newday and Urban Youth
Posted on 18/04/2012 by Nicholas Ferguson
Graffiti by wwarby on Flickr
With an increasing number of newday delegates coming from urban backgrounds, Nicholas Ferguson (King's Church London) considers the impact of this on both the event and the young people themselves, both now and going forward.
As a teenager growing up in South London I remember my first youth residential to a place called Macaroni Woods in the Cotswold countryside. Leaving the urban decay to travel several miles into rural England, under the care of a team of youthworkers and a group of highly energetic peers, was both exciting and scary.
The streets of South London were all I’d ever known, so, though plagued with all manner of dangers, they provided me with a degree of security and safety. The grit, smells and noise associated with inner city life helped me to keep my bearings and, in a strange way, confidently find my place within the community. But what I soon learnt was that venturing outside of the ‘known’ was to be an amazing experience which opened my eyes to a new world, a different existence, and a brand new perspective on life.
Having been responsible for bringing groups of teenagers from South London to newday over the last few years, I’ve had the privilege of seeing several young people experience the same thing at newday as I did all those years ago at that residential.
Like when in my teens, many of those who frequent our youth group could be described as being from urban London. They’ve lived and walked on streets where sirens are frequently heard, crime is common place and where gang affiliation can sadly become a prerequisite for security, status and belonging.
Yet what we’ve seen firsthand in encouraging teens - many of whom had never ventured beyond London - to take the two hour coach journey to camp for six days in the middle of a race course/showground, is the impact newday can have on a young person from an urban context.
Over a period of days we’ve seen teenagers, characterised by hardened exteriors and aggressive tendencies, softening to the point of vulnerability, engagement and disclosure. And those for whom God was nothing more than a religious byword for distant and irrelevant rules, becoming open to the possibility that there is a God who is genuinely and unconditionally compassionate.
Where do you see the impact of the urban churches on newday over the last few years?
However, more significantly, what we’ve witnessed over recent years is the impact urban churches have had on newday itself. For as youthworkers are reaching increased numbers of ‘urbanised’ young people, and experiencing greater success in winning their commitment to attend newday, the greater the need has become to consider diversifying the event, making it more accessible and relevant to a growing audience.
What was once an event that predominantly gathered the middle classes has in recent years broadened its reach to become one that draws young people from a range of backgrounds. This change, largely due to the extended reach and influence of churches bringing young people from urban contexts, is also a reflection of the willingness and heart of the newday team to respond to the needs of local churches.
One example of how newday has evolved in response to the needs of local churches is the introduction of the very popular Rhythm Factory. From when it was first introduced, the Rhythm Factory fast became a nucleus for many young people; a place where they were able to identify with the team and engage in workshops tailor-made to compliment their cultural preference.
Though the Rhythm Factory was never intended to be an urban hub or oasis for those on site unfamiliar with the event, it has demonstrated the significant progress made in responding to the growing awareness and need to acknowledge a broader demographic of young people. As such, many of the teenagers who we’ve brought to the event have had a positive experience due to being effectively engaged at the Rhythm Factory.
The increase in urbanised youth has also seen newday taking forward steps in the introduction of urban acts and in giving more profile to those from ethnic minority groups who are representative of this ever increasing culture of young people on site.
MOBO Award winning artist Guvna B would be one such example. It has not been simply the result of his musical talent, but a response to his ability to engage with teenagers from urban contexts, and provide them with a figurehead with whom they can identify, that has resulted in his popularity.
A better awareness of issues relating to gang culture has also impacted the way in which newday is operated from a management perspective. With the arrival of young people from urban contexts has come the challenge of recognising and addressing issues not common place at the event, such as area (or postcode) rivalries being outworked on site.
Though in previous years it had always been the case that young people from neighbouring churches would have ‘rivalry’, this, by and large, would have been of a more jovial nature and would not require serious consideration with regard to the potential for violence and the subsequent safety of those involved.
As such we’ve seen the newday Management Team take a proactive approach to both engaging and understanding these teens in an attempt to ensure appropriate, necessary, and effective changes are made to safeguarding policies and good practice.
This is to be considered a positive response to working with young people who do not fit the archetypical model of those who have historically attending the event, and one which will prove beneficial to all involved in years to come.
What do you foresee the next couple years holding in terms of how we can reach these young people?
