never acknowledged that his instruction was promulgated as just that rather than as “advice”. I know this is old hat and we should move on, but it is indicative of the dissembling culture of the whole organization..
Of course it was catastrophic. Stanley is right about the dissembling over instruction Vs advice, but it goes beyond that. Essentially the bishops said ‘It isn’t convenient to the church for you to attend at the moment.” That replaced centuries of “should” attend.
There are two separate demographic factors, one generational the other age-based. My grandfather recalled that, when he was a boy, churches seemed mainly filled with old ladies. That, in many places, is still true, though the old ladies of today were not born when my grandfather made his observations. This is an age-based demographic effect. As people age they are more likely to attend church, and ladies more so than gentlemen. The other effect is generational. People born since the General Synod came into existence in 1970 are less and less likely, at any age, to attend church. Jesus told… Read more »
What an original solution! Abolish the Church of England.
The hierarchy are doing a good job with that already. The Church of England existed long before General Synod, and can do long after it has gone. The Church of Scotland was episcopal for a long time, but got over it. What Scotland did in the seventeenth century England can do in the twentyfirst.
The Church of Scotland is in a greater decline than the CofE. Abolition of bishops hasn’t helped.
Many thanks, but if old people never went to church in their youth, they are most unlikely to return to church in old age. As I have mentioned previously, the fissure was about 1963/65. Those people who had their formative experiences before the sea change in public attitudes in 1963-65 may sometimes return to church in old age, but those whose formative experiences were after 1965 would almost certainly not even think about churchgoing as a possibility: it simply isn’t, and never was, any part of their culture. If the Christian message has any appeal to them, then it is… Read more »
May I say how astonished I am that you have attended mass in so many RC churches? On top, I mean, of the vast number of C of E ones. Future centuries may look back on our age as the demise of the Church, or as we look back on the 1550s or 1650s, but of one thing I feel sure. The name of Froghole will be the major source and as well known as Pepys is to us.
I do wonder, is there anything that happened in 1963/5 that you ascribe the fissure to?
Many thanks! In an important essay, Hugh McLeod posits four different schools of secularisation history: (i) the ‘misguided theological modernisation’ school, led by Alan Gilbert (1963 as the year of ‘Honest to God’, which opened Pandora’s box); (ii) the ‘long-term factors’ school led by Karel Dobbelaere, with the tumultuous period 1967-73 exposing the sham of religious observance as a force of habit; (iii) the ‘sudden crisis’ school led by Gérard Cholvy and Yves-Marie Hilaire, who thought that Vatican II raised expectations so high they could not fail to be dashed by reality; and (iv) the ‘short term factors’ school led… Read more »
People do change denomination too. My experience was growing up c of e but moving to a new church (attracted by its energy but hurt by its control) for most of my 20s / 30s and now back in the relative safety of the c of e. The recent discovery+ documentary “Hillsong a megachurch exposed” showed a church very attractive to young people. If the c of e could learn the good bits from this or at least educate it’s teenagers about the bad bits maybe it would keep more of those in their 20s. At the moment many c… Read more »
Yes, a lot of young people in big independent evangelical, charismatic churches as they gravitate to churches with young people already present. However these churches run things for young adults and advertise this. Smaller churches often don’t as they have few young adults. However, people won’t necessarily join where there is no age provision. I like talking to people of all ages but have found it invaluable to be with peers going through same experiences as me now.
Does no major commentator regard liturgical reform as a possibility? It happened at that time.
As a minor commentator I’m going to demonstrate shameless impertinence by saying, No! I preside & preach in a BCP parish from time to time and measured against today’s low bar it is relatively healthy, at least numerically. But it is also niche; the professional classes leavened by a sprinkling of old Etonians. Yes, I know Jesus loves these too, but the future of the C of E was never going to lie there. in ‘Last Rites’ Michael Hampson lays part of the blame on Common Worship, believing a light revision of the ASB was all that was needed. But… Read more »
In his ‘Development of the Anglican Liturgy 1662-1980’ (1989) Ronald Jasper (who had chaired the Liturgical Commission during the decisive years of 1965-80) noted that the pressures for liturgical reform had been building up since WW1, if not since the tractarian era, when Anglo-Catholic modes of worship had quite clearly ‘outgrown the rubrics’. The 1950s, supposedly the high water mark of the Church during the post-war era, had effectively revived the process of liturgical revision aborted in 1928 (in 1955). In addition, there was a wave of liturgical change in the Anglican Communion during the second half of the 1950s… Read more »
I think it was Gregory Dix who identified Whit Sunday 1549 as the day that the English habit of church going took a blow as the new-fangled Book of Common Prayer displaced established devotions. More recently, I have certainly encountered people who stopped attending when the Book of Common Prayer stopped being used in their parish. The moral of the story seems to be that if you mess about with people’s devotional life you alienate them. The ‘liturgy wars’ being fought in some corners of the Roman Communion are another outworking of people’s upset at their worshipping life being disrupted.
