Why kids aren’t afraid of Church anymore! Youth Work Culture


(N.b. – Before you read mine, I’ve found someone who say’s it better!  Mark Grithiths, here: http://tahilla.typepad.com/children_matter/2010/02/one-generation-from-extinction-1.html)

Not in the church!

‘You can’t run a youth event in the church building because the kids won’t come!’

Something you’ve heard before? I’ve heard it too! In PCC meetings, planning sessions, prayer meetings, training days, and from a whole bunch of different people; older generations who genuinely believe it, and younger generations who have heard it so many times that they just assume that it’s true.

Everywhere I go the prevailing belief is held that young people are afraid to come into a church building.

So begins the era of neutral venues: gymnasiums, school halls, coffee-shops etc. – which often cost more time, money, energy and drives the segregation wedge between ‘young people and church’ even deeper.

But where did this belief even come from, and does the same issue exist today? Are our kids really so anti-church?

Some Generational History

The Last Of The Baby-Boomers

Three generations ago during our grandparent’s childhood, (speaking from a twenty-something’s viewpoint) going to church was an expected Sunday activity. You went, because you were supposed to go. No questions asked.

The dregs of this time can be seen on the brass plaques of Sunday School registers around the halls with old forgotten offices like ‘Sunday School Superintendent.’ The rooms were full, the youth work ‘thriving’ because of course, young people were supposed to be there.

Generation X

Enter then the generation of rebellion: generation X. This is the culture that gave us glam rock, the punk movement and incredibly dodgy haircuts. This believe it or not, is our parents generation. Go ahead, ask them to recall their ‘rebellion’ era, or to show you some snapshots of their ill-spent youth. Remember though, once you’ve heard the tails and seen the pictures you can’t just delete them out of your head, they’re going to haunt you forever! I still can’t believe the length of my dad’s hair, or the cheesiness of my mum’s flares. Gah.

‘Generation X’ were a ‘post‘ generation. They were post-war, and tired of the high profile political scandals that we’re surfacing as a result. They we’re post-baby boomer, and tired of the rigorous logic and cold analytical appetites of modernism. They were therefore the first post-moderns. They we’re also post-religion and stopped attending church once they we’re old enough to make that decision. They didn’t send their kids to church either. Sunday mornings became family time, football practice, or Big Breakfast telly-time.

Generation Y

Then of course came ‘generation Y,’ my generation of mainly twenty-and thirty-somethings. We are genX’s kids and, like it said above, we were mostly not sent to church. Part of genXs rebellion was bringing up kids free from perceived tyrannies like religion and church going.

GenY, however, were bought up with their parent’s stories of how awful church was, how irrelevant, boring, painful, false, and out-of-touch. GenY believed their parents stories (why wouldn’t they?), but had no experience of it themselves.

Generation Zzzzzzz

GenY’s kids, ‘generation Z’ aka gen Zzzzzzzzz came next; the young people that we work with today. They have no relationship to church. Their parents didn’t go and didn’t have stories to tell. GenZ have next to no experience, no context, no stories and no relationship at all with churches.

Gen Z is three generations behind the core of the problem.

Three Generations Behind

Our young people today do not have the same cultural phobia or institutional memory of earlier generations. They might see church to be relics of a bygone era, but no more so than the old post-office building or a town hall. They are three generations behind the root of the issue and have little or no personal stake in connection to churches.

I’m speaking in sweeping generalizations of course. Most of the young people in the UK that we work with today however, will still be three generations behind the personal problem of church phobia:

Baby-boomers (grandparents) were ‘you’re supposed to go to church.’

Generation X (parents) ‘went until they didn’t have to anymore.’

Generation Y (20/30-somethings) went to to church to be ‘baptized, married, an

Generation Z (today’s teens) have little or no ‘church relationship’

So what?

There simply isn’t the same cultural problem with church-going today for many of the young people that we work with. Many youth workers and youth ministries however, borrow from history’s issues. Because we’re not aware of the dramatic cultural shifts with young people and church going we’re stretching out a non-existent issue from previous generations without even realizing it.

By boycotting Church buildings we’re possibly trying to fix a problem that doesn’t really exist – therefore creating a new one!!

I have definitely met young people who don’t want to go to church, but most of that is based on new misunderstanding rather than historical cultural experience. I’ve also met youth clubs who think there’s a problem simply because their youth leaders have tried so hard to fix one.

Just food for thought then. Are our teenagers scared of entering a church building really? If they’re made comfortable and welcome, is the church hall really a ‘no go.’ Think about your young people, are they really so shallow to have taken on a passionate, stubborn, life-phobia from their parents, parents, parents?

In a future post I will argue for the benefits of using Church buildings for groups and events on the basis that young people are looking for something ancient, spiritual, deep, and mystical to belong to.

I also hope to discuss some genuine reasons outside this generational misunderstood phobia that may lead us to boycott eh church building and contradict everything I’m saying here. Such is the liberty of a blogger!

But for now – lets all put the option back on the table! Thanks. 😀


Youth Work Culture

7 replies
  1. Jeff Gill
    Jeff Gill says:

    This is a great post, Tim. My gut agrees with you, and I think this is an area ripe for some empirical research. (Any polling companies or postgrad students in search of a dissertation reading this?)

    One question: How much of an effect do you think the Catholic clergy abuse scandals and the Anglican Church’s current to-ing and fro-ing over over women bishops and gay marriage are having on young people’s feelings about being in church?

    • timgough
      timgough says:

      Hey buddy

      Mark Griteth’s phd in this area and the CofE ‘young people & mission’ reports are the main places I’d go first. There are also a couple of YM jounrals, but I can’t remember what they’re called right now. :S

      I’d also check out Don Carson’s ‘gagging of God’ which is a whole world of insight. (more commentary on post-modernism rather than research… but v-useful nevertheless!)

      I think you’re spot on too; the scandals, confusion etc. of the modern church throws a whole new light on the issue. However, most of this is media agenda-setting, thus works to confirm existing generational biases, rather than creating new ones.

      When I talk to young people about these areas, the conversation tends to float around religious people, and religious belief – rather than dredging up their own personal experiences with ‘religious places.’

      I hold out hope for more youth events & groups in churches yet!

      Bless you buddy


      • Jeff Gill
        Jeff Gill says:

        ‘I hold out hope for more youth events & groups in churches yet!’

        I totally agree. There are a ton of fantastic underused spaces out there. Christine and I run a kid’s club in a church hall. Of course the kids (aged 7–10) have not problems. Their parents had, at worst, a mild queasiness at the beginning.

        Thanks for the resource suggestions. Does Mark Griteth exist online?

    • Jeff Gill
      Jeff Gill says:

      It is the one in St Paul’s, and it’s going very well. We are doing it purposely small with an adult for every three kids. This allows to do some great crafts and cooking with them and then sit down for a meal together at the end.


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