The Missing Generations

13/07/2020 0 By Mark Griffiths



In the latter months of 2019 representatives from various Welsh organisations working with young people gathered at St Padarn’s Cardiff[1].  They had been invited with a clear objective, to address the question:

Given unlimited resources what would you do to better enable young people to encounter Jesus across Wales.

The parachurch organisations in attendance included Church Army who run three Mission Centres in Haverfordwest, Llandaff, St Asaph and with a new Centre planned for Llanelli,  between them running numerous family engagement projects, after schools provision and youth groups.  Message Wales, who employ 14 staff members and in early 2020 saw 22,000 young people attend their Higher Tour at various locations across Wales for music and gospel presentation, they also run an Eden Bus as a form of mobile youth club seeing 200 young people a week attend in multiple locations.  Scripture Union’s Welsh (SU Cymru) region employs 4 mission enablers and from April to September 2019 SU ran 52 mission events including, multi week clubs, camps, beach missions, school’s events, sport’s missions, non-residential camps and holiday clubs.  In total SU Cymru presented the Jesus story to nearly 3,000 children in this six month window and connected with tens of thousands more through their computer APP Guardians of Ancora.  (now available in the Welsh language).  And Youth for Christ[2] who are mainly based in Llandudno in North Wales, but exploring plans for wider reach, they currently have 3 full time staff members running 5-7 weekly projects, and up to 25 event-based projects throughout the year. YFC estimate that approximately 5,000 young people were part of their activities in the last year. 

Alongside these, there were denominational leaders including Salvation Army, Baptist Union, and each of the six Church in Wales Diocese[3].  Diocesan Education Officers and School Chaplains also attended – there are 143 Anglican Church in Wales schools in Wales providing education to 27,000 children and young people, they are charged with providing good education with a strong Christian ethos.  Each diocese has an employed Director of Education with a small team and usually at least one Bishop’s Advisor for young people and children (Swansea and Brecon Diocese employ 4 workers).  And to ensure the discussions were properly earthed a selection of youth pastors from some of Wales’ larger churches were also present – the majority of Churches in Wales are small but there are some exceptions where congregations are significantly higher and where there are youth initiatives reaching many hundreds of young people, so  it was important to have those youth workers in the room. 

Young People in Wales

The discussions had started some months earlier with a discussion on how The Church in Wales better connect with young people.  It was a season of innovation and the idea of two Church in Wales ‘resource churches’ being planted in Wrexham and Cardiff from Holy Trinity Brompton had quickly been embraced and funding put aside for those projects (scheduled for 2020 and 2021 respectively).  But there was some concern how work with young people could be developed.  The Lab, an early Fresh Expression of Church targeting secondary school age young people in Newport South Wales had recently closed, having reached a natural end.  And there were clearly fears that young people and children were being overlooked. 

Wales has a population of 3,125,000[4] of which 4.8% attend church.  Approximately 150,000 church goers.  Of those, 28,000 are Roman Catholic[5], 45,000[6] are Anglican (Church in Wales) and the remaining 77,000 are split between Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal and Independents.  The largest of the ‘others’ being the Baptists with 11,000 attendees[7].  Church in Wales attendance has more than halved in the last two decades, but the biggest area of decline is in young people and children attending Sunday services.  Across all denominations, only 3% of under 18s living in Wales have any connection with Church[8] [9] – Slightly below the 5% stated by Scripture Union for the UK as a whole[10] [11]

The initial discussion began with the Archdeacon of Monmouth and myself in the spring of 2019.  The question we asked each other was what can we do to turn around this decline in young people’s attendance?  It was clear that despite plenty of ideas emerging, between the two of us we would not find the answer, so the next stage involved inviting more people to the discussion.  Four of us met to discuss further, the original leader of The Lab[12], the Bishop’s Youth Advisor for the Swansea and Brecon Diocese and the leader of Message Trust Wales.  Lots of ideas began to emerge.  But if this exercise showed us anything, it was the high levels of creativity that exist when you place people together.  Therefore, the obvious next stage was to gather as many of the key thinkers and overseers in this area from across Wales and place them together in a room for 24 hours and see what emerged.  The Representative Body of the Church in Wales agreed to cover all costs for the 24hours.

