New survey reveals churches’ struggle to connect with young people

A poll of more than 800 churches has shown that more than two thirds have five or fewer young people in their worshipping community; but 96% would love to provide more support and activities for them if they had the right skills and resources in place.

Allchurches Trust carried out a survey of churches from a range of Christian denominations throughout the UK and Ireland during April 2019 to gain an insight into the work churches are engaged in with 0 to 18-year-olds ahead of the charity launching its new grants programme, Growing Lives.

Allchurches Trust supporting local churches like Stonehouse Methodist Church picture by Mikal Ludlow 3-5-19

The new programme, which launchedon May 20t, makes grants of up to £25,000 available to help churches and Christian organisations to connect with children and young people and forge lasting links with families in their area.

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An encouraging 88% of churches surveyed said that they felt their church offers a welcoming environment for children and young people, but 67% have five or fewer young people aged 11 to 18 in their worshipping community (26% have none) and 45% have five or fewer children aged 0 to 10 (15% have none).

Some 82% of churches are running activities for children aged 0 to 10, but only 58% are running any activities for 11 to 18-year-olds. And while 58% rate their support for the younger age group as good or excellent, 41% admit their provision for older children is inadequate.

Sir Philip Mawer, chairman of Allchurches Trust, said:

“It’s inspiring to read that 96% of the churches we asked said they would love to run more activities for children and young people if they had all of the right resources and skills, but it is important not to under-estimate the scale of the challenge.

“While our survey uncovered some truly inspiring examples of churches running innovative projects that are addressing a very real need in their communities, it’s clear that many are struggling to run activities at all or are offering support that they feel lacks relevance or is unattractive to local families. Many are hampered by buildings that are not fit for purpose and outdated equipment.

“We hope to help overcome some of these practical problems through our new grants programme. We also aim to share shining examples of projects making a difference and encouraging church growth, so that more churches and Christian organisations feel inspired and confident to help young people in their communities reach their potential, spiritually and in other ways.” 

The biggest barrier that churches said they face in running high quality activities are a lack of people to run them (75%) and a lack of young people (59%) and children (52%) attending church, with 44% responding that young people feel the church is not relevant to them. For churches in the most disadvantaged communities, however, top of the list of barriers was lack of funding (73%)

Practical problems are presenting clear hurdles, with 48% of all churches citing lack of funding as a challenge and almost a third saying they lack age appropriate facilities (31%). Some 41% of churches said the biggest help in running more activities would be improvements to make their buildings more accessible to children and young people, while 42% said they would benefit from more electronic equipment, such as computers, tablets and Audio Visual equipment. The biggest help, however, would be younger and more active volunteers (62%)

Allchurches Trust’s new Growing Lives grants programme will fund between 10% and 80% of project cost, depending on the size of the project and the level of need in the community. Organisations can apply even if they have received a grant from Allchurches in the last two years.

Paul Williams, Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham, the Church of England’s first lead bishop for evangelism to young people, said:

“At General Synod in February, the House of Bishops presented its vision for Growing Faith – a national commitment to transform the culture of the Church so that ministry with and by children and young people is increasingly at the heart of everything that we do.

“This vision seeks to bring churches much closer to their communities, with a commitment to provide access to resources for growing faith in churches, schools and households. I’m delighted that Allchurches Trust is introducing this new grants programme, Growing Lives, which will provide crucial funding to churches and Christian organisations, enabling them to enhance their outreach to children and young people and build lasting relationships with local families.”

Ralph Heskett, Bishop for Youth, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said:

“Without young people in our Church we are impoverished. They bring creativity, vitality and a fresh outlook on life. At the same time, there is so much we could offer if it were not for the many practical barriers that limit or prevent local outreach projects from getting started.

“I am delighted to hear of the Growing Lives grant offered by the Allchurches Trust to help overcome these barriers. I look forward to seeing the development of new projects supported by this grant that help young people grasp their deepest meaning in life through a regular encounter with their best friend, Jesus.”

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