Research indicates the two youngest generations in the UK (Millennials and Gen Z) are the least religious on record. But why? And how might we begin to reach them with the gospel of Jesus Christ? The challenge is to communicate the gospel for young people in such a way that makes it compelling.
Youth ministry: the major binding force for ecumenical collaboration in East Devon town
Theos6 is the name of the youth work project based in Ottery St Mary, East Devon. It brings together six church denominations (Anglican, Methodist, URC, Salvation Army, New Life (independent charismatic) and Roman Catholic), all passionately committed to connecting with children and young people in the area.
Whilst the Churches Together in Ottery (CTiO) Youth Work Project began in the early 2000s with varying degrees of success, it wasn’t until 2010 that a working group was set up to plan for the appointment of a full-time youth worker. Seeing significant numbers of young people hanging out around the public toilets and other spots on the high street, the initial working group decided to employ a detached youth worker. Funds to the tune of £25,000 came from Diocese of Exeter’s Million for Mission Fund to get things off the ground.
James Ballentine came from Youth for Christ Scotland as a detached youth worker for two years. Strangely the building of a new Sainsbury’s in the town shifted young people from the streets, so that by 2017 CTiO reimagined their work and decided to focus on local primary schools and supporting and encouraging existing work in the local churches.
Because the name ‘CTiO Youth Work Project’ was such a mouthful, the team came up with a new name Theos6. The reason being there were six schools in the local learning community, six churches in the town and six roads leading into the town. Over the years it’s become a talking point.
The job description was re-imagined and a part time youth pastor post devised. The churches wanted a post rooted in the churches to bless the community. Graham started part time in February 2017, and in some ways Graham is a pastor for the whole community of young people in this part of East Devon.
Initially Graham spent time with year 6s in the primary schools, knowing that he could see them grow through the school system. He has built up good relationships with a wide variety of , especially at Kings School. It became obvious that there was more for him to be involved in, and he was running out of hours. The Parish church in Newton Poppleford wanted extra support, as did others in local villages.
What has been especially encouraging has been the financial commitment that all the churches in the area have given. So much so that Graham’s post is secure for the next three years, with a view to also employing an intern soon.
Besides the ongoing schools work, Graham has developed a drop in club in the centre of town. He has successfully trained 10 volunteer mentors through Mentoring XLM. He is regularly involved in school assemblies, has taken young people to be part of the Spree weekend away, and organised residential youth camps and holiday clubs.
Theos6 is now an independent charity with a Board of Trustees made up of representatives from a variety of churches in the community and really owned by them. Work with young people has been something tangible that the churches in the area could really get behind, and continues to be the major binding force for ecumenical collaboration in the town.
New monastic youth communities
Other examples of ecumenical youth work include new monastic youth communities such as Chemin Neuf at Lambeth, known as the St Anselm Community, and the With community based at All Hallows Ditchingham in Norfolk – the first bespoke ecumenical community serving young people in the UK (read more about With in our web story).
Lack of Youth workers an ecumenical concern
Paul Friend from South West Youth Ministries wrote about Churches desperate need for Youth Workers in a useful article in Premier Christianity in August 2021.
Find out more
Find out more from this range of Christian youth organisations: