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Why Anglican youth ministry is unsustainable

Photo by Flickr user Gabrie Coletti, used under a CC by 2.0 license.

Photo by Flickr user Gabrie Coletti, used under a CC by 2.0 license.

A few weeks ago, someone passed me a job description for a new part-time youth ministry position, and asked me to pass it around. I took one look at it and summarily refused.

At the top of the job description, the parish listed their proposed wage. Do you know how much they wanted to pay? A dollar above minimum wage.

Maybe you think that’s generous. Or maybe, like me, you find yourself seething. It would be one thing if the position was for a child minder, or someone to watch after the children. Even still, I could easily be convinced that such a way was too low.

But the job in question required training. It required skills. It required leadership and facilitation experience. It required that the successful candidate act as a team leader, manage relationships with young people, with parents and the clergy team. And it required that they do so at an abysmal rate of pay.

And this, dear friends, is why youth ministry is unsustainable in our church.

We can take the responsibility to disciple young people ourselves. We might conclude that the responsible thing to do is to hire someone to lead the charge. But if we do that, we need to be similarly responsible to the parish, our young people and to the person we hire.

In response to this job description, a colleague of mine shared:

I would call it short-sighted. If churches want talent, energy and charisma to attract youth, then they will need to compete in *that* employment market, not the broader “anyone who can spell youth ministry” market. At $XX/hour, you often get what you pay for. The really good youth workers will pick where they want to work… 

Another followed up, saying:

…or they will take their gifts and talents to the secular world who will be much more likely to compensate youth workers at a sustainable rate (along with giving them a reasonable and realistic job description and position expectations)

We all say that we want youth ministry to be sustainable. Whatever our reasons, we want this to succeed. I simply don’t know why parishes continue to shoot themselves in the youth ministry foot with hiring practices that are blatantly disrespectful, unrealistic, and unjust.

If you’re looking for further resources to prepare your parish to hire a youth minister in a way that respectful, realistic, and just, consider reading this article:

9 Signs You’re Not Ready to Hire a Youth Minister

If you want to go deeper, be sure to dig deeper with the Youth Ministry Foundations module on Trailblazing: Theological Formation for Youth Ministry.

About Andrew Stephens-Rennie

Andrew is an Anglican lay leader who loves pioneering responsive, contextual solutions to the challenge of being church in the 21st Century. He serves as an assistant to the rector for Evangelism and Christian Formation at Christ Church Cathedral Vancouver and is a founding member of the emerging St. Brigids community (www.stbrigid.ca).
This entry was posted in Generation † Canadian Anglican Youth, Leader Training and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Why Anglican youth ministry is unsustainable

  1. Not to mention archaic ideas that most young people don’t align themselves with.

  2. An excellent reflection and challenge, Andrew Stephens-Rennie. And it strikes me that this conversation is not unlike one that happens (or perhaps doesn’t happen) around music ministry.

  3. As someone who would love to work for a church in this capacity, it is tough to weigh vocational calling against basic necessities—a disappointing reality.

  4. Jesse – I think you’re right, because we basically just don’t know what to do with laypeople who want to serve long-term in the church, and don’t necessarily feel the call to ordination.

  5. A lot of young people love their church, love the traditions and rituals that people of all ages have enjoyed throughout history, and hold a very strong, personal faith. It’s unfortunate that “being young” automatically assumes that they are out of touch with the traditional church, which many do not think is “archaic” at all. It’s the hiring practices and pay scheme that are archaic, not the traditional ideas and rituals, which are timeless and beautiful. Faith is not a one-size fits all of the same age-group exercise, and if we honour their involvement and sense of worth and belonging within the Anglican Church, we will maintain a place for them today and in the future. If not, we risk losing them altogether.

  6. these children r the future of the church!

  7. I was called yo serve the youth of my home parish in London. I did so willingly and with faith in God I had the talents to reach out to youths in our community. Ministering to youth is not a 9-month focus. It is needed year-round. Youth these days need a safe place to go when they ate frightened, frustratede anxious and yes even feeling suicidal. Their days are so full and programed they have no time to get to know themselves, such is the pace of life for them compared to my generation. Too often church communities abdicate their responsibility to support a youth ministry, believing that a hired youth minister really gets them off the hook, because money is thrown at it so it should fix itself. Today, youth have radically different views on prayer, outreach and what it means to belong to a church. There is often a disconnect between their views and what the adults think their children and young adults want in a youth ministry. My daughter chose to attend a youth group at another parish, instead of my home parish, because she didn’t feel she belonged there. Even worse, when she was in dire need of support from the church, nobody was there to receive her. Imagine how you would feel if that happened to you? Would you want to go back? Probably not. Perhaps it’s time to shut off the organ, have volunteer musicians provide weekly music and re-direct the funds delegated to church music to a youth ministry that serves them well. A ministry that is inclusive of all people including those with physical and mental health disabilities. It is paramount thAt knowledge of local services like mindyourmind.ca, C-IT, and other supports related to sexual oriented are known to youth ministers. In so doing, they fulfill the call of discipleship among their parishes. Maybe, just maybe they will want to attend your church. If young people only attend youth group and are not attending church services with their parents, this should be a red flag to any parish. Youth ministry is not confined only to the knowledge of the order of services, it goes further than that–it is meeting them on their ground, walking beside them and living out the gospel together with youths in our immediate communities.

    • Wanita – I really appreciate the last words of your post:

      “Youth ministry is meeting [Youth] on their ground, walking beside them and living out the gospel together with youths in our immediate communities.”

