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Youth Outreach: Our deepest passion & our greatest weakness

Laura Hancock, National Ministries Director of Youth for Christ, shares her thoughts and hopes for youth outreach in the Church today, drawing on the insights of the latest Youth for Christ research.

I realise I don’t know you well, but I’m going to tell you a secret. Every time I sit opposite a young person who I get the chance to introduce to Jesus, I’m terrified. I am so aware of the importance of that moment, and I don’t want to say the wrong thing, be too keen or pray and then nothing happen.

But, every time I manage to overcome my own lack of confidence, I see Jesus do amazing things; young people healed, hearing truth about who they are, sometimes receiving words of knowledge, or the Spirit filling them with peace, and I start to see the first steps of a young person’s life being changed by Jesus. 

One of these stories hit me the other day because we held baptisms in our church, and a young lady shared her story of the first time she encountered Jesus. This was years before when she sat in front of me with another youth leader. She needed healing and I felt terrified, but we prayed anyway and that moment, as I and my own fear got out of the way, she experienced Jesus for the first time and her life was changed.

Over the past few years, Youth for Christ has been gathering groups of youth leaders and young people from across churches in Britain to investigate young people’s views on spirituality and our response as the Church. We were keen to understand the greatest challenges that youth workers face when it comes to outreach towards young people. We had over 100 different interactions with youth leaders from a variety of locations and denominations with just over 22% stating ‘team’ as their most significant challenge. Many youth leaders were struggling to cater for the needs of the ‘churched’ young people, therefore ‘outreach work’ could not be provided for. 

Resource and time also came in as huge challenges for youth workers who passionately wanted to engage in more outreach towards the young people in their communities, but just weren’t able to make it happen. The passion of many youth leaders in our churches to see young people reached is undeniable; often it is just the resource and confidence that is lacking. 

We asked the youth leaders if they were content with the degree to which their ministry is focused on youth evangelism and outreach, and 74% expressed a desire for more to be done. When asked one thing that they would like to achieve in their youth ministry in the next one to five years, the top answer was ‘more young people coming to know Jesus from a non-faith background’. Our youth workers are often passionate to see the young people in our surrounding communities coming to know him, and yet still something is missing…

When we asked the youth leaders what outreach and evangelism looked like in their ministry, 25% reported open youth clubs or drop-ins, 19% described peer evangelism as their strategy and 15% engaged in schools work.

When we asked further questions regarding the schools work that many churches were involved in, it was very encouraging! Of the churches asked, 68% said that they were engaged in their local schools, with 26% describing that they were in once a week and 48% saying that they were in at least once a month, if not more! This is an incredible opportunity to engage meaningfully with both young people and teaching staff as we look to impact our communities for the gospel and to speak directly about the Christian faith and the life changing experience of Jesus.

However, a confronting revelation happens when we asked the youth leaders what they would describe as their greatest area of strength. Whilst many of our youth leaders have a deep passion for outreach and actively engage in it as a part of their youth programme, only 4% of youth workers described either their outreach ministry or their schools ministry as their greatest area of strength. The majority described having good relationships with young people, building a sense of community and inclusion as their greatest assets. 

This is, of course, not surprising, and the key role of a youth worker is to journey relationally alongside a young person to lead them closer to Jesus. Yet, there seems a disparity between a passion for outreach and confidence in the outreach that exists. This raises the question, how do we best go about increasing the confidence of not only our youth leaders, but of their whole youth team who are often the people who have the opportunity to have these life-changing encounters with the young people. 

As we as the Church seek to engage more effectively with the young people in our communities and journey with them towards Jesus, it would be remiss of us not to begin to explore how God and spirituality might be received by this generation. Whilst the Church is not thought of highly, many young people simply don’t think about God but are very spiritually open. 

When we asked 1000 young people across Britain ‘How do you view the Church?’, only 8% of those asked viewed the Church positively with many not knowing, but using descriptive words such as ‘boring’, ‘just after your money’, ‘pointless’, ‘brainwashing people’ and even ‘evil’.

Whilst this report may feel discouraging, though unsurprising, when we asked the young people questions about the character of God we found a very different response. The 11-18 year olds described God in words such as ‘powerful, kind, loving and caring’.  Asked ‘what might convince you that God exists?’, whilst many young people didn’t know, other answers fell into themes such as ‘evidence, a miracle, proof, if I saw him’. It is not that young people don’t want to know about God, they just want to experience him for themselves in a first-hand encounter. 

When we see a passion but lack of confidence and resource in our youth workers and teams, and a spiritual hunger in young people to experience God for themselves, we are left asking the question, ‘how, with the resource and influence in my possession  should we respond?’

At Youth for Christ we have been on this journey for the last 18 months and our conviction regarding the importance of this, and the hope that can be found in it, has stirred us into action in a way that we hope will encourage, equip and motivate the local church as we stand together to see a generation transformed. 

We have worked tirelessly to create resources which make it as easy as possible for the local church to engage with young people where they are at; in their schools, their communities or engaging with youth workers in a church space. We have created weekly lessons and assemblies enabling youth workers and volunteers with little time and resource to engage, fully equipped in their local school setting. We offer communities resources where young people can eat together or do rap workshops and start their faith journey. We also provide weekly outreach and discipleship resources for your church youth group, editable PDFs to make your youth work admin or volunteer management easier, as well as short online training videos for your team! 

Or maybe, you would like to become a part of our Pulse network, gathering together youth workers in your area to learn together about excellence in outreach. Wherever you’re at, we would love you to visit our website, check out what we’re creating to serve the Church and get in touch personally if we can help make your church’s outreach more effective to see a generation changed. Go to to find out more.

This article was printed in Multiply 2024: The Manual, a publication that accompanied the programme of Multiply 2024, which explored multiplying a younger church. You can find related content below.