Churches are desperate for youth workers. So why can’t they find any?

Low pay, short term contracts and heavy recruitment into church leadership is resulting in a critical shortage of youth and children’s workers says Paul Friend of South West Youth Ministries. But who is to blame and what can we do about it? 

I sit down to write this after two phone calls this morning before 11am asking me if I know anyone who could fill a role as a youth worker.

On average, over the last three months, I’ve had a request at least every 48 hours from churches and projects across the region – and sometimes beyond it. Many roles are being re-advertised for a third, or even fourth, time.  

On the one hand it is exciting that, coming out of a global pandemic, so many churches are keen to grow, develop or start work with children and young people in their communities. We all know that the need right now is huge.  

But where have all the workers gone?  


On speaking to church leaders about their problems recruiting, many say that they have had applicants, but rarely with the experience, qualifications or character to take on the role. Alongside this, recent research by the Christian Youth Work Consortium shows that the number of people entering into Christian youth work training has halved in the past ten years.  

All of this leads me to think that we are on the verge of a crisis in the UK Church. There is a growing need but no-one to fill it. Tony Cook, assistant director of education at Bath and Wells diocese, told me: “Churches are putting up salaries to try and attract fully-qualified, experienced ‘angel Gabriel types’ who simply aren’t there. Mainly because many qualified workers are now either in teaching, ordained ministry or out of youth work all together, so youth ministry is left with this massive void.” 

Some would say that this is leading to a shift back to volunteer-led ministry, and that this is a good thing; that the Church has over-professionalised ministry to children and young people and we need to go back to grass roots. To a point, I agree. There is still a need, however, to have someone heading up, casting vision, resourcing, training and releasing a team of volunteers. Youth and children’s ministers still have a vital role if we want to grow in reaching, supporting and caring for children and young people in our community.  

7499 Boys3286364 1920 919651


So, if there is still a need for youth and children’s workers and yet people are not going into training or applying for roles, what has changed? What have we got wrong and how can we fix it? 

1. We haven’t invested in or valued training as much as we should have 

One question I’ve started asking when leaders ask if I know a brilliant youth or children’s worker is: “Have you sent anyone to be trained in the last five years or trained anyone in situ during that time?” I know this isn’t always possible, but I do wonder if we want the finished article without investing in the process.  

Many churches run in-house internship-style programmes – with varying degrees of success. This can be a good way of encouraging young adults to serve, but it can also be seen as ‘cheap labour’. Over the years, I’ve heard story after story of disillusionment and burn out from people who have done these kinds of things. It can seem easier – and cheaper – to do it ourselves rather than exploring a longer-term qualified training route.  

Some churches may be concerned about how effective some ministry training programmes are. However, from my experience, many interns are not offered a clear progression pathway that would enable them seriously consider youth and children’s ministry as a long-term option when their placements end. As a result, they move on and the church simply turns to the next batch of interns. What could it look like if we re-built trust with local churches as training providers and developed a culture where we were always looking to train up the next generation of youth and children’s leaders? What might it look like if we valued training and sought to build it into each appointment, ensuring youth and children’s workers were properly trained, inspired and equipped to do the job?

Youth and children’s ministers still have a vital role if we want to grow in reaching, supporting and caring for children and young people in our community.  

2. We haven’t paid enough or provided long-term job security  

Often youth and children’s ministry roles are paid significantly less than other ministry roles within the Church. Perhaps we assume that the workers taking these roles will be younger, less experienced or with less financial commitments. Perhaps, more crudely, we just think it’s not as important as other roles. Funding for ministry is always a challenge. Often roles are funded for two or three years – which doesn’t lead to long term job security for people thinking of entering into youth or children’s ministry. If you have a family or a mortgage, short term roles are a real risk for people considering them.  What might it look like if we committed to finding the funding for longer term roles and re-thought pay scales to reflect the unsocial hours, parental pressure and highs and lows of ministry with children and young people? 

3. We see adult ministry as promotion and we back that up with words and actions 

Many people still see adult ministry as a promotion from youth and children’s work – whether that’s stepping into church leadership, worship or other operational roles within the life of the Church. Even if we would seek to deny this statement, the truth is that most mainstream denominations have been putting huge amounts of resource behind encouraging younger people to explore ordination. This means that some of the best youth and children’s workers – who might otherwise have served a lifetime (or at least a decade or more) working with children and youth – have been channelled into adult ministry within a couple of years.

The desperate need for more church leaders has perhaps meant a pillaging of the youth and children’s work community. I’m sure that many made the move as a response to a genuine call from God, however the encouragement from church and denomination leaders, supported by resources and financial incentives, has also made it an extremely attractive proposition.

