What is this research about?
Every generation needs to discover how to contextualise the Christian story in the culture and lives of young people. This task feels particularly urgent in light of evidence showing that the Church is rapidly ageing, and that it is young people who are most likely to describe themselves as having no religion. The latest studies reveal low numbers of young people in churches; it is not necessarily the case that they have ‘left’ the church, but that they were never in church to start with. The role of youth work in the UK Church must therefore be more about mission than ‘passing on faith’. With each generation becoming more secular in its outlook, the Church can no longer rely on young people accessing a residual memory of the Christian faith when it comes to communicating its stories and sharing its practice.
Why are we doing it?
Previous research has explored the contours of this new landscape, and has helped the church understand its task in response.[i] However, this research is now ten years old, and ‘Generation Y’ are now adults. The data we have to draw on was largely collected before the launch of the iPhone. There is a need for new research that describes the key landmarks of youth culture and spirituality for ‘Generation Z’, or ‘i-Gen’, and helps youth workers and church congregations translate faith once again. We propose to bring together social research, theological reflection and Youthscape’s innovation process in one project to bridge the gap between the language and theology of the Church, and the concerns and spirituality of young people.
DIAGRAM 1: THE THREE STAGES OF THE RESEARCH
How are we going to do it?
We believe that this is a task that can only be done with the help of young people themselves. So, we are inviting 12 groups of 14-18 year-olds across the UK to help us reflect on research about youth culture and spirituality, and on what Christian theology offers in response. Other studies have identified the disconnect between the language and stories of the Christian faith and teenagers today, but haven’t sought to address this issue. This project will therefore be a piece of theology with young people, given that their perspective is vital in interpreting the language and signs of their culture. We will employ principles of theological action research in our design, involving ‘insider’ focus groups of young people and ‘outsider’ focus groups of formal theologians and theologically trained youth workers.
DIAGRAM 2: THE RESEARCH PROCESS
What are the key objectives?
- To map the key issues that define young people’s culture and spirituality in 2021.
- To identify the most salient theological narratives, concepts and practices that speak to young people’s culture and spirituality in 2021.
- To understand how young people view Christian theology and explore how this might shape our own understanding.
- To produce a research report with insights that can be used as part of a new cycle of innovation.
- To produce a tool/resource that helps paid and volunteer youth workers and churches use these insights in their work with young people.
How can I get involved?
We are looking for groups of eight 14-18 year-olds (both Christian and non-Christian) to participate in two consecutive focus groups. One will be held in summer 2021 online, and the other in early 2022 either online or in-person, depending on pandemic restrictions.
We are also looking for academic theologians and theologically-trained youth workers to participate in the online formal theology focus groups. Please contact us via the details below if you are interested in finding out more.
The research team
- Dr Phoebe Hill, Head of Theology, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Dr Lucie Shuker, Director of Research, email@example.com
- Gry Apeland, Research Assistant, firstname.lastname@example.org
[i] Savage et al., 2006, Collins-Mayo et al. 2010, and from the US, Smith and Denton 2005