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Volunteer crisis is affecting youth and children’s ministry, new study finds

27 May 2022


Volunteers work on a community garden in Hexham

Volunteers work on a community garden in Hexham

A CRISIS in recruiting volunteers is preventing a post-Covid recovery in youth and children’s ministry, and is most affecting rural areas and smaller congregations, a new study has found.

The Mapping the Landscape research project surveyed 1020 churches and organisations working with 0-19s in the south-west.

Research for South West Youth Ministries (SWYM), which trains and supports youth and children’s leaders in the region, found that at 59 per cent of churches a lack of volunteers was described as “challenging” or “very challenging”.

The findings were particularly stark in smaller rural churches, which were less likely to be able to employ a dedicated worker for youth and children’s ministry.

The director of SWYM, Paul Friend, said: “The volunteer crisis is significantly impacting the Covid recovery in youth and children’s ministry. As many churches prioritise looking after their own children and young people, the outreach opportunities are not being taken up as much. We need to explore how we might raise up the next generation of volunteers.

“How can we seek to inspire and envision parents, young leaders, and grandparent figures to all come together to reach, disciple, and serve this generation? We need to explore how we might come together across denominational divides to envision, encourage, and equip volunteers.”

Churches also said that young people’s poor mental health was presenting challenges for the churches and for Christian organisations working with them. The research showed that churches were struggling to recruit and retain even paid children’s and youth workers.

Some respondents blamed poor pay, as well as a sense that their ministry was undervalued, for difficulty in recruiting staff. Yet the evidence suggests that employed workers were able to work with and engage more young people than volunteer leaders were.

Researchers found that organisations were more likely to work in partnership and in more outward-focused forms of ministry to children and young people, including those from deprived areas, than churches.

Forty-four per cent of organisations said that they always worked in partnership, but just seven per cent of churches did so. As a result, “organisations are much more active ‘away from the building’,” researchers noted, although many churches expressed an interest in forming partnerships to help deliver projects.

The survey also found that churches were adopting more family-focused, intergenerational approaches to children’s ministry. Covid had forced parents to re-engage in the discipleship of their children outside church. This shift to “family-based mission and discipleship” should be explored further, the report suggests.

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