Research finds keys to keeping youth in church

Thursday, 3 April 2008

3 April 2008: Following Census reports identifying a sharp decline in youth and religious affiliation in the last decade, Australian Catholic University (ACU) has established a research study into the triggers that maintain a connection between young people and the church.

The “Engagement of Youth in Churches” study was conducted by sociologists and psychologists from ACU and research partner Monash University to better understand the qualities that youth ministry programs require to successfully engage young people.

Headed by ACU Professor Ruth Webber, the study drew insights from youth ministry leaders across several congregations including Catholic, Anglican, Uniting and Church of Christ denominations.

Results showed a multitude of factors resulting in successful youth ministry including high numbers within youth groups, a balance between having fun and providing service to others, a split between age groups to encourage exposure to people of diverse ages and the development and maintenance of strong links with local schools.

Professor Webber found groups were able to grow most effectively when skills and knowledge could be transferred from older youth to younger members.

“This study has shown that youth ministry requires a professional approach that provides regular and systematic training for both young people and leaders to enable them to mentor others,” she said.

“Within this model, 16 year- olds can help pass on their skills and knowledge to 14 year olds, who in turn can do the same for younger members; it is about creating a talented, caring and responsible community of young Christians.”

The study also uncovered the underlying mechanics which result in thriving youth groups, with the ‘bottom-up’ method - whereby a small number of young people are provided with programs based on their personal interests and values - proving most successful.

Among the most notable findings was the need for strong support of youth ministry by the parish or clergy and the professional training of youth leaders, which were seen as higher priorities than issues of funding.

The research project was supported by Melbourne schools Xavier College and Genazzano College and the Baroondara Deanery Group.

Australian Catholic University (ACU) established as Australia’s only Catholic, national, publicly funded university is open to all. The University empowers its students and staff with a strong sense of social responsibility and concern for the moral and ethical dimensions of their study and their professional and personal lives.