      Amen, and Preach It! This is truly what it’s all about. Accompanying young people in mutually transformative relationships as we seek to follow Jesus, together.

  8. In my community church is becoming a thing of the past there are no young people going to church to carry on the history or then church …i am 38 and the youngest member of our congregation another 10-15 years of this and we will be closing the doors …. the people of today are jist not interested in church….period…

  9. We wpuld be lucky to get 10or 15 out to a service on a regular basis

  10. Thank you, Andrew Stephens-Rennie. God Bless you for raising a tempestuous issue for any congregation in the Anglican Communion.

  11. As a half Anglican and Half United Church Christian (upbringing)…I noticed the Youth Ministry is a question of whether there are enough youth in the parish/congregation and how much we as parishioners/Congregation are willing to tithe. I do notice the United Church (based on individual churches) will always put the funding into Youth Ministry, through Christian Development. Would a study on Anglican churches needs assessments work to see if funding could be raised for ministers pay? Just thinking out loud

  12. In re-reading it once again, I am reminded of the qualifications to be a parent. This position description contains many similarities, and yet women are often underpaid in jobs that pay — like caregivers to children or elderly by personal support workers. It is very telling to me that women more often will accept this wage whereas men are less likely to undertake this function at a low wage for an extended period of time, in excess of a year.

  13. Great reflection and challenge Andrew. Have you had any dialogue with parish that posted the part-time position in question? I’m wondering how those of us who care deeply about sustainable youth ministry might be able to walk with that particular community to help them develop a greater awareness of why these sorts of hiring practices aren’t very helpful to our collective efforts…

    • Hi Matthew – Thanks for these thoughts. I have these conversations on a regular basis, tho haven’t been able to do that with the parish in question. To a certain extent, it feels beyond the purview of what I can do (do you know how many horrible job descriptions I see?), but in this case, it may be worth a chat.

      Certainly in my previous role as a Diocesan Youth Missioner, I had the opportunity to walk through these questions directly with parishes, but my life is currently very removed from that role.

      That said, maybe a follow-up post with things-to-consider when hiring a youth minister would be of some use.

  14. I find the whole idea of a non-functional youth ministry bizarre. Granted I left the episcopal/anglican church a number of years ago but I joined a church with an incredibly active youth ministry. I have no idea how much they paid their youth minister but youth leadership was a volunteer position. They had active mission trips from Toronto to Honduras with support to missionaries around the world. In addition to weekly church meetings with the adults, there was one Sunday school meeting, one mid-week meeting plus numerous trips all around the country with the young people of the church. What is it about the Anglican Church that so alienates the young people? Our young people moved up as they grew older and had babies and eventually to a group where they separated from their children during children’s church. Eventually, the children reached an age where they went to church with their parents and eventually became a part of the larger youth ministry. And so the circle of Christ moves on.

    • Nanci – I’m not sure what church you’ve moved to, but what I’ve noticed is this:

      In the Evangelical church, when something is wrong with youth ministry, everyone is concerned. The pastoral staff, the parents, and the young people – all of them are concerned. And then, in many cases, they actively do something to fix the problem. Large portions of the congregation are invested in the faith lives of their young people.

      In the Mainline church, when something is wrong, we blame the young people, or chalk things up to “the way things are.” Rather than changing what we’re doing, or how we’re doing it, we assume that young people simply leave the church at a particular age, and return when they have kids. This is clearly less-and-less the case.

      I wonder how much of this has to do with theology, and how much of it has to do with our imagination – or lack thereof.

  15. I think a lot of churches are still trying to wrap their heads around the fact that these positions are no longer volunteer. It wasn’t so long ago that one volunteer took care of youth group, and another volunteer (or team) ran the church school. My church has seen the benefits of having a 3/4 time ‘Family Ministry’ Co-ordinator (3 or 4 different ones over the last 7 years). But many in our congregation (who also volunteer countless hours) still wonder why that position gets paid and others don’t.

    • Sharon – I think this is a great question. Why do we pay anyone at the church to do anything?

      I wonder what this would all look like if our communities of faith had more people pitch in to do the things that were important. Why do many of us default to outsourcing work and leadership to a paid professional? What is the role of stependiary ministry? And what do we do when that is no longer viable?

      I think these are questions many parts of our church is wrestling with. In this, we have much to learn from parishes with limited financial resources who have strong participation and community ownership over the life of the church. There’s something about the DIY ethos that we could probably learn from.

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  • I find the whole idea of a non-functional youth ministry bizarre. Granted I left the episcopal/anglican church a number of years ago but I joined a church with an incredibly active youth ministry. I have no idea how much they paid their youth minister but youth leadership was a volunteer position. They had active mission trips from Toronto to Honduras with support to missionaries around the world. In addition to weekly church meetings with the adults, there was one Sunday school meeting, one mid-week meeting plus numerous trips all around the country with the young people of the church. What is it about the Anglican Church that so alienates the young people? Our young people moved up as they grew older and had babies and eventually to a group where they separated from their children during children's church. Eventually, the children reached an age where they went to church with their parents and eventually became a part of the larger youth ministry. And so the circle of Christ moves on.
    • Great reflection and challenge Andrew. Have you had any dialogue with parish that posted the part-time position in question? I'm wondering how those of us who care deeply about sustainable youth ministry might be able to walk with that particular community to help them develop a greater awareness of why these sorts of hiring practices aren't very helpful to our collective efforts...