Invites were issued that basically framed the primary or big question and people were invited to gather to think about the question together.  Invites were sent to key people who were considered specialists in working with young people across Wales.  People were identified as ‘key’ either because they were the leader of a Christian organisation focused on young people, were a significant part of that organisation, or were known to be local church youth workers/pastors who were seeing success in working with young people (success defined as large numbers attending their activities and large numbers becoming Christians as a result[13]).  Nearly everyone invited was willing and able to come.  But with so many gifted and experienced people in the room it would have been a missed opportunity not to focus on a few other key areas effecting young people, or certainly the Church’s engagement with young people, so a decision was made to look at three additional areas that would feed into the Big Question:

  1. How do we better communicate to young people today?
    1. Are our existing churches up to the task?
    1. What are the primary issues young people are facing?

These were considered alongside the Big Question:

  • Given unlimited resources what would you do to better enable young people to encounter Jesus across Wales.

Literature Review

There are inherent difficulties with the present body of literature in this area.  Firstly, there is not much of it that deals with the ‘why’ of engagement with young people.  Youth workers are pragmatists, they want the ‘how’, therefore there should be no surprise that most of the material is written in the context of how to run a youth ministry, how to communicate, how to disciple young people.  All are helpful, but overall, they neglect the ‘why’ and the related ‘what’.  Why are young people walking away from organised religion and what are they looking for?  What challenges do they face today?  The consequence of not asking these questions is our work with young people has no clear direction and is marked by activity rather than effectiveness.  Secondly, the literature which is research based and exists to inform practice is not in abundance, and what there is can either suffer from a lack of specificity, for example, the UK Church Statistics (2018) and The Tide is Running Out (2000) both by Peter Brierley show clearly the extent of the decline of young people in the UK Church, but there is no indication as to why.  The related issue is the rate at which research in this area becomes outdated.  The extensive research carried out by Leslie Francis in the late 1990s of 33,000 young people from Wales and England (published in The Values Debate (2001)) gave important insights, but the young people he studied are now in their mid to late 30s. 

Similarly, Making Sense of Generation Y (2011) by Savage, Cray and Mayo was the seminal work in this area for much of the last decade[14], but now the young people studied are 25 to 35 years olds (They studied 15 to 24 year olds, who at that point would have been the middle of the Generation Y age spread).  Their overall conclusions and insights (2011, Ch 9) were certainly important and influential at the time of publication and many of the comments below resonate well with the findings of the Gathering. 

There can be fruitful evangelistic work among both young people and adults now. It is going on, and it should continue. However, the further we travel beyond those with any sort of contact with the Church, the further back we will have to start. We live in an instant culture, which cannot be reached by instant missionary tactics. There is no alternative to what we have called prior mission, and, even before that, to investment in real, long-term relationships. Patient loving and patient sowing will be the order of the day for years to come. This also raises substantial challenges about the nature of our churches. Will they primarily be ‘cities of refuge’, defending their members from a rapidly changing culture? Or will they be disciple-making communities? Will they equip their members to engage with society as it is, not as they wish it to be.

The comments on relationships, “A fluid network of relationships is the normal milieu for young people.  Relationship rather than rule following forms the basis of young people’s morality (2011, Ch 9),” were also affirmed at the gathering:

Although the above has been quoted often while overlooking the further insight that the relational statement refers to peer to peer relationships and not hierarchical relationships and the research pointed to a belief that the traditional church has no ability to change or rethink it’s hierarchical approach.  Further to that, Generation Y (2011) suggests that young people were not in fact trying ‘to find something more’ and their need for spirituality had been exaggerated.  

