Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Youth-work Strategies, And Youth Tactics

There’s an interesting discussion going on at Hamo’s blog, about the effectiveness or otherwise of church youth-work. It strikes me as being a prime example of the relationship between ‘strategies’ and ‘tactics’ that Steve Taylor writes about in the out of bounds church? and which I posted about recently. In this particular case, churches have chosen the strategy of running youth groups – often involving the strategy of employing a Youth Worker [to give an indication of how much this strategy has been invested-in, in many traditional denominational churches the youth worker is the only salaried non-ordained staff member] – as a means of evangelism…and the local youth have adopted the tactic of using the group as a social activity, leaving – for better social opportunities – as soon as they pass their driving test.

Much of the discussion generated by Hamo’s original post seems to revolve around the idea of needing to find [a] more effective youth-work stategy[/ies], with contributors admitting that they don’t have a better strategy, while expressing an intuitive search towards one. Hanging over the conversation is also the possibility that subversive youth tactics present a problem – not that they are necessarily bad in-and-of-themselves, but that they present a problem to the church, as opposed to an opportunity.

The language of ‘strategy’ and ‘tactics’ is incredibly insightful in describing how the relationship between two groups – one holding the [official] power; one without [official] power – is negotiated. It is not just about a struggle for dominance, but an interaction that allows the power-less group to own their place in the relationship – like allowing a teenager to decorate their own room, within certain boundaries. But, the language of ‘strategy’ and ‘tactics’ is also very much associated with power struggles: the guerrilla tactics of the French Resistance against the German occupiers during WWII; Eta and the IRA, against the Spanish and British governments; al Quaeda against the West and the War on Terrorism…or consider sport: the top-seeded tennis player or top rugby or football team seeks to repeat a successful strategy of dominating the match; the under-dog opponents seek to employ a tactic of disrupting the flow of the strategy, and taking as many chances as comes their way as a result. This confrontational construction – where ‘strategy’ is Good and ‘tactics’ are Bad; or vice versa, depending on your perspective – is accurate, but only part of the picture. Both ‘strategies’ and ‘tactics’ are essential in the construction of a healthy community – or society, or culture. The alternative is either dictatorship [strategy without tactics] or civil war [tactics without strategy]. [But it is worth being aware that each ‘side’ is likely to view the other with at least a degree of suspicion…]

That means that churches do need to invest in strategies for engaging with young people [or anyone else]…but:
…It probably isn’t worth investing too heavily in the details – whatever the strategy, keep it light-weight and low-maintenance;
…It is worth investing in strategies that welcome the inevitable tactical subversion – don’t be too precious, or non-negotiable, about your strategy;
…It is worth investing in strategies that deliberately birth the new thing God is doing, rather than seek to keep a previous thing he did going [sometimes enabling the new life to survive and keeping a dying life alive both require life-support machines; using metaphorical life-support machines is not wrong per se, but it might be worth the church’s while to invest more in metaphorical SCIBUs than in metaphorical ICUs]. On birthing churches, see Steve Taylor’s the out of bounds church? Postcard 3.

I wonder what sort of youth-work might emerge that views the tactics teenagers employ to subvert our church strategies as opportunities to invest in the next generation, rather than problems facing those who want to invest in them…


  1. ... or perhaps we should go with the flow. Ie, if the youth are going to leave anyway to more exciting social opportunities then perhaps we need to build that in to the plan for the youthwork ?

    It should be expected that they want to go and do more exciting things and so the couple of years prior should be preperation for mission in that context rather than than memory verses, tuck shops and games nights - not that there's anything wrong with those things on their own of course, its just what are we trying to acheive in the long run?

    The youth meeting at 16-18 yrs old then could be much more about treating them as adults with a plan & a mission rather than entertainment - cos no matter how good a youth worker is, s/he's never going to be as good as trying to get into the pub and a nightclub, (places, we can note, where they're treated as adults). Just a thought.


  2. I like a lot of your thoughts.

    I think part of the problem has been the consumer model most "youth ministry" porgrams have bought into. Everything we do is about being attractional, and so as students mature they need new attractions. Sometimes we adapt quick enough, sometimes we don't. But when students walk away who do we really have to blame.

    I know it is becoming an overused word these days but "youth ministry" (whatever that is anyore) needs to become more missional, no more seeker sensitive- hide the God stuff, no more charasmaniac- sell the God stuff.