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Are youth clubs outdated?

Updated: Jun 5, 2020

The other day I went to help out at a youth club that I helped run during my degree. As we were debriefing the evening there were two stories that we shared, one from within the week in a mentoring session where this youth club was brought up, and the other was from a conversation that I had with a young person on this evening. I unpacked the link between the two in relation to the youth club, and though it was a good topic to reflect on further.

I hope as we reflect on these conversations and look at what might be behind them, we will begin to explore our own youth clubs and reflect on the questions throughout. I do believe that these questions are important for us a youth workers, so I hope we are challenged as well.


Same old, Same old.

“I love the youth club, it’s so fun. However, it’s the same thing every week.”

When I was a young person, I used to love turning up every week to play all the various games that we had out each week, to see my friends that also went to the youth club and to hang out with my youth worker. It was really the highlight of my week most of the time. Every week was the same, but it was at a repetition that wasn’t too drastic to warrant boredom. I had a phone but it wasn’t capable to do much, and instagram and other similar social media platforms had either just started or hadn’t been created yet.

Moving forward to today, the set up of a youth club hasn’t really changed that much, everyone turns up, we play games and hang out. Theres food, and there might be a thought for the day before we all go home. However, the world in which we live in has changed drastically, especially if you are a young person. There are at least six or seven popular social platforms amongst young people at the time of writing, and each platform there is an endless feed of posts. Then there are gaming platforms to add into the mix, with new games coming out every week it seems. Streaming services have endless series and films to watch and its all on one device. Young people have so much on offer, and what normally happens, from just observing their behaviour when they’re on their phone, is just go from one platform to the other to the other. There is so much variety that is virtually impossible for them to experience something that is the same. There are always new posts, new games, new videos to watch.

I see this as an issue with how we run our youth clubs. Are we working incarnationaly with this generation if we aren’t offering something different each week? Is it our duty to do so, or is it our duty to offer an out from this constant cycle?


The youth worker Anomaly

“Ben, why did you have to leave?”

This was the conversation that I had with a young person on the night. It wasn’t really a comment on why I left the church, rather than why I couldn’t have just found a job in the area and carried on going to the church. What’s going on here is that we offer something completely different to what the world is offering, relationship. For young people, in all their time spent on social platforms, what they are missing out on is actual connection. So what is really happening here with this conversation, is the acknowledgment of the power of relationship that was built over the three years of my degree.

Andrew Root, in his book “revisiting relational youth ministry”, explains that young people aren’t looking for a youth worker, that is all cool and trendy. What young people are really looking for is a youth worker that is authentic, that is willing to sit with them and share in their suffering. I would like to take this further and say that young people need a youth club that is authentic, and offers a safe environment where they can be vulnerable and explore their suffering with a trusted adult. I think we get to caught up so often with trying to keep our young people in the youth group itself, trying to keep it as cool as possible that we forget what the true need really is.

The thing with youth clubs are that they only become safe environments as a result of the young people thinking that it is so. Values being set and carried out by leaders and volunteers are therefore of extreme importance. These values should be rooted in the building of relationships, for that is where somewhere becomes safe. The desired outcome of youth clubs will then be for the young people to take a hold of the values that are set by the leaders and volunteers, and take them into other settings, like home or school. Are we as youth workers putting relationship first, over the ‘cool’ and the ‘fun’ of youth clubs?


Final Reflections

So, are youth clubs outdated? My answer is very much one of a Christian, maybe. Youth clubs are outdated in the sense that it’s not a weekly event that is incarnate within this generation. It’s not something that offers anything different every week, and that can be really problematic for a lot of young people. However, I understand this is entirely contextual. Some young people will enjoy the fun of the similarity, but we have to realise that young people fully emerged in social media will find this set up difficult. That is my experience anyway. Let’s not forget the question of whether it’s healthy to promote a youth club that plays into this generation of the endless different. I believe that is for us to discern in our own context.

The other side of this is that youth clubs are not outdated. They still, and probably always will, offer an environment where young people can come and be safe. This is why youth clubs have lasted such a long time, but this side of the youth club is under threat due to the tension of the other side of the spectrum/argument (However you see it). What I will ask is, are the benefits of the youth club exclusive to youth clubs? Can we see young people find a safe space, a trusted adult and a place where they can feel vulnerable and a place where they can explore their suffering? Again, I believe this is for us to discern that for our own contexts.

What is clear, is that there needs to be a vision for our youth clubs, and a clear set of values that our leaders and volunteers know to which it can be woven into the DNA of the youth club. There also needs to be a continuous reflection of the needs of the young people. I fundamentally believe that if the needs of our young people are constantly been reflected upon, then youth work will succeed. When we reflect the young people’s need, we will accommodate the need to which young people need something different and fresh all the time, alongside the need of young people needing a safe space. These two can work in harmony, however only through a constant reflective practice. My question that I would leave us with, would be this: Is a youth club the best place for this to happen? Is there a better model that is incarnational to the generation of constantly having something different? Is there a better model to creating safe environments for young people?

1 Comment

I think youth groups are the only space that is primarily relational, in that it is or should be the main agenda. Of course other agendas may be at play but they are not the primary. Other places/spaces that youth peers groups gather have an overriding agenda be it education, consumerism, etc.

Club programme surely must be secondary. Whilst engaging with contemporary culture is good so often we're working with volunteers and for the organisations where time is tight and budgets even tighter! As a result there is only so much that realistically can be done. Having said that it's always good to be challenged about why we do what we do and how in case there is room/need fo…

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