Generation Y (2011) was based on 124 young people aged 15-24 who were predominantly white and from higher socio-economic groups with good access to education and additional services.  This does raise a question as to whether such a small sample size could be truly representative of young people, however, there will be principles here which are transferable across a much wider demographic, the significant difficulty is the speed at which culture is now moving, particualrly for young people, and research that was conducted over a decade ago must be considered quite outdated.  Unfortunately, there is very little in the UK to replace it, and to find more up to date research will necessitate drawing from our North American colleagues.    

Today’s generation of young people are classified as Generation Z (born 1997 to 2015)[15].  Sparks and Honey[16] begin their presentation to marketeers with the statement, “forget everything you know about Generation Y (Millennials),” Their thesis being that Generation Z are so completely different, knowledge of previous generation is of no help.  They go on to say that “Generation Z are the opposite or extreme version of Generation Y.”

James Emery White (2017) has undertaken extensive research into this new generation in his book Generation Z.  White (2017, p.41-45) makes some useful observations, he observes that this generation is the first post-Christian generation and the “internet in its pocket” generation.  The use of technology has the reached the point where Sparks and Honey suggest young people are no longer simply “tech savvy” but instead are “tech innate” with their research pointing to 92% going online daily, with most sleeping with their devices[17].  But interestingly, again the desire for face to face peer interaction that was seen in Generation Y resurfaces and moves to an even higher level.  White (2017, p.41) states that 85% of Generation Y prefer face to face relationships to other forms of communication, with FaceTime / Skype / Zoom being the second option.  This is picked up on by Rick Richardson (2019) when he highlights establishing strong friendships and hospitality are the keys to America’s fastest growing churches and again by Don Everts (2019, p.29) commenting on research from the Barna Research organisation that states, face to face engagement is the key to evangelism. 

Bearing in mind the conclusion of Generation Y (2011) that young people are not as interested in religion, Rick Richardson and Beth Seversen (2017, p.32) refer to the religious position of Generation Z as moralistic therapeutic deism:

It is moralistic in that teens today believe in being good and moral and in being kind and fair to other people…  Therepeutic in that religion is about making people feel good… And deist in the sense that God doesn’t need to be particualrly involved in one’s life except when he is needed to solve a problem.

But where this Generation begin to look different to previous generations can be seen from Sparks and Honey’s statement, “This Generation have grown up in a socio-economic environment marked by chaos, uncertainty, volatility and complexity.  Gender roles and norms are blurred making self-identity less defined by gender than it has been for previous generation.”  But the result is not seen as negative by White (2017) who comments, “They have developed coping mechanisms and a certain resourcefulness.”  This reaches further according to Sparks and Honey (2020), Generation Z want to change the world, “Generation Z are determined to make a difference and make an impact and social entrepreneurship is one of the most popular career choices.”  This is of course the generation of Greta Thunberg the 17 year old climate change activist, Adora Svitak, the political activist and author whose 2010 TED talk when a 16 year old has been watched by 5.5million people and Logan LaPlante whose TED talk (2013) on hackschooling has been viewed by over 10million people.  He was 13 when he delivered the talk.  LaPlante (2013) stated:

Hackers are people who challenge and change the systems to make them work differently.  To make them work better.  I’m growing up in a world that needs more people with a hacker mindset. 

But there is one more perspective shared by Sparks and Honey (2016) and White (2017), that Generation Z will be the last Generation.  That isn’t as apocalyptic as it sounds, “it is simply the recognition that the speed of culture in which significant changes can be made in a day will make speaking of generations and their markings obsolete. (White, 2017, p.38)”, “Tomorrow will be less about what difference s generation makes and more about what difference a day makes (Sparks and Honey, 2016, p.89)


The research methodology relies on emergent design.  Palithorpe (2017) suggests emergent design:

Refers to the ability to adapt to new ideas, concepts, or findings that arise while conducting qualitative research. In contrast to more structured approaches, an emergent design welcomes unanticipated information, often adding to the richness of the data.

