CHURCH leaders need to “let go” and allow young people to drop out and return, a new report from the Church of England’s education office suggests.
Young people need space and time to “explore faith”, it says, and must be welcomed without judgement if they return.
The report, Rooted in the Church, is based on two surveys: one completed by 641 people aged 16 to 30, and the other by 878 parents whose children were aged 11 to 30, and who attended, or had attended, a C of E church. They were recruited through 218 churches. Three-quarters of the young people were confirmed; and 55 per cent of the parents said that their child’s church attendance had declined.
Qualitative research was also carried out in longer interviews. The aim was to “explore the relationship between the Church of England and young people, to better understand what helps young people stay rooted in their faith and church lives”.
The recommendations encourage the Church to provide a “friendly, non-judgemental space for young people to see as constant and unconditional parts of their lives”. When asked how they would describe the “perfect church”, young people were most likely to select “friendly”, “encourages participation”, and “non-judgemental”. Parents felt that too many people used binary terms to describe young people’s relationship with the Church: they were either “in” or “out”.
”Many of our respondents urge church leaders to learn to ‘let go’,” the authors write. “This does not mean churches walking away from young people who are drifting, but rather allowing them the space and time to explore faith during the inevitable moments of transition in their lives.
”Churches need to learn how to accommodate ‘dropping out’ and how to welcome back drifters. This necessitates a culture of inclusion, acceptance and welcome. In the same way, churches need to see transition in a more unified way: one individual church’s ‘loss’ might be another individual church’s ‘gain’.”
One parent suggested that churches needed to allow people to come back “without carrying huge baggage. . . All this talk about forgiveness implies that there is something to forgive.”
Young people who were asked about the main influences on their attendance at church were most likely to cite “personal faith” (87 per cent), followed by “sense of community” (62 per cent). When asked about their preferred method of worship, two-thirds selected “modern”: 21 per cent selected “youth-focused”.
Interviewees raised concerns about separating youth from the whole church, with many talking about “the importance of bringing the whole church together on a Sunday morning”. There was a “broad consensus that young people are not truly encouraged to be part of the Church’s vision and strategy”.
More than half of those interviewed (56 per cent) agreed that the Church offered them leadership opportunities, but they warned of tokenism.
One church leader in Coventry spoke of expressions of a desire to “get hold of young people” as “almost vampiric, because it is almost like the Church needs young blood to feed on”.
Almost half of the young adults said that their church had a children’s or youth worker.
Most of those who were involved in the follow-up interviews said that youth leaders needed to be of a similar peer group to themselves. They spoke about “how having an artificially ‘hip’ youth leader from an older generation can often be a turn-off”.
Parents raised concerns about “burn-out” among youth workers, and the report contained evidence about the value of paid youth work. Small groups and mentoring were mentioned, and respondents emphasised that these relationships should be “spontaneous”.