‘Five cultural shifts’ needed for children, young people and families ministry

It’s time for the Church to re-engage with children, young people and families says a new report published by the Diocese of Oxford today. The Diocese says that there has been a growing gulf between the work of churches and the reality of life for young people and in the culture at large. The new report, Disciples Together, explores how parishes can ’embrace change for the benefit of God’s work in the world’ and outlines steps for future ministry.

“Research has shown that one in four adults have engaged with online religious content during lockdown. Interestingly this figure rises to one in three among 18 – 34 year olds. Our experience is that young people are also interested in lived spirituality, but there are some shifts in understanding and practice we need to make; shifts with children, young people and families at the heart,” says Ian Macdonald, Diocesan Youth Adviser.

Ian was speaking at Diocesan Synod on Saturday (13 June) with Yvonne Morris, the Diocesan Children’s and Family Ministry Adviser as they highlighted the need for the Church to connect intergenerationally and in new ways.

“Age segregation has been the norm within our faith in recent times. Added to a disproportionate emphasis on information teaching, it’s led to approaches that are ‘directed at’ children and young people rather than ‘with’. We’ve not sufficiently engaged with their spirituality and lived experience,” says Yvonne.

Disciples Together highlights a growing gulf between the work of the Church and the reality of life for young people and our culture at large. It is written in the context of a culture were many children aren’t connected to a faith community after primary school, and where the majority have disconnected completely by 15.

“The Church should, of course, celebrate all that is good in its work with children, young people and families, but it needs to look hard at its processes, policies and practices and be realistic about the changes required for the future good of the Church – and of the world,” say Ian and Yvonne. The new report highlights five cultural shifts (see notes for editors, below) to address these and recommends small, one-degree changes to help make a difference.

They also point out how young peoples’ attitude to knowledge, relationships, creativity, possibilities, the world, and so much more is radically different from the generations that preceded them. “We have to ask ourselves, how do a very visual generation of creatives, who usually participate in their own learning, fit with a Church that is broadly built around words and largely passive attendance?” The well-documented mental health epidemic is addressed too: “…our gospel vision promises us life in all its fullness, and there are deep resources within our Christian tradition to enable us to make a positive and healing contribution to the well-being of children and young people.”

Disciples Together is available to download from the Diocese of Oxford website from Friday 19 June. Launch materials include a video from the Rt Revd Dr Steven Croft, Bishop of Oxford, and a discussion guide for PCC’s, based on the principles of the popular Parish Planning Tool produced by the Diocese last year. Registration opens today for a series of webinars to explore the themes of the report and a detailed guide to intergenerational church is expected next month.

Notes for editors:

  • The report, together with accompanying materials, is available at oxford.anglican.org/disciples-together
  • An image of the front cover of the report suitable for media use, is available here.
  • To arrange a media interview, or to request further images, please contact Steven Buckley on 07824 906839 or Jo Duckles on 07880 716761
  • The Disciples Together report calls for five cultural shifts in the church:
  1. Viewing children and young people as active participants and pilgrims
    A shift from viewing children and young people as a problem/deficit/challenge to children and young people as active participants and pilgrims.
  2. Engaging with children, young people and families intergenerationally
    A shift from running separate programmes to living intergenerationally.
  3. Being intentional disciple makers
    A shift from ‘vague influencers’ to intentional disciple makers.
  4. Enabling those engaging with children and young people to be ‘called’, ‘formed’ and ‘equipped’ ministers
    A shift from pressed volunteers and workers to called and formed ministers.
  5. Being the change we want to see
    A shift from an ‘adults-only’ Church to an ‘all-age community of grace’.