What would it look like if we genuinely saw youth and children’s ministry as a vocation to be valued on a par with adult ministry? What if we encouraged movement the other way – encouraging those working with adults to explore ministry with children and youth? What if we shifted the culture to encourage a lifetime of service to the younger generation, rather than seeing it as a career stepping stone? 

It is easy to blame culture, a smaller pool of young passionate Christians or training providers themselves for the decline in numbers of people training for youth and children’s ministry. But if we fail to address the culture we have created around pay, job security, lack of strategic investment in training and the devaluing of youth and children’s work as a lifetime vocational calling, we should not be surprised when, suddenly, churches all over the country cry ‘WHERE HAVE ALL THE YOUTH WORKERS GONE?’ 

But if we fail to address the culture we have created around pay, job security, lack of strategic investment in training and the devaluing of youth and children’s work as a lifetime vocational calling, we should not be surprised when, suddenly, churches all over the country cry ‘WHERE HAVE ALL THE YOUTH WORKERS GONE?’ 

This article (found here) was first published on Written by Paul Friend, Director of South West Youth Ministries (SWYM). Paul Friend is married to Jo and has two boys. Paul heads up SWYM (South West Youth Ministries) where he has been involved for 22 years. Paul also helps lead a local church in a village in Devon and in his spare time loves all sports involving a ball and watching a good film with a curry!

If you would like to find out more about what Reign Ministries is doing to help train up more youth workers for Churches click the button below.


This article was created by a partner, friend or alumni of Reign. To give first hand experience of the impact Reign has had on their lives.

Categories: Youth Ministry Degree Course

If you liked may also like...

Img 20240328 144243 411

Jamie’s Story

Updated: 28 Mar 2024 | Posted by: student

Hi everyone! I am Jamie Gurling and I started studying at Reign this year. I am 19 and from Glasgow in Scotland. I left high school in 2022 and I thought the next step was obvious, to go straight into further education, just the same as everyone else. So, I followed the norm, moved city […]

Read more
Img 0694

New Changes. Same Passion.

Updated: 18 May 2023 | Posted by: Hannah Owen

As a ministry we have been reviewing how we deliver the degree progamme in a way that fits both our vision and DNA, whilst still providing quality training for the next generation of disciple-making leaders. From September 2023 we implemented some changes and we are excited to see how God is going to lead us […]

Read more

Who Do I Disciple?

Updated: 26 Apr 2023 | Posted by: dstevens

“Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him.  He appointed twelve – designating them apostles – that they might be with him and that he might send them out…”  (Mark 3.13-14) Where do I start? I had just started my first real ministry role in […]

Read more

A Shout Out To The Small Youth Groups

Updated: 29 Mar 2023 | Posted by: Charlie Morris

Is Bigger Better? The bigger your youth group, the better, right? We get a special energy from the buzz of a crowd. We believe that when we’re connected to more people we’re able to have more impact. But is this really the case in youth ministry? Most of us have the feeling that this approach […]

Read more

A Brief Intro to Discipleship

Updated: 22 Feb 2023 | Posted by: kmckinnon

If you were to attend one of our Expand Training Experiences you will hear our team talk about discipleship. That’s because it is the foundational to who Reign Ministries is. During our Expand: Online training you will learn the tools to help you be effective in your discipleship of young people. Watch the video below […]

Read more
Alexander Andrews Jygnb9gtcls Unsplash

A Calling To Youth Ministry

Updated: 8 Feb 2023 | Posted by: Charlie Morris

Where Is God Calling Me? I have a calling to youth ministry. But 30 years ago – I had no idea! I remember sitting in a marquee at a Christian music festival as a teenager, listening to a speaker talking about ‘Hearing God’s Call’.  This was something I was wrestling with, so I figured that […]

Read more

Back, Up, Forward

Updated: 4 Apr 2024 | Posted by: Hannah Owen

Matt, our Training Co-ordinator, shares a useful tool to use when doing discipleship in small groups of young people. What do you think? Is this something you already do, or would like to try? For more helpful tools or to learn more about our Expand Training Experiences, click the link below!

Read more
Img 2944

Prepare for your future with Reign Ministries

Updated: 24 Jan 2024 | Posted by: Hannah Owen

With each new year comes thoughts about the future. What can I do to get healthy? How can I improve my relationships or achieve a better work/life balance? Are there any new skills I want to learn? At Reign Ministries, we believe that our degree will prepare you for the future, whatever God calls you […]

Read more

Contact Us