One of my roles within the Church in Wales context is to enable and facilitate the development of ministry to young people across the Province.  I have an established reputation in this area, so it was also important to be aware of ‘reflexivity’.  The fact that I had gathered this group of people had the potential to influence the outcomes.  This was mitigated on two levels, firstly there was no bias in who was invited, a blanket invitation was given to all para-church organisations, secondly, I chose to delegate the leading of most sessions to others.  This based on Creswell’s (2016) observation:

Reflexivity plays a large part in how these research designs are conducted, as they are often flexible, iterative, and take into account the complex relationship that the researcher has with the field and their research participants.

Therefore, with those areas noted, the research ‘felt’ its way forward. 

The method of data collection for the questions:

  1. How do we better communicate to young people today?
  2. Are our existing churches up to the task?

Involved listening to specialists in youth ministry and capturing what was being said.  The method of data collection for:

  • What are the primary issues young people are facing?

Involved asking the whole group to collate a list of issues that they saw effecting young people in Wales.  Clear instructions were given that the list must only be made up of ‘actual issues’ that they were encountering in their work with young people (no ‘hear say’ examples) and to record those issues on a large sheet of paper.  There were lots of overlaps, but an eventual list was compiled, no ranking was attempted, and no area mentioned removed. 

The final question that needed addressing was subjected to a more rigorous approach. 

  • Given unlimited resources what would you do to better enable young people to encounter Jesus across Wales.

The group were divided into what were in effect multiple focus groups.  Each group was tasked with finding as many answers to the question as possible.  From there they were asked to record their top five onto flipcharts and from there place their page onto the wall.  Seven sheets of paper containing 35 answers to the question.  The final stage of the process was to give each person present three stickers and allow each person to place a sticker against the three responses that they agreed with most.  With no one being allowed to tick the same answer twice.  From there the five primary responses were taken. 

To give context, at the start of the Gathering those in attendance talked about the things that were going well for them.  Reports were given on Guardians of Ancora clubs taking place in schools[18], converted lorries and buses used in outreach, touch sensitive walls used within schools, youth Alpha, contextualised church plants focusing on young people, chaplaincy projects into local secondary schools, the Higher Tour with various Message Trust bands[19], the revitalised work of uniformed organisations, such as Boys Brigade (and Girls Association) particularly in the parts of Wales with higher deprivation levels[20] and sports coaching.   

In terms of communication, the room was full of people who spent their time working with young people, therefore the sociologist’s observation that Generation Z are highly relational and looking for community was taken as read[21].  But a conversation on how we better communicate to that Generation was still needed as it was clear that most of the Welsh Denominations were finding it difficult.  It was no surprise that Social Media was identified as the primary conduit for communication, with websites seen as an outdated vehicle[22].  This would be true for Gen Z and Gen Y before them (all those under 40).  However, it was surprising how far behind most organisations and denominations in the room were in this respect (remembering these were practitioners or coordinators focused on ministry to young people).  A quick analysis showed that most Welsh Christian organisations working with young people had between 1000 and 1500 people on their Facebook pages with lower numbers for all other forms of social media.  However, what the group agreed on was most communication to young people is done through YouTube.  It is in this area that the Christian organisations present were particularly weak.  While the Message Trust had nearly 2,000 subscribers the Church in Wales didn’t reach a hundred and when all the Welsh Dioceses were added together the number didn’t rise much higher.  This by comparison with the highest YouTube Influencers who have up to 60million subscribers[23].  And while it is not expected that Church Organisations in Wales reach these numbers, the disconnect is obvious, and therefore noteworthy that the largest decline in church attendance figures is with under 40s.  It may not be overstating the position to suggest that Christian organisations have not learnt how to communicate to younger generations. 

