Youth Spirituality

A Vision for effective Youth Ministry

Monday, January 25th, 2016

Many young Australians are struggling with issues of mental health, anxiety about the future, and addictions to drugs. Behind these struggles are often questions of what life is all about. Youth ministry is more important today than at any time in recent history. Yet, many churches are finding it difficult to connect with youth beyond those whose families are involved in the church.

This book has arisen out of Australian research into youth ministry, from visiting youth groups and talking with youth leaders and the youth themselves. It offers a vision for the development of youth ministry, recognising the diversity of youth and the backgrounds from which they come.

It explores how to build a youth ministry team and the qualities needed in the team. It discusses issues of training, payment, and support for youth leaders and building bridges with parents, church and school.

What are the factors which will really make a difference in developing youth ministry? Based on research, our conclusions are:

  • The vision for developing the spirit of young people

  • The commitment of the whole church to youth ministry

  • The youth ministry team with strong relationships with God, each other, the youth, parents, the church and the wider society;

  • A diversity of activities: both age-specific and intergenerational for fun, friends, inquiry and developing the spirit.

The Authors:

Rev Dr Philip Hughes has had pastoral experience in inner city, suburban and rural churches, and has been the senior research officer of the Christian Research Association since 1985. He has two adult children and one grandchild.

Stephen Reid has worked for the Christian Research Association since 2007 and has one teenage child and two younger children.

Margaret Fraser has worked for the Christian Research Association since 2011. She has two children who are completing university and two who are teenagers.

All three authors were involved in interviews with youth, youth leaders, clergy and parents for this study.

To Purchase – click here

Young People, Faith and Social Justice

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

Concern with issues of social justice may seem at odds with the individualism and consumerism of the world of young people. Yet, increasing numbers of young people are becoming involved in the community through volunteering and many are involved in social justice activities. To what extent does faith provide a basis for involvement in social justice among young people? What role does faith play in young people’s motivations? These issues were addressed by Dr. Joan Daw in a project with MCD University of Divinity in 2009, published in Young People, Faith and Social Justice, by the Yarra Institute Press in 2013.

As a small-scale, qualitative research project, Daw conducted interviews with ten coordinators of youth social justice programs from Catholic secondary schools and four people from Catholicbased social justice organisations. These people
were all related to five Catholic schools in Melbourne. Unfortunately, no young participants in these programs were interviewed or surveyed as part of this project.

Several of the interviewees reported that there were ‘moments of deep spirituality’ among young people in formal religious situations identified, for example, in terms of reflection during the veneration of the Cross, or singing after experiencing Mass in the cathedral.

Several interviewees noted that their students did not have a good grasp of the whole story of the Christian faith or with the whole story of Catholicism.

While many young people were critical of the structures of the Church, it did seem that, from time to time, social justice was affirmed by young people as a practical expression of the faith. However, it was noted that many young people did not connect social justice and faith. They are involved because of their innate sense of justice, because wrongs need to be put right, rather than because it is an expression of Gospel values (p.125). Another person put it in terms of people wanting to be part of the human family and wanting to support those who were disadvantaged, but they did not make the link between that and the institutional Church.

Daw concludes that ‘the optimum situation of connectedness [between faith and social justice] appeared to occur when there was a network of interconnections between parish, family, secondary school and social justice organisation’. But she goes on to say ‘this dense network appeared to be rare’ (p.139)

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 24, No. 1, Pages 15-16

The Bible According to Gen Z

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

More than at any other time in history, Australian young people are exposed to the Bible. Close to 40 per cent of all students undertake some of their schooling in a church-run school with religious education classes. Yet, one gets the impression from talking to many young people that the level of Biblical literacy is very poor. They know little of what is in the Bible and have little understanding of it.

In 2010 and 2011, a group of organisations led by the Bible Society commissioned the Christian Research Association to explore young people’s engagement with the Bible. CRA did that through more than 330 interviews with young people in youth groups, schools, cafes and other locations. The research has now been published in a small book along with comments and suggestions from a range of people working with young people across Australia.

We identified several disincentives to personally engaging with the Bible: 1) There are others ways of exploring faith, 2) Reading is a chore for many young people and 3) Finding what is relevant is hard

Most young people we interviewed who were engaging with the Bible were doing so because they were part of groups that gave them encouragement, that directed what they should read, and helped them in the interpretation and the application of what they read. When young people discovered that there were resources that were relevant and helpful to daily life, they became much more interested in reading the Bible for themselves.