By major commentator I meant the academic persons cited by Froghole. I do not divide TA commentators into minor and major.
A great post Froghole. About 10 years ago I was still on the DBE and also helped write two deanery plans, for which I did some basic research. One conclusion may interest you; church (mainly primary) schools “reach” four times as many youngsters as churches! The data sources were the May statistical count for churches and published school roll data with ONS population figures. At the deanery level there are few boundary mismatch errors. Yet generally the diocese put consistently less resource into church school mission / ministry than into parish churches. Is one criterion for passing BAP a complete… Read more »
Many thanks for your remarks, Mr Waldsax. I am very glad to read that. I would say that there are some churches within the outreaches of the Bournemouth/Poole/Christchurch conurbation that do have flourishing congregations (Canford Magna, just up the road from Corfe Mullen, is an instance of this). I have attended services (in 2014, at both the old and the new church, in that parish; the old church is some distance to the north, and pre-pandemic was used for a monthly early communion service). However, there are some struggling churches nearby: for example, Holt closed relatively recently, due to structural… Read more »
I have forgotten another successful 4 PM service that I’ve been to lately, which certainly is regular: this is at Dudley St Thomas (aka the ‘Top Church’), which I should say is somewhat more youth orientated than some of the other family services to which I have alluded.
All useful observations Froghole. I am BTW replying from Canford Magna near the (old) parish church.Holt really did need to close; it was on safety grounds and I hear from the occasional brave surveyor that it is literally fragmenting into the aisle and all because of poor foundations on cheap ground.. It is ironical as it is by far the youngest church of a group which now comprises 6 village churches. That same rural benefice was also reponsible about 10 years ago for starting a successful new form of 9am breakfast service which has transplanted well into several urban neighbours.… Read more »
Many thanks indeed! I did attend a service at Chalbury about 6 years ago; it was packed, but that was presumably because it was a Group service, it is small, and because they are (or were at the time) having worship there only on the fifth Sunday, hence my misguided reference to ‘de facto’ festival status. I quite understand why Holt closed, and although I note that it was from 1835, there was a history of a chapel there from about 1284 (as a chapelry of the Minster, as Holt was a tything within that large parish). So I suppose… Read more »
I do think chaplaincy and schools are so important. I think the Growing Faith work is doing more with schools than perhaps happened previously.
Thanks for these important points
To Annika Matthews: Tell the hierarchs what they should be doing. Don’t wait to be asked. You and your colleagues have more sense of the future than they do. They are yesterday’s people who will soon be dead. The have no idea what to do. They are terrified and are scratching around like headless chickens. Don’t let them neutralise you with committees and working parties so that you become as institutionalised, anodyne and pointless as they are.
I have tried to but also hope to be in church ministry so need to moderate it. Me speaking up directly in institutions has not been successful. Still learning how to engage in the best way to stay in and get results. I had difficulties as people wanted younger voices on Synod to ask for change but then I found at local levels when I raised issues, things were not changed with the discernment process (in relation to diversity issues). However, I have managed to influence churches at local levels sometimes. Building relations is definitely vital.
So, what is the involvement of young adults at the Lambeth Conference…? Suppose every bishop attending had brought one or two young adults with them? I wonder (to steal a phrase from children’s ministry) what might have developed from a parallel Young(er) Lambeth Conference?
This would be interesting to know. I think the Anglican Communion Youth Network have some involvement. They at least asked for short videos or statements from young people to show. There will be young stewards there. I am not sure if there is a youth assembly some are invited to or not (similar to the World Council of Churches Assembly where there are youth delegates, stewards and an ecumenical youth gathering). There should be if there isn’t. They missed a trick.
Part of the problem is that the Church (and this is the same issue for the RC and Orthodox churches too) is a gerontocracy in a society which for the last six decades or so has valued youth over age. So, certainly for the whole of my lifetime, aged church leaders thinking they sound wise when telling everyone else what they can or cannot do have in fact been perceived as sad incapable old men by most of their potential audience. Their extraordinary ostrich-like attitude to gay people over the last 20 years is an example of this – what… Read more »
Totally with you on listening to ordinary people, Mark. As a General Synod member I am ex officio on deanery and diocesan synod and PCC, and I try to go to these to keep in touch with church members’ concerns, but the most important regular commitment I have is as a Street Pastor. Over the 10 years I’ve done this, I’ve had some great conversations of emotional and intellectual depth, challenging pretty well all the church’s assumptions.
