Youth Ministries 2: What Do Young Friends Want?

I was giv­en per­mis­sion to pass along this data from the FGC-sponsored Youth Min­istry Con­sul­ta­tion that took place Third Month. A num­ber of goals and projects had been brain­stormed before­hand. The thirty-or-so par­tic­i­pants at the Con­sul­ta­tion were each giv­en ten stars, which they were asked to put next to the projects they thought should be pur­sued. Every star act­ed as a vote that there was one per­son inter­est­ed in that top­ic. The stars were cod­ed to indi­cate the age range of the vot­er: High-Schooler, Adult Young Friend (18 – 37 years old) and old­er Friends.

One of the “stars” charts at the consultation

Being the infor­ma­tion design geek, I con­vert­ed the resul­tant votes to into qual­i­ties and col­ors and put them into a chart show­ing inter­est lev­el. Projects that received no votes from a par­tic­u­lar age range are labeled “none,” for no inter­est; 2 – 3 stars is “weak” inter­est and so forth, up to “HOT” which are projects which received over 7 stars from an age group.

As an exam­ple, take “devel­op spir­i­tu­al­i­ty.” Sev­en adult young Friends (aged 18 – 37) put a star down for this, indi­cat­ing they thought it was some­thing FGC should pro­mote, hence “strong” (bright red) inter­est from this age group. No Friend over forty used one of their stars to indi­cate inter­est in this work, indi­cat­ing that none of them thought FGC should be pro­mot­ing spir­i­tu­al devel­op­ment. Here are the results:

Old­er Adult

Expecially for Adult Young Friends

Com­mu­ni­ty weak strong weak
Devel­op spirituality none strong none
Out­reach & how to explain our faith none strong weak
Crit­i­cal mass at MM, QM, YM none weak strong
Men­tor­ing by old­er Friends none strong none
Men­tor­ing to younger Friends none strong none
Men­tor­ing to old­er Friends: none strong none
Help with transitions none *HOT* weak
Adver­tis­ing programs none weak none
Trav­el­ing Min­istries for AYF none lukew weak
Groups through­out the year for support none lukew weak
Sup­port for AYF groups at the YM levels none weak weak
Data­base to help iso­lat­ed friends none none none
Clearness/discernment process:
For HS to College none lukew none
For work transitions none weak none
For rela­tion­ships none weak none
For par­ent­hood none weak weak
Inter­gen­er­a­tional Spir­i­tu­al Conversations
About Vital Friends Issues none lukew none
Vision of Quak­erism in 50 years none lukew weak
Finan­cial sup­port for AYF weak *HOT* lukew
Retreats for youth workers none none weak
Mate­ri­als specif­i­cal­ly designed for AYF, none none none
Gen­er­al Questions:
How do we han­dle the broad age span? none weak none
How do we tap the ener­gy and pas­sion of this group MMs, YMs & FGC? none lukew strong
How do we meet the needs with­out sep­a­rat­ing AYF from larg­er community? none lukew none
How do we sus­tain com­mu­ni­ty when we only meet once a year? none lukew weak

Especially for High Schoolers

Adults who are bet­ter pre­pared to work with them… weak lukew strong
FAP�s that have self confidence none none weak
Help with dis­cern­ment process around college none none none
Help with disc: C-O none none weak
Help with dis­cern­ment around life choices none none weak
Dis­cern­ment ques­tions: #3, #4, & #5: none weak strong
Build­ing community weak weak weak
Net­work­ing weak none none
Bible study, RE curriculum none none weak
Train­ing how one per­son can have impact none none none
Train­ing on how to devel­op group dialogs weak none weak
Help to get more teens involved weak none lukew
Pro­gram­ming help none none none
Lead­er­ship Development weak weak weak
Youth newslet­ter lukew weak none
Email forum lukew weak none
Email data base none weak none
Event b’ween Young Quakes and Gathering weak none none
Youth exchange weak none none
Pro­grams to facil­i­tate rites of passage weak none none

Things Younger Friends want­ed more than Old­er Friends:
In order by AYF popularity:

