THERE are just under 700 employed workers in Anglican churches whose job description includes working with 11- to 18-year-olds, Jimmy Dale, the National Youth Evangelism Officer, posted on Twitter recently.
Since that figure does not include the many employed workers who are overseeing children’s and families’ ministry at local churches, a pretty conservative estimate would take the overall figure to more than 1000. That makes the Church of England, collectively, one of the largest employers of children’s and youth workers in the country.
The report From Anecdote to Evidence noted that “youth and children's workers are the most effective types of lay workers for a growing church” (Church Growth Research Programme, 2013); research by the Evangelical Alliance suggests that 72 per cent of Christians indicated they had come to faith before they were 20 years old.
Children’s and youth workers are clearly vital, yet the Church is fast losing many of them because the pay and support being offered in many places does not make for sustainable ministry.
One reason for this is that, owing to funding constraints, some posts have short time-frames: only three years to make a difference (often from a standing start), with little prospect of the post continuing beyond that.
But there are other causes: many youth and children’s workers have to travel long distances to work because they cannot afford to live in the parish. This is exacerbated after starting a family: many just cannot afford it and decide to leave. I have heard stories of children’s and youth-workers having to borrow money regularly from family to make ends meet. I even heard of a children’s worker being made redundant to make way for an assistant curate, even though it was the children’s workers’ efforts which had been the catalyst for growth and change in the parish.
THIS simply is not good enough. To address this crisis, there need to be agreed national standards for how the Church funds and supports its youth and children’s workers.
The first issue that must be addressed is licensing. At the moment, it is pot luck whether a children’s or youth worker is licensed in his or her diocese. Consequently, when asked questions, or challenged, there is a collective shrug from the Church of England institutions, since it is down to the locally employing PCCs to provide for their own workers.
Under the existing canon for licensed lay workers, the Church Army is specifically identified and recognised as an “acknowledged community”. The same provision should be made for children’s and youth workers: a specialist licence for those employed to minister to nought- to 18-year-olds on behalf of the church — a “children’s and youth ministry specialist community”.
With licensing would come certain expectations around support and continual professional development. Licensing would also mean that a diocese would be making a commitment to support and encourage that ministry.
This is already on the national Church’s agenda: in February 2016, the General Synod warmly welcomed a report from the Evangelism Task Group which said that children’s and youth-work posts “should not be seen as stepping stones to other forms of ministry but recognised as a specialist ministry”, and that the task group would “ work with Ministry Division to explore creative ways to license these workers”. It is time for action.
The second issue that must be addressed is pay. The minimum basic stipend for clergy in the Church of England is £23,800, which is roughly the same as the average wage for a salaried children’s or youth worker. With a stipend, however, also comes accommodation, paid water rates and council tax, and moving expenses and a decorating allowance. In reality, therefore, youth and children’s workers are much worse off financially than the clergy.
Youth and children’s work is vocational ministry, too, and, just like stipendiary positions, remuneration should enable a children’s and youth worker to serve a parish without the additional stress of whether they can afford to be in ministry at all. If clergy could not afford to serve the parish they are in without the provision of housing, how does the Church expect other full-time vocational specialists to do so?
According to the RSA Insurance Group, the annual running costs for a three-bedroom home in the UK is an average of £19,000 to £20,000 (whether owned, or rented). If our salaried workers are on £25,000 that is all their income going on household bills and rent or mortgage.
THE Church must face up to the fact that, just as many youth and children’s workers enter the most fruitful seasons of ministry, they are not able to manage — unless, that is, they have a partner who works in a highly paid job, or they already own a property. If this was happening with the clergy, there would be an outcry.
The Church owes it to its children and young people to address this problem now.
Ali Campbell is a youth and children’s ministry consultant, and a former youth adviser for the diocese of Chichester.