I really see where you are coming from Mark but I don’t think age is an excuse. There are plenty of people on TA who are the same age as most of the diocesans (or older) who ‘get it’.
A lot of people say we shouldn’t celebrate same sex weddings because it would lead to schism. Right now personally I see schism as a way of saving at least some of the church because if we carry on as we are I think the institution of the Church of England will be gone within 20 – 30 years.
If schism is to be the saving of the church, then would it not be more convenient for the believers in same-sex marriage to decamp en masse to, say, the Methodist Church? That’s something that could be done tomorrow, without anyone needing to ask permission, or go through elaborate consultations, synods, and so on.
In the Church of England, according to the recent Ozanne Foundation survey, the believers in same sex marriage are in a clear majority. Why should we leave?
Hardly an unbiased survey. The influential NSS survey was totally invalidated by some fatal flaws such as the fact that 52% of the participants were LGBT. To be representative of the population it should have been about 2%, a clear indication that many were her camp followers, who knew which boxes to tick.
So the statement that believers in SSM are in a majority is incorrect.
I am talking about the Ozanne commissioned Yougov survey, conducted regularly by a reputable polling organisation, most recently in 2022. What is your evidence that this specific survey is biased or incorrect please?
My mistake. I was referring to the biased surveys conducted by her organisation. The YouGov survey you refer to has also been heavily criticised. See article below. https://www.premierchristianity.com/opinion/a-new-survey-claims-most-anglicans-back-gay-marriage-but-the-truth-is-very-different/6183.article
Thanks for clarifying, I have to admit your linked article asks an interesting question about the survey method, although it may also provide answers as to why “cultural” but non attending Anglicans no longer go to church. Best wishes.
Are you saying that it is un-Anglican to support same-sex marriage?
No, I was asking a question. I don’t presume to know what is “un-Anglican”. What we can say is that at present the Church of England does not recognise same-sex marriage, while the Methodist church does. It is therefore natural to ask why those people who find the acceptance or otherwise of same-sex marriage an issue of such overriding importance that they are prepared to split the Church of England over it, do not simply move. The split, between CofE and Methodist, is already there.
I think the people prepared to spilt the C of E over its treatment of gay people are the anti-gay lobby, are they not? The Church of England used, until the Con Evo outcry over Jeffrey John’s appointment to Reading 20 years ago, to be a very tolerant place for gay people. We (Anglo-Catholics) all knew clergy who lived with their same sex partners, and this went back, certainly in the parishes where I was, to the period well before the 2nd World War. Society changed to allow, indeed encourage, these things to be articulated more openly than they had… Read more »
I suppose what I am trying to say in a long-winded way in my previous comment is that the Church of England’s historic niche amongst all the denominations has been as the most liberal one on issues of sexual lifestyle choices. How could a denomination founded by Henry VIII so that he could divorce and remarry conveniently be otherwise, without gross hypocrisy, frankly? If you want hard line teaching on sex, then Calvinist Free Churches and the RC Church have chosen to specialise in that, but NOT the C of E, in its wisdom. Except recently, and in this one… Read more »
Then the remainder dies. What point is there in that?
Some people do not believe in sectarian denominationalism. There is only one national church.
There is only one established church in England, a different one in Scotland, and none in Wales: there are several with a national reach. As for sectarian denominationalism, it’s a fact of life whether you believe in it or not.
If your aspiration is for a single national church established by law, with an enforced unitary doctrine, then be careful what you wish for, in case you get it …
I wish there were a like button, Mark. Soon on.
There have been innumerable initiatives over my 58 years aimed at children and young people. They evidently have not worked. A different committee structure with youth participation isn’t likely to halt the decline. There is an existential crisis that ‘initiatives’ seek to deflect us from.
yes a lot of time, money and energy are wasted on this front, when we already have the answer: a network of CofE schools. I also feel that the more the CofE relieves church-going parents of their responsibility to raise their children as Christians, should they choose to do so, the more we compound the problem.
But Stephen there are hardly any young teachers who are Christians to apply for jobs in our church schools. My experience was that the well meaning staff thought that being a Christian was about being a ‘nice’ person. They had only the haziest understanding of it being a follower of Jesus Christ. The staff were not churchgoers and didn’t confess the faith themselves. I once asked a headteacher to encourage the children to address their assembly prayers to an aspect of the Holy Trinity rather than just requests prefaced by “We pray …” the head hadn’t a clue what I… Read more »
there is surely a lot of ground to make up in CofE schools, but the good examples of Christian ethos and teaching that do exist show what can be achieved when parish church and school work together.
