New Patterns.

Four years ago YFC published their findings from some research they carried out with young people. It was called “Gen Z : Rethinking Culture.” You can let YFC have your details and download a free copy of the survey here.

Note the name, “rethinking”. We’ve been in a season of having to re-think what youth work might look like the other-side of Covid-19. Do we try and return to what we were doing? Should there be a re-think on our priorities? In some ways I feel that the pandemic has forced us to face aspects of our practice that we should already have been addressing. Although the Gen Z report was four years ago, I’ve not seen much rethinking going on.

We might think that we need to make changes because the world has changed due to the pandemic, we cannot go back to where we were. However, some features of the lives of young people have consistently been present – and significant – for years. We just have’t acted on these features. In general, not allowed these realities to shape our practice.

The word, “paradigm” in the Latin is about a model or pattern. We don’t just need to shift our perspective, we need to consider – and implement – new patterns of practice. We need a new model of youth work that incorporates to a fuller extent things we already know.

These new patterns of practice need to incorporate the following ::

Family Engagement.

I am a stuck record on the importance of family. Engagement with the family is key for effective youth ministry, for faith formation, for growth and understanding the young people we work with. It is possibly the place of most resistance I perceive in terms of shifting youth work practice. Slowly, but slowly, family is coming in to view . . . but we need to get there quicker and make some changes!

Just a few observations on family from the Gen Z research that echo these thoughts. Young people were asked the question, “Who or what influences the way you think about faith / religion?” Family was way out front. WAY OUT FRONT. 73% said family. The next top response was teachers which tied with friends, both at 36%.

Just 11% said information or videos online. 11%. Yet, we are spending WAY MORE TIME and money investing in online engagement with young people (pre-Covid and now, even more) than we are with their families. It still feels as if family remains an afterthought in youth ministry practice.

Add in this stat from the Gen Z research, “59% of young people said that family was the number one thing that made them feel good about themselves.” This made it the most popular number one positive influence.

And, finally – as if we needed anything more on family, there is this – young people were asked, “How important are the following things to you?” And they were given a list of things to choose from. A list that included statements like, “Becoming a better person”; “Becoming successful”; “Money”; “Adventure”; “Being well known.” . . . top of the list, with 82% was “Making my family proud of me.”

Working with the family, supporting young people in their families and creating space for ministry with families in our youth ministry should be a key part of our pattern.

Prophetic Encouragement.

Young people don’t have a baby or junior version of the Holy Spirit. The same Holy Spirit whispers, convicts, champions and challenges young people – just as He does with us as adults. Do we create space to listen?

Young people see things that are wrong with the world and want to do something about it. The overriding feature of this is their perception of injustice. I see this in my own children – they hate injustice. In the Gen Z survey, the top three things that young people were most worried about in the world were – War and Terrorism (51%) Poverty (38%) and Racism (24%).

Yes, racism. Honestly, If you had asked me four years ago what I was most concerned about, I’m not sure racism would have made the list – to my shame. It’s not just whether young people personally experience it, it’s about what they see.

In my small town of Clitheroe, a couple of weeks after George Floyd was murdered in America, an 18 year old organised a protest against racism. About 250 of us gathered on Castle field and took the knee. Maybe half of those present were teenagers.

Oh for more of their idealism and care and passion for the world we live in to shape the world we live in, to shape the church!

I just want to step sideways to another piece of research that was carried out a few years ago, this time by the Church of England – it is called, “Rooted in the Church” and you can read it here. It is also well worth watching their summary video too, which I’ve shared below ::


The key findings from this report could be distilled to some values that need to be in place if our work with young people are to flourish. I want to argue here that these values connect in particular with listening to and responding to the prophetic voice of young people. They are : Inclusion, Equality, Safe Space, Authentic Leadership.

The young people we engage with have a voice and they flourish when they have a safe space to use it, they inform our decision making as a church / worshipping community when they can join in. Many young people are involved in leadership and service in others spaces – through school, community activities and clubs – how are we making space, giving permission and opportunity for them to lead us in the church?

We need to listen and act on the prophetic voice of young people.

Self Leadership.

A question asked in the Gen Z research was, “What are the things that make you feel that ideas or suggestions are worth exploring further?” Now, I want to dive in with quite a few of the answers here and then link it with something young people spend a lot of their time doing.

So, first up – what were top answers to that question? Here we go, “It makes sense to me” (49%) “I think it could be worth while” (45%) “Presented in an interesting way” (34%) “Because it challenges me” (33%) “It may offer a better way of living for me and those around me” (31%).

Now, when we explore the Bible or prayer . . . do we tick any of these boxes? Sit with that question for a moment. Now, the other aspect I wanted to touch on was that young people are incredibly disciplined. Yes, you read that right. There are habits they repeat daily. According to the research, a bunch of stuff many of them do every single day – here we go, daily activities include – Social Media (94%) Music (77%) Youtube (75%) Reading (73%) and Gaming (73%).

Young people do stuff every day.

They aren’t with us every day.

Most youth ministry resources and tools are focused on what we do when we have a group of young people together. Our ministry impact is focused on the time young people are with us – but what if we switched that around? What is when they were with us we were more interested in equipping them for when they are not?

Coming back to the trying new ideas stuff – does the reading the Bible and prayer make sense to you? Why does it – do you make that clear to young people? Does scripture challenge you – really? How? Is that how you engage with it when talking about it with your young people? These might sound like obvious questions – but we’ve got to join the dots.

I sometimes think that we think as practitioners – I’ve only got this short window with these young people, at most a couple of hours a week – so I’ve got to cram in all the fun, all the teaching, all the stuff I can . . . what if we left them wanting more? What if we didn’t fill in the gaps? What if we made it more interesting for the young people to go and discover that prayer works, the Bible is incredible and they can make those practices daily habits to rival their addiction to social media?

This is about self leadership – encouraging young people to own their faith, develop holy habits and be “going for it” not when in the group or at a festival – but because the love Jesus and can’t get enough of spending time with Him that it becomes a habit that rivals the time they spend on other activities.

This will take time and effort, but equipping young people for when they are not with us is more important than what we do with them when they are in the room.