Existing Churches

But the difficulty in enabling young people to encounter Jesus may be more nuanced than that.   An honest discussion took place around whether existing churches from all denominations were suitable places for the discipleship of young people today. To illustrate the difficulty, Gary Smith (Message Wales) shared the story of the 100 primarily unchurched young people who decided to become Christians at a Message Trust outreach event in Wythenshawe, Manchester.  The following Sunday they all went to the local church because that is what they were told to do at the end of the outreach event.  A week later when they came back, they found the church locked.  The congregation had changed their service times, so they didn’t have to cope with boisterous young people in their service.  This example became the catalyst for the creation of a church plant – Eden Wythenshawe.  A new wine skin to hold new wine.  An extreme example, and not one from a Welsh context, but one which was felt worthy of honest consideration,  and one picked up a decade earlier with Mayo, Savage and Cray (2011) assertion that the church is so far removed that prior mission is a necessity.  Is it probable that the divide between Welsh Churches and Welsh young people is now so wide that new churches will be needed to disciple rising generations?  The Gathering were not prepared to concede that yet, but it is at least worthy of ongoing consideration.  Certainly, the Church in Wales itself where more traditional forms of worship (In some diocese the majority being Anglo-Catholic), find it almost impossible to reach and disciple young people.  Indeed, it is with a deep insight into Wales and Welsh culture that Archbishop Rowan Williams wrote in the forward to the Church in Wales report Good News in Wales[24]:

We may discern signs of hope. These may be found particularly in the development of a mixed economy of Church life . . . there are ways of being church alongside the inherited parochial pattern.

For many, including many of the current Bishops, there needs to be far more development of this mixed economy if we are to see a change in our ability to connect with new generations.  It is one of the Welsh Bishops who stated, “we must do better than simply running successful social clubs for over 60s on Sunday morning and calling it church.”  It may well be that Wales is quickly approaching an understanding that sometimes we need new wineskins if we are serious about holding new wine.  In 2003 Graham Cray, the then Bishop of Maidstone recorded these words[25]:

It is clear to us that the parochial system remains an essential and central part of the national Church’s strategy to deliver incarnational mission.  But the existing parochial system alone is no longer able fully to deliver its underlying mission purpose. We need to recognize that a variety of integrated missionary approaches is required. A mixed economy of parish churches and network churches will be necessary, in an active partnership across a wider area, perhaps a deanery.  In addition, our diverse consumer culture will never be reached by one standard form of church.


The Gathering then gave attention to the issues facing young people in Wales today.  Clear direction was given on how the lists should be formed, this primarily involved the direction that the contributors were not allowed to draw on media reports, but instead only report on the issues they had encountered in their day to day work.  This instruction didn’t change how sobering the lists of issues were.  The list covers a wide range of areas, and each issue could warrant systematic unpacking, but time didn’t allow for this.  However, time was found to discuss the two issues from the list that the group found particularly prevalent right now. 

 Abuse (Bullying, Trolling, hate crimes and sexual abuse)
Children in care 18+ (related to homelessness and prison)
Church (lack of welcome and culturally appropriate services)
Church youth work not effective
Crime (knife crime, drugs, offending and being victims of)
Education (Pressure to succeed)
Family relational breakdown
Lack of funding for services that can deal with issues
Gangs (extremes of peer pressure)
Health (Access to healthy foods)
Lack of positive role models
Loneliness and isolation
Mental health issues – a sharp increase in non-suicidal self-injury (self-harm), stress, suicide, and Eating disorders)
On-Line (Social media, harmful content, explicit material, permanently switched on and cognitive hijacking)
Relationships (Younger and younger pregnancy).
Sex, Sexuality and Gender
Unemployment (lack of aspiration, hopelessness)

Identified Issues Facing Young People

The first area the group felt was causing concern in the Welsh context right now was ‘self-harm’ or as it has now been classified, ‘non-suicidal self-injury’.  Matt Lewis, a former secondary school teacher and now working for Scripture Union Cymru, drew attention to the fact that this issue had become more and more prominent over recent years.  The Lancet Psychiatry Journal recorded that incidents of NSSI had risen significantly since 2000 and had almost trebled since 2014.   Their report suggested that 1 in 5 young people had self-harmed in the last twelve months.  The Lancet reported figures rising from 4.2% of 16 to 24-year olds in 2000 to 19.7% by 2019.  In the article, Prof Louis Appleby of Manchester University stated, “An increase in the prevalence of using self-harm to cope with emotional stress could have serious long-term implications.”  Matt suggested he was spending considerable time in schools speaking on this issue, as were many of the other groups represented. 

