Re-envisioning: Richard Giles on Progress

3rd Nov 2023

All of us can look back on our teenage years and single out the high and low points we faced. They will be unique and personal, having shaped and impacted us in different ways. Now a new generation owns the ‘field’ - one which I believe offers greater opportunities, but also very different challenges. This is the new reality at Urban Saints. We must adapt and respond so we can remain relevant, be effective, and at the same time keep our rich heritage and remain true to Albert Kestin’s original calling. How does Urban Saints position itself so it can come alongside young people today?

Over the summer, a team of staff, board members and independents convened to complete a thorough review of the environment that we are working in, the needs of the young people, our volunteers and supporters, our current activities, strengths and weaknesses. We looked at what is changing, both now and into the future, where there are opportunities and what threats exist. Urban Saints must equip itself to face a fast changing, digital but unequal world. We engaged with church partners and other youth ministries to understand how they are addressing these issues and how Urban Saints could work with them, how we could serve them as part of Kingdom ministry. We dared to ask the question, is Urban Saints still relevant, and if so, what should we be uniquely providing?

The answer to that final question was a resounding YES! The needs are enormous and the mission field is vast with 95% of under 20-year-olds in the UK having no connection with a church (Church Statistics 2: 2010-2020). A generation who does not know the love of Christ in their lives. To reach them we need to adapt to the changes impacting society at large and in the church in the post-COVID environment, to a world driven by technology and the influence of social media. These changes must not dilute the hope and salvation that exists in a life following Jesus. Our purpose, the essence of our mission and vision remains unchanged: to reach the young people outside Christian communities, to create safe spaces for them to be their true selves, where they can growand develop, and to share the hope and good news of the gospel. After a young person chooses to follow Jesus, we want to continue journeying with them, as they grow in their relationship with Jesus and connect with a Christian community.

Volunteer Leaders and Helpers

Volunteer leaders and helpers are the backbone to what we do. On the ground, they understand the new playing field, locally and regionally. We must empower them. Running groups is more heavily regulated than in the past. Since COVID, there are fewer people coming forward. We need to not only recruit more leaders but support them more effectively, providing them with training and guidance so they can quickly become effective at following their calling and passion. We also recognise that this can be challenging and so we need to encourage and inspire them with support activities, locally, regionally and nationally.

Digital

We live in an age where young people are influenced more by what they discover online than from those around them. At the same time, they crave authenticity and recognise the challenges of discerning truth. We need to help them navigate these issues, engaging with them digitally, creating online safe spaces where they can question and discover. This includes a refreshed Energize. To succeed, it must be relevant and authentic, it needs to be done well.

Church Engagement

The COVID pandemic has led to a significant impact on churches, with attendance, income and the number of volunteers all dropping, whilst expectations continue to rise. Pastors are overwhelmed, and whilst their heart maybe for youth evangelism, youth work and evangelism are often first to go. We rely on churches for volunteer leaders, financial support and as the future spiritual communities where young people can grow and develop. We therefore need to work closely with the church to realise this aim, enabling and supporting them to reach unchurched young people.

Additional Needs

For some time, Mark Arnold has been raising the importance of Additional Needs. With an estimated 1 in 5 children having additional needs, every group is likely to include at least one such child. Additional Needs should therefore not be seen as something separate but fully integrated into our group thinking.

Advocacy

Young people from unchurched backgrounds and those with additional needs need a voice in Christian communities. I’ve already highlighted the pressures church leaders are under. We must not let the voice of these two underrepresented groups be squeezed out. We have the experience and understanding to step into that space, and we need to do so. To be effective, all these areas must be fully integrated. Further, we must work together with other youth ministries for ”Kingdom” benefit and collective impact. Having confirmed what needs doing, we are now putting detailed plans together for Board approval at year-end. Consultation groups are taking place to develop our understanding of how we can better recruit/equip/support volunteers and churches involved in youth evangelism and develop an effective digital capability. My hope is that later this year and into next we will run regional briefings to engage further, with the aim of starting to launch the initiatives early next year. I am excited about the opportunities before us. Our plans however are only part of what needs to be done. “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain” (Ps 127:1). Please continue to soak this process in prayer so we are guided by him.

 

Richard Giles

Interim CEO and transition director


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