How newday continues developing over the next few years in its ability to effectively reach young people from an urban context is something that needs consideration. For with the progress made in recent years it would be unfortunate if engaging young people from a broader demographic was not continually on the agenda, and steps were not being made to review effectiveness.
For just as there are in the middle classes, amongst the numbers of urban youth frequenting our churches and attending newday, we see future leaders with huge potential to shape their communities, cities and the nations. Yet, despite their potential we also see that they’re becoming increasingly more vulnerable, reactive to media and peer pressure, volatile, and suspicious of authority figures, institutions, organised religion, and the society at large.
It’s for this reason that newday needs to continue providing an environment that is both embracing and tolerant at the same time. Embracing, in that urban teens need to know they are welcomed, represented, and valued, and tolerant, in that steps will need to be taken towards addressing some of the challenges arising from their presence on site. Alongside this will need to be an increasing awareness of their world view and how it determines best practice.
To reach urban youth newday will need to avoid the risk of communicating that one sub-culture is more significant than another, which can be inadvertently expressed by failing to incorporate urban styles both into and across mainstream newday, for example, marketing and publicity.
It also needs to be noted that urban youth need not just to hear the Gospel, but to receive holistic support that helps them to make the transition from being on a Christian camp site, to going back to their communities and feeling better equipped to re-engage with the challenges faced on a daily basis. For this reason we envisage newday becoming more intentional about addressing issues specific to urban youth culture in seminar streams, workshops, and preaching alike.
With an increased number of young people being disengaged from society, local churches are playing a key role in providing an environment which is both safe and accepting. These same churches are attracting young people from broken and dysfunctional communities where a need for acceptance, affirmation, and belonging are wanting, and as such the church finds itself in a position to build relational links with a generation that extends beyond the four walls of church buildings.
newday too, in recognising this, needs to look to how it responds to urban youth and effectively extends its reach beyond a six day camping experience on a showground in rural England. Though this would primarily be the responsibility of the youthworkers who bring young people, there is scope for considering how newday can sustain links between events whilst proactively reemphasising its vision to see an emerging generation equipped to impact the nations.
For many urban youth, newday is the one time in the year where they are exposed to something other than their local community. It’s a place where they’re able to find respite from the daily demands and pressures associated with the circumstances and peer groups they ordinarily find themselves in. Whilst on site they have permission to let down their guard, show vulnerability and build positive relationships.
But being an event aimed at facilitating young people to encounter God and have their lives transformed by the power of the Gospel, newday is far more than a youth residential. Similar to my experience as a teenager being taken out of London, urban youth will certainly have a new perspective on life when they leave newday because they’d have been exposed to the truth that God is a father to the fatherless, a hope for the hopeless and the restorer of broken lives.
So, in view of this, and in knowing that whilst on site ‘urbanised’ youth will find themselves in a place where God is able to speak to them, it’s most important that newday continues to take steps towards reaching a group of young people so often overlooked and marginalised by society and churches.
How this is done will continually need to be reviewed, as youth culture, whether urban or not, seems to be increasingly transient with each passing year. Most certainly, links and partnerships will need to be developed with other organisations that have experience of working with young people from urban contexts.
For if newday is to continue the transition in extending its reach further in effectively engaging teenagers from urban backgrounds, it will need to be open to working closer with, and drawing on the expertise of other organisations.
But equally important will be the intentionality of inviting a broader array of urban acts similar to the likes of Guvna B, who are able to identify with young people, and who are effective in contextualising the gospel coherently. However, for this to add value for all, these alternative, or urban acts, will need to be given the same, if not similar profile as the more regular mainstream performers.
Equally, as newday grows, so too will the need to develop a team responsible for driving this aspect of the event forward. A team with this as their primary focus could be instrumental in progressing to the next phase of developing and integrating this increased urban element.
It is important to note however, that any such development should not be exclusive from the mainstream aspects of the event. For just as the n:gage team is responsible for making efforts to ensure that provisions are not exclusive to any one group, so too any steps taken towards helping to integrate urban youth will need to be designed in such a way that room is made for other sub-cultures to both experience, engage in and benefit from any participation across the week.
It has been clearly evident over recent years that advances are being made in both considering and acknowledging the changes required in making newday an event that is accessible for all young people.
With these forward steps not only are we observing a broadening of young people being exposed to the Gospel, an expansion of diversity that reflects the heart of God, but we are also witnessing the integration of a group of young people having hearts prepared for changing the face of Christianity within urban contexts.
This is an exciting prospect!