My experience of rural and urban church schools is in line with that: parents feel exonerated from teaching the faith by sending their darlings to a church school. Furthermore, their view of regular attendance at church (for purposes of references for an RC secondary school) was regular three times a year: Harvest, Christingle, and Well dressing (not even Remembrance made that list). I was in trouble shortly after my appointment to Burton for suggesting that we teach the faith as the Catholics do. “That’s not how the C of E operates” came the response from the Archdeacon.
I recall John Pritchard’s ‘Church Schools of the Future’ report (2011), which basically threw in the towel (as I saw it). The gist of the report (as I recall it) was that: (i) the Church should leverage its brand within the education sector (whatever that meant); (ii) it should aim to serve the entire community (i.e., not be a facilitator of class division and incipient and informal apartheid); and (iii) it should not ‘force’ the faith on anyone (i.e., recognise that the religious observance stipulation of Baker’s 1988 Act, following Butler’s 1944 Act, was a dead letter). Therefore, in order… Read more »
FWIW I think that religion and its institutions should have no part whatsoever in state funded education. My opinion is based on what I’ve seen as layman then priest. As it is, CofE schools veer towards teaching the faith as little more than being kind to animals and liking chocolate. The former is commendable so long as we remember that we too are animals. Of the latter I say nothing. I prefer lemon slices.
A simple catechism outlining basic Christianity as the C of E understands it might help. But the idea mooted a few years ago appears to have been shelved. It might be a useful resource to Christian parents and form part of the syllabus in a church school. 40 years ago at an independent school I took the Lower 4th through the Revised Catechism for a half term as per its RE syllabus. But the Rev Catechism, still in print I believe is showing its age. In the early 60s when it was produced it was quite a significant teaching tool… Read more »
The catechism in the 1979 TEC BCP is very good.
The Annika Matthews article is informative, pragmatic, a kind of focused enthusiasm. It also has a sense of urgency, “It will be too late when the Church realises that a dearth of under-35s now will spell a dent in the coffers of parish funds in 20 years’ time.” Articles about youth and youth ministry catapult to demographics almost immediately. A 2015 article by Damian Thompson in The Spectator puts the ‘zero member number’ for UK Anglicanism at 2033. A comprehensive demographic study puts the ‘zero member number’ for Canada at 2040 and that of TEC at 2050 respectively. So the… Read more »
That’s an interesting question to raise. There are both liberal and conservative groups of young adults. In fact, perhaps in big resource churches or independent evangelical churches, quite a few are conservative in theology so if staying there, young adults may develop conservative theologies in different ways. For students, CUs are popular which usually have more conservative views. However, there are also young adults in things like Student Christian Movement and inclusive church communities which will have more liberal theology. My theology (as I hope is the case for others) has grown and changed over my 7.5 years as a… Read more »
I suspect that some of these discussions about what “works” to bring people into church are starting from the wrong end. Firstly, of course, the object isn’t to bring people into church but to tell them the good news. Once they have heard it, they probably will come to church, somehow, somewhere. Assessing the success of spreading the gospel by measuring church attendance is an example of Goodhart’s Law: turning a measure into a target. Secondly, what works is authenticity: vocation if you prefer. One minister, or lay worker, or congregation, may be called to work in a particular way… Read more »
Yes, you make a good point – no one way fits all but starting somewhere is good. Plenty of churches do nothing as perhaps they don’t have young adults or a handful so don’t think it worth it. It is though or at least trying something as it could work, and if it doesn’t, you’ve tried!
So many comments are about what doesn’t work or what used to work back in the day. It would be great to look at what actually has borne fruit – and is bearing fruit in our every changing contexts – and to really understand what it means to support and nurture young people in the faith, and to provide the best understanding of journeying alongside young people.
On bearing fruit, I highly recommend the writings of John Westerhoff, an Episcopal priest who was, for many years, a member of the faculty of the Divinity School at Duke University. He worked with a parish where I was priest associate to help us create an intergenerational Sunday School program which focused on involving adults and children in creative, active engagement with the stories contained in the lectionary readings for each Sunday. Everything was done as preparation for all of us for the Sunday morning Eucharist to follow. His belief was that Sunday Eucharistic worship was the chief vehicle for… Read more »
Thanks for sharing, will look the author up
What has worked for us are the following: having a clear vision for families, children and youth ministry; deploying resources (employed full-time staff, buildings, volunteers); a clear, consistent strategy; bible teaching throughout; small groups for youth; specific youth meetings, inc social activities; involving youth in serving within the church and in leading music in worship; annual youth house party; and finally appointing ministry trainees to work with families, children and youth, who gain experience and go on to become full time youth/children/families workers.
Thanks for sharing. Sounds great and I hope the ministry continues to thrive