  • MENTORSHIP: The AYFs real­ly want cross-generational men­tor­ing rela­tion­ships. When the ques­tions were first posed, there only “men­tor­ing by old­er Friends” and “men­tor­ing to younger Friends.” Check the math and you’ll see that’s the same ques­tion (who­ev­er put the ques­tions togeth­er for­got that the Quak­er under­stand­ing of elder­ship is not nec­es­sar­i­ly a func­tion of age, hmm). I grabbed a pen­cil and added “men­tor­ing to old­er Friends” and it was instant­ly pop­u­lar. Even though the men­tor­ship issue was spread over three ques­tions, AYF’s vot­ed “strong­ly” for each of them, show­ing ter­rif­ic pop­u­lar sup­port. Almost no over-40 Friend vot­ed for this. This is not some­thing that can be forced onto dis­in­ter­est­ed old­er Friends, which means I think we young-in’s are going to have to rely on one anoth­er for mentorship.
  • SUPPORT FOR AYF CONFERNCES: Younger Friends want to spend more time togeth­er. Note should be made that the vot­ers were Friends attend­ing a con­fer­ence and that we were a select­ed and self-selected group who pre­sum­ably like to attend con­fer­ences. Still, this is popular.
  • TALKING ABOUT OUR FAITH: It’s sad that only two old­er Friends thought explain­ing the faith was worth­while. At the same time it’s encour­ag­ing that 13 AYFs want­ed this. It’s very clear that younger Friends aren’t as afraid of talk­ing about seri­ous faith issues as the Baby Boomers (it’s nice to see some of my essays confirmed!).

Things Old­er Friends want­ed more than Younger Friends:

  • TAPPING THE YOUTH: There was what I thought was a semi-obnoxious ques­tion about how to “tap the ener­gy and pas­sion” of younger Friends. This is very close to the all-too-common gen­er­a­tional mind­set that sees “val­ues young peo­ple as a resource” (as a ad in heavy-rotation at NPR pro­claims). We are not a resource for extrac­tion. Young peo­ple are too often seen mere­ly as a source of cheap labor for projects ini­ti­at­ed, designed and run by old­er Friends; they are want­ed as pas­sive audi­ence mem­bers for old­er Friends’ pon­tif­i­cat­ing lec­tures; they are end­less­ly pro­claimed a far-off “future” of Friends rather than the very much here-and-now present of Friends.

    While old­er Friends at the con­sul­ta­tion felt strong­ly that young peo­ple should be tapped, Adult Young Friends had luke­warm inter­est in being tapped and high school Friends showed no inter­est what­so­ev­er. While not all old­er Friends think of young Friends as “resources,” it’s a common-enough theme that we need to flag it as a part of the gen­er­a­tional gap. I sus­pect that pow­er issues will sur­face when Quak­er insti­tu­tions try to pull togeth­er projects that “tap” youth: twenty-something Friends are going to want more involve­ment in the design and oper­a­tion of these projects than old­er Friends will be will­ing to give.

    Sim­i­lar­ly, old­er Friends seem to be more inter­est­ed that younger Friends attain “crit­i­cal mass” at Quak­er insti­tu­tions like month­ly, quar­ter­ly and year­ly meet­ings. The phras­ing of the ques­tion is a lit­tle ambigu­ous and I see two like­ly expla­na­tions. One is that younger Friends don’t feel they need crit­i­cal mass to be involved in Quak­er insti­tu­tions and want inte­grat­ed inter­gen­er­a­tional par­tic­i­pa­tion rather than “AYF ghet­tos.” The oth­er pos­si­bil­i­ty (the scari­er one) is that younger Friends sim­ply aren’t as com­mit­ted to Quak­er insti­tu­tions. I sus­pect the gen­er­a­tional dif­fer­ences in respons­es are the result of both these fac­tors, plus oth­ers perhaps.

Things no one par­tic­u­lar­ly cared about:

  • No one wants mate­ri­als specif­i­cal­ly designed for AYF. No one wants adver­tis­ing pro­grams. No one wants a data­base to help iso­lat­ed Friends.
  • An AYF trav­el­ing min­istries was luke­warm, 4 YAF stars, 3 over-40. This sur­pris­es me.
  • Any oth­er pat­terns that should be lift­ed up?

I should note that this was not a sci­en­tif­ic sur­vey. Though the orga­niz­ers of the Con­sul­ta­tion tried hard and the par­tic­i­pants were sur­pris­ing­ly diverse for an col­lec­tion like this, they weren’t rep­re­sen­ta­tive. There were only four high school par­tic­i­pants and I didn’t adjust their votes: “luke­warm” sup­port from them should real­ly be relabled “strong” support.

While this is a small sam­