Mission possible: children's and youth work
Prayer and taking time to understand and respond to local needs are among the most important factors in seeing youth and children's work missional objectives met, according to new report
The findings come in a new report from national Christian charity Scripture Union: Mission Possible
aims to understand the key to success in mission with children and young people. It emerged as part of the charity's 95 campaign
, which focuses on the statistic suggesting that 95 per cent of children and young people don’t go to church.
The research was conducted across England and Wales over the past 12 months, through a combination of responses to the charity's 95 census which detailed church-led activities with children and young people, and monitoring mission activity carried out by Scripture Union staff. Success was defined in terms of engagement with 'the 95', and the extent to which projects met their objectives and sustainability.
The study found that prayer makes a significant difference to a mission's success, identifying clear links between teams that met their mission objectives and those who dedicated time to prayer for the work. Alongside the obvious benefits of God answering prayers, respondents also reported the positive psychological impact of knowing others were supportive of the work. Prayer was also cited as an effective way of increasing support for the mission, providing involvement opportunities for those who couldn't help practically.
The research also discovered that mission initiatives that were sensitive to specific local issues were usually most successful, which presents a clear challenge to many well-established programmes that adopt a more generic approach to children's and youth work. It stated: 'Many successful missions had spent time carefully researching and understanding the context. Although missions often sought to address universal needs based on well-established models of youth and children’s work, they sometimes failed to address particular local needs because their approach heavily relied on what youth/children’s work typically looks like.'
Tim Hastie-Smith, National Director for Scripture Union England and Wales said, 'It is vital that God is not hidden in the heart of our church buildings. We need to go out into our communities, listen to the real needs of those around us and respond accordingly. This research reminds us that prayer is vital to success in God’s work, and that programmes and missions are meaningless unless they meet real, felt needs.
'Mission cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach to community engagement. While theory and best practice can provide helpful foundations, we have to learn, adapt and be agile to those in the community.'
Appointing the right people was another key finding. The most frequently cited factor for the success of a mission in the short term was an excellent leader. Many successful missions had leaders 'with staying power, who were based locally and had a visible presence in the local community'. A wide range of volunteer ages were recorded among successful projects, 'challenging the myth that you have to be young to work with children and young people,' note the report.
Having a visible presence in the community was another key factor. The report stated, 'Missions were more likely to succeed if the Christian community was already known within the local area and had a positive presence. This could be hard work, and it would often take a long time for the church to earn the trust of the community.'
The support of the wider Christian community and leadership was one of the most frequently cited factors that contributed to the success of a mission.