Yesterday a report from the Institute for Public Policy Research claimed that British teenagers are the worst behaved in Europe, being more likely to fight, drink and have under-age sex than their counterparts across the EU. We also heard the sad news that another teenager was murdered in London, the fifteenth young person to die as a result of stabbing or shooting in Britain this year.
At the same time the government announced more details of its plans to take money that is lying in dormant bank accounts, and use it to establish a network of youth centres across the country, aiming for a youth centre in every town.
I don’t believe we can just stand by and watch all this happen. These announcements present huge opportunities – and challenges – to both local churches and government, to engage with disaffected and disengaged young people. The church already has a huge network across the country, with bases in every town and village. Our potential to reach these young people is enormous.
The government has indicated a bold step in using the money left in dormant accounts to fund some of this work, but we should also remember that Christians already give hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours, our premises, our passions and our time to serve young people. The church is the biggest provider of youth services beyond statutory agencies in the UK.
With this new initiative, the church needs to raise its game but the government also needs to partner with us and avoid an attitude of ‘patronage’. The signs so far are really encouraging. Government is willing, but are we bold enough? Why can’t churches be right at the heart of every new youth centre that was talked about yesterday? We have the premises, the people and the passion.
I want to encourage government to think more closely about working with churches and voluntary organisations, but also to encourage churches to be brave enough to rediscover their role at the heart of their local communities. Many are already doing this. For example, churches in Stroud in Gloucestershire are working together to run a youth centre called The Door for their local young people, which also offers education and training, run in partnership with the local authorities.
The possibilities are endless. But for more churches to do this will demand more partnership working. This will mean working with other churches, with whom we might disagree on certain points of theology, or with non-faith-based agencies, to whom we will need to be clear about our faith motivation while being committed to professional and inclusive engagement. It could even involve working with those of other faiths.
Do you think we can do this? And do you think that we should? Can we put our differences to one side to work towards the common good? What issues would we face along the way? I’d love to hear what you think.