Encouraging young people to engage with the Bible involves creating a ‘micro-climate’ in which there is encouragement to read, guidance in what to read, and assistance in understanding and applying what is read.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 24, No. 1, Pages 12-13

Religion and Youth: World Perspectives

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

The riots in London have raised the issue again as to what is happening in Western culture. Many people have been asking what has gone wrong. There will be no simple answer. The structures of contemporary society need to be re-examined. One may also ask if such events demonstrate a rootlessness, a lack of purpose and altruism which religious faith would normally be addressing. In 2010, two major books were released on the study of religion and youth. Both books spell out clearly the decline of religion among young people and the decline of religious influence on behaviour. One was a collection of essays edited by Sylvia Collins-Mayo and Pink Dandelion, and simply titled, Religion and Youth. The second book, edited by the Italian sociologist, Giuseppe Giordan, was the first in a series of annual reviews of the sociology of religion and was entitled Youth and Religion.

The picture in northern and western Europe is very largely of a loss of interest in institutional forms of religion. In France, there is a widespread lack of interest in institutionalised religion, except among religious minority groups such as the Muslims. Nevertheless, there are many who still maintain some sort of belief. For example 36 per cent of young people agree that ‘there is a God’, and another 29 per cent affirm ‘there is some sort of spirit or life force’. While 35 per cent of French young people reject both God and a higher power (Giordan, p.181), most French young people are not strongly antagonistic to religion and many still come back to religion for some personal rites of passage.

The reasons for the decline are explored in greater depth in the book Religion and Youth. Richard Flory and Donald Miller begin the book by noting that those who were born after 1975 have grown up at the forefront of the digital revolution. They suggest that this revolution has placed multiple options in front of young people. They note that religion has become a choice in which denominational labels are relatively unimportant. Religious authority is internal rather than external, as in the hierarchy of a church. They value religious experiences more than religious beliefs and have the sense of being on a journey rather than in a static community (Collins-Mayo et al., p.10). They distrust institutions of many kinds, including both political and religious, and distrust their leaders (Collins-Mayo et al., p.11), although they do participate in some institutions, usually focussing on the relationships they find within. They live with residual fear, of economic collapse, environmental disaster or terrorist attack (Collins-Mayo et al., p.12).

While there has been general decline in religious involvement, there remain many small groups within European and other societies with high levels of belief and practice. A group of scholars from the Netherlands argue that, in their country, ‘the Christian churches have lost even more of their former appeal and legitimacy than almost anywhere else in the Western world’ (Giordan, p.289).

One of the themes in both books is immigrant young people. The common theme is that, in various ways, immigrant young people must negotiate between the heritage of their families and the social context in which they now find themselves. Such negotiations are not always easy and the outcomes vary from one situation to another.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 21, No. 3, Pages 1-8

Dropping Out of Church

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

The major entry point into the life of the church is in childhood. Most people who attend church today began their attendance as young children, under the influence of their families. However, as has always been the case, many children cease to attend, some before they reach the end of primary school, others in secondary school, and others after their years of schooling. A few return to church when they have their own children. Others return when they feel a personal need for what the church can provide. Many never return. From the perspective of keeping the involvement of people in the life of the church, the most important time is through the teenage years. The following article provides some further data on drop-out rates.

About two-thirds of all Australians aged 50 and over have a memory of attending church frequently when they were 11 or 12 years old. Most of those who did not attend every week went to church occasionally. This would suggest that up to about 1970, two-thirds of Australian children were attending Sunday School or church, at least for a short period in their lives. The big changes occurred in the 1970s when it became less common for children to attend a church. There has always been a significant ‘drop-out’ rate. Indeed, many older Australians remember that they were taken to Sunday School by their parents, but their parents did not go to church themselves. There was an expectation that the children would pick up Christian values in the Sunday School, but they did not need to continue to attend church.

There are many factors which influence the decisions of children and young people to attend or not attend church. Among the most important are the influences of family and friends. In the background are cultural factors: the general sense among young people that this is something about which they can make choices, the awareness that other people do or do not go to church. In many non-Anglo communities which have a strong communal culture, young people continue to attend church. Many of these factors are beyond the control of the church.

However, there are some factors over which churches may have control. The extent to which they encourage the development of groups in which children have a place is important. Young people who find friends at church are more likely to continue to attend than those who do not develop circles of friends at church. In the long-term, young people continue to attend because they find something meaningful within the life of the church, something that contributes to their sense of what life is about.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 21, No. 4, Pages 19-20