While continuing to fully acknowledge that all the issues were serious, the second area that the group felt they were constantly confronting at present was ‘sexting’.  The NSPCC define ‘sexting’ as, “when someone shares sexual, naked or semi-naked images or videos of themselves or others or sends sexually explicit messages.”[26]  It usually involves young people taking naked photos of themselves and sending them to others without recognising that the images are likely to be distributed widely.  Possibly the most concerning aspect of this is Shunita Barry’s (Message Wales) observation that this is now a significant issue for under 12s – it has become something that primary schools are having to deal with, although Sunita Barry observed that it is the additional mix of peer pressure, low self-esteem and bullying that contributes to making 13 and 14 year olds the most vulnerable group to sexting.  It is illegal to possess or show naked or semi naked pictures of under 18s, even it is a picture of themselves[27].  Most of the organisations present had been part of initiatives into local schools to address this issue. 

The BIG Question

Of course, there is a relationship between the responses to the “big question” and the issues listed above.  The response to the “big question” has got to in some way address the issues.   But using the data collection already described, the responses to the question, “Given unlimited resources what would you do” produced pages and pages of results, but the overwhelmingly clear top five were: 

  1. Hire youth / school workers/evangelists/pastors – let’s get more key people on the ground with a brief to equip and empower others.
  2. Establish a Youth Worker Network for encouragement and support that transcends denominations and focuses on the goal of seeing young people encounter Jesus.
  3. Develop high impact evangelistic events (bus ministry, concerts, football cage, etc) that places youth ministry in the heart of our communities.
  4. Rethink our use of buildings.  Creating youth/family centres etc.
  5. Invest in Training.  Base level training and continuing professional development.

There were several areas that didn’t receive any indicators of importance on the final lists, so they have been ignored, the areas that received at least one indication are shown on the following graph.  On initial reading the list is surprising.  I would have expected the higher profile activities of Bus ministry and church planting to dominate, particularly after the observations that mainline denominational churches are going to struggle to gather large numbers of young people.  My second thoughts were that youth workers have in effect voted for their own survival and followed it up with a request for more support within that role (see (2)).  But having reflected further, there is an interesting observation that comes from looking at the issues that were listed, and more specifically, the Gathering’s primary response to the issues of self-harm and sexting.  The response of the group was to place people into schools to talk about these areas, addressing the current trend and working towards prevention in the future.  The response to the issue was a person.  It was a response which arose again and again.  Those involved in education who were present called for more ‘mentors’ to come and work in schools.  Remembering again that Generation Y and Z are relational and community focused, their solutions are found with people. 

The response is also not easily answered.  The selection, training and deployment of great youth workers takes time and an investment from training institutions to focus on this area is necessary[28].  Denominations and parachurch organisations need apprenticeship programmes and one of the obvious effects of declining numbers of young people in churches is that there are less people to recruit for training.  Nevertheless, many organisations and training institutions have recognised the importance of this area and have many young people in their programmes.  Investing in people who will in turn equip and empower others to make young disciples.  The Church in Wales now invests heavily in training those who will be licensed children, young people and family pastors[29] as well as ensuring its priests have input and training in this area.  It was also interesting that support structures for those working with young people was identified as a significant need.  The recruiting of exceptional youth workers is part of the equation, the other part is in building the mechanisms that would enable them to flourish.  It was encouraging to see that the youth workers present recognised not only the mental health needs of those they worked with, but also their own mental health in what can be a particularly stressful environment – if there is any doubt of that, simply look at the evidence provided by Cardiff Street Pastors every weekend[30]

