‘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
  • 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’.


An accessible church


Based in Eynsham, youth worker, Olly Shaw, has been helping to expand the reach of the local Church community. Each Friday night and Sunday morning Olly and his colleagues run two sets of groups in the youth centre, the first welcoming years 7-9, and the second for year 10 and above. By playing games and having friendly conversations, Olly says these groups aim to create a relaxed and fun environment for any local young person interested in joining a church but unsure of how to access one.

Olly has commented on the importance of initiatives such as these, as it helps improve church accessibility for young people in a village, particularly when transport is limited and they may not come from a Christian background. He describes it as part of a stepping-stone strategy to get more people involved in the church community.

“My own Christian values are integral to my youth work, spreading the message that God loves everyone, and by making worship accessible young people can be encouraged to join in with the hope and community offered by the church,” says Olly.

Adventure base project gathers pace


Back in 2013, the Door reported how Adventure Plus had ambitious plans to buy the Windmill Farm Conference Centre in

Summit in South Africa

Small groups of people from the Diocese of Oxford have been arriving in South Africa ahead of a Summit between the linked dioceses.

Around the Archdeaconries – youth work

AFTER three years of Around the Deaneries, during which the Door ran a full page feature on every Deanery in the Diocese, we are now focusing on our four Archdeaconries. Inspired by the Archdeaconry Plans the page features a range of stories each month from across the Archdeaconries on a particular theme.  This month is youth work. 

by Andrew Gilmour

For several months, youth leaders in Oxford had been planning and praying together towards the launch of an inter-church youth worship event in the city.
The evening saw 200 young people from around 20 different churches in the region meet at St Aldate’s for the launch of Nightlife.

The vision for the evening was to see young people from lots of different churches get a chance to spend time together, be empowered to share the gospel with their friends, and to spend time worshipping together.

As the venue began to fill up, many discovered friends from school that they didn’t even realise went to church. It was brilliant to see youth from lots of different groups mixing together as unity was at the top of our agenda.

We kicked off the night with a time of worship together. As well as a number of the band being young people, the MCs for the evening were also teenagers. We heard a couple of amazing testimonies of God working in people’s lives, which was a huge encouragement to everybody present.

As well as unity and worship being at the top of the agenda, giving young people a chance to hear the Good News of Jesus was also central to the night. We heard an engaging talk about Zacchaeus and how Jesus loved him, regardless of what he had done and despite being disliked by others. The message was a powerful reminder of the unfailing love of God and the power of that love to change our lives.

Time was set aside after the talk to allow the young people to respond and to be prayed for. This was a really moving time and it was obvious that many young people were meeting with God in prayer and worship. The evening was topped off with a pot of ice cream each (generously provided free by George and Danver’s café next door), some group photos, and more time just to enjoy everyone’s company.

We are really excited to see how God is going to use Nightlife in the future. We are currently building towards our second event in October. We pray that it develops into something that energises local youth groups and also as somewhere that young people might hear the gospel and begin to follow Jesus. Please pray for the future of the event, that God would do something really brilliant through it in the region.

If you’d like to find out any more information about the next Nightlife, please contact us at We’d love to see you and your youth group at the next event!

Andrew Gilmour is the Youth Pastor at Oxford’s St Aldate’s Church.

New venue for Yellow Braces


THE flying kiwi, abseiling, shooting, low ropes, climbing and mountain boarding are among the activities that will be on offer for the first time at Yellow Braces – the annual Diocesan youth camp.

The flying Kiwi sees participants dangle from a wire as their team mates use ropes to control their ride through the air. It is one of a host of adventures that young people can take part in at Oakwood Youth Challenge.

This year Yellow Braces is taking place at the Christian adventure centre for the first time. The event, headed up by Ian Macdonald, the Diocesan Youth Advisor, has something for everyone – games, crafts, challenges and competitions. Young people from school years seven to 11 will be able to enjoy Oakwood Youth Challenge’s adventure facilities.
Oakwood was founded by Tony Pudner, an entrepreneur and engineer who was led by God to buy the former pig farm and turn it into a residential conference centre.

“Tony bought the land, set up a climbing tower and it’s grown and grown,” says Ang Wood, one of the Oakwood team. She spoke to me during a few minutes out from doing administration for Oakwood and leading teams of young people aged eight to 18 on various adventures. Ang is just one of a team of committed Christians who work at Oakwood. They have links with Adventure Plus in Oxfordshire, sharing staff for certain activities. Adventure Plus is a similar organisation, combining outdoor adventure with Christian teaching and worship. It has been featured in the Door as it is developing a centre similar to Oakwood in Oxfordshire.

Ang said: “ We have people come from church groups, schools and a pupil referral unit who come, and we have team building sessions for year seven pupils from a local secondary school. “We are hoping God will continue to grow the centre,” said Ang. “We are in the process of building an indoor climbing centre.”

Yellow Braces takes place from July 8 to 10.

Getting to know God in Heyford Park

IN Heyford Park, near Bicester, Sally Anne Mildenhall has just re-started the youth work. Between 6pm and 8pm three Wednesdays out of every four, young people get together to enjoy some food before looking at something Bible related.

They are making a banner with the name of the group – God’s Gang – and when I spoke to Sally Anne she was hoping that the following evening they would be doing some water-colour painting as an after-dinner activity. “One of the girls is from Fiji and we have asked her to pray in Fijian before our meal. We have no idea what she’s saying but we know she’s praying.

“Groups like this are important because there are generations of people who don’t know God. When I was 14 or 15 I became a Sunday School teacher and I think we need to help our young people know that there is a God out there for them. We hope that one day if they ask Christ into their lives they will get to know the Lord Jesus better.”

Football and the Bible in Maids Moreton

FOOTBALL is combined with Bible studies for teenagers at St Edmund’s, Maids Moreton. “We have almost all boys so we start with football. The little ones play by themselves, maybe doing some crafts and the teenagers play for half an hour to 40 minutes before a short worship time and different groups that work through youth materials from Scripture Union,” says Trudi Tarling, the leader. The church’s Sunday morning sessions cater for all children and young people aged five to 17.

The church also holds a monthly youth group on a Friday evening, with 20 minute Bible and prayer slots, as well as a variety of games and activities.
“I think it’s really important as when young people hear the gospel because when they are young they are very open. It’s not easy for teenagers as they grow up and we make sure our sessions are fun, but with some serious moments too,” Trudi added.