However, it was interesting to note that the more overt evangelism tools came in at number 3 with converted buses and lorries that could be used in youth outreach, alongside football cages that often attract large crowds.  But even with these, it was emphasised that the main factors were youth workers who could bring buses/lorries/football cages and with whom relationship could be formed.  There seems a clear indication that at this point in history the gospel is mediated in community through relationship, recalling again the words of Romans 10:14-15:

14 But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? 15 And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”

AHire Youth workers/evangelists and place chaplains in every school/college
BEstablished body/network to support youth workers, to encourage and bring mutual support.
CHigh Impact Evangelism/Mission (Eden bus, bands, football cages, Prayer Bus, Lorry)
DRethink our use of buildings (creative safe space)
EInvestment and Training in leadership (continue professional development)
FChurch Planting/Eden Teams (stimulate local mission, long term investment)
GDiscipleship (transform peoples prospects, enterprise centres, vocations hubs)
HInfluence families through family support, community and Leisure)
JResearch and mapping
List of Priorities Identified by the Specialists in Work with Young People


The overall methodology of increasing the amount of data generated by extending the number of participants further and further, 1 person to 2 to 4 to 34 had worked well, and then focusing back down from hundreds of suggestions, to 35 key ideas, to 5 that captured the imagination of the specialists generated some interesting outcomes.  It is freely acknowledged that there are margins of error here[31], but it was not felt they were significant enough to change the outcome. 

In terms of what next, one of the Welsh Diocese has already used the above as the evidential base to support its bid to the Evangelism Fund[32].  They have specifically asked for more employed diocesan workers who will focus primarily on young people and children. Two of the Welsh dioceses are considering purchasing buses that can be converted for outreach to young people.  This sort of evangelism will of course work particularly well across Wales; the ability to arrive in a village, or between villages with a range of resources that would not normally be accessible, with the distinct purpose of communicating the gospel message and allowing young people to encounter God is exciting, has become a priority.  Another diocese has taken up the challenge of converting a cinema to be used as a Family Centre from which youth/family workers can operate (combining outcomes (1) and (4)).     

But over and above this, the research highlights that over thousands of years the primary and most effective model for the communication of the Christian message is relationship.  People talking to people.  There are a range of technological developments that can help, and a whole host of tools that can enhance our ability to communicate and a variety of props, whether they be converted buses or football cages.  But eventually the communication of the gospel to young people needs evangelists.  People with a passionate desire to help young people encounter God.

This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.



Brierley, P. (2000), The Tide is Running Out, London: Christian Research

Brierley, P. (2018), UK Church Statistics No. 3, London: Christian Research

Cray, G. 2003, Mission Shaped Church, London: CHP

Creswell, J. W. (1998, 2016), Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Traditions, London: Sage

Everts, D. (2019), You Found Me, Illinois: IVP

Francis, Leslie. (2001), The Values Debate, Taylor and Francis

Griffiths, M. (2009), One Generation from Extinction, London: Lion Publishing 

Hull, J.  M.  (2006), Mission Shaped Churches – a Theological Perspective. London: SCM Press

Kay, W.  and Francis, L.  (1996), Drift from the Churches.  Cardiff: University of Wales Press.

Savage, S. Cray, G. Mayo, B.  (Kindle Version, 2011), Generation Y.  London: Church House Publishing

Richardson, Rick (2019), You Found Me, Illinois: IVP

White, J. E. (2017), Generation Z, Michigan: Baker Books


Sparks and Honey, Culture Forecast Gen Z 2025

Journal Articles

Borschmann, R. (2019), Self-Harm, Lancet: Psychiatry

Pailthorpe, B.C. (2017), Emergent Design, The International Encyclopedia of Communication Research Methods, Wiley Online Library

Seversen, B. and Richardson, R. (2014) Witness: Journal of the Academy for Evangelism in Theological Education, AETE


Williams, R. (2000), Foreword: Good News in Wales, Cardiff: Church in Wales

TED Talks

February 2010 – Adora Svitak

August 2013 – Logan LaPlante

August 2018 – Greta Thunberg


[1] St Padarn’s is the training arm of the Church in Wales and as such operates throughout the Province, but it has an administration hub in Cardiff where those training for full time ministry within the CinW are trained. 

[2] TLG were also invited but needed to pull out at the last moment.  TLG works throughout Wales and is basically a mentoring programme for young people operating in secondary schools.  In the last twelve months their 63 Volunteer early Intervention coaches have supported 87 pupils visiting them in school each week. This is from 13 churches across wales going into 31 schools.  Alongside this TLG coordinate 4 Make Lunch churches who provide hot meals for eligible families during the schools holidays and they have provided 684 hot meals during 2019.

[3] In most cases by the various bishop’s advisors. 



[6] Church in Wales Membership and Finance Report 2018


[8] British Religion in Numbers

[9] BRIM numbers only consider Sunday Attendance


[11] The SU figures are again only for Sunday

[12] Now an Anglican Priest

[13] In reality, key people were not difficult to identify.  Wales is not yet blessed with large numbers of parachurch organisations working with young people, and the majority of church based youth work is quite small, so those doing particularly well tend to stand out. 

[14] The findings were based on 124 young people aged 15-24 who were predominantly white with good access to education and additional services.  There is an argument that this would be representative of the main demographic of English young people.  But there is a question as to whether such a small sample size could be truly representative of any group. 

[15] These categorisations are still debated by sociologists – Sparks and Honey want to define it as 1998 to 2015 for example – and clearly there is no date at which one set of characteristics end and another pick up, but they are a useful generalisation for outlining the worldview of certain age groups. 

[16] Sparks and Honey are described in different way depending on who you read, the descriptions range from Futurists, to Super Predictors, to a cultural intelligence firm and in their own words, “A cultural consultancy (2020)”  They work with companies to help them prepare for future trends, this is clearly important for advertisers and various areas of production, but increasingly their work is with financial and wider business sectors who ae trying to navigate uncertain times across the world. 

[17] “Forget the Millennials” presentation by Sparks and Honey (2020)

[18] the new APP from Scripture Union,

[19] 35 South Wales Schools had been visited for the recent Higher Tour allowing the Christian message to be presented to 17,000 students.

[20] 7% of under-16s in Wales live in material deprivation, whilst 19% of working-age adults (parents and non-parents) do according to the Welsh Office of National Statistics (2018).  The increase in older age groups is put down to the fact that adults will, on the whole, protect their children from deprivation when possible. 

[21] Although there are plenty of publications verifying this including James Emery White in his excellent book Generation Z

[22] The committee is still out on whether Websites are still relevant for adults, but the ‘experts’ certainly didn’t feel they had any traction with young people.


[24] Good News in Wales was Published in 2000 – this extract is from the foreword written by Rowan Williams when he was still Archbishop of Wales

[25] Mission Shaped Church (2003, xi)



[28] This makes the research of Revd David Howell MA (Christian Youthwork Consortium) into the decline in many undergrad and postgrad courses focused on young people and children slightly concerning. 

[29] As well as developing postgrad programmes in children, young people and families for those already involved in this area of ministry.


[31] Because there were common themes – but worded differently – on several of the flipcharts it meant that despite the discouragement from doing so, it was possible for an individual to tick the same idea – all be it represented in different words – in more than one place.   Also, the task of combining those ideas that were ‘the same’ but worded differently on different charts had a level of subjectivity around it. 

[32] The Church in Wales had decided at a its Governing Body Meeting of 2018 (similar to the Church of England General Synod) to set aside £10million for evangelism.  The decision was later modified to “at least £10million”.  Dioceses were invited to bid for these funds who could provide good evidence that it would be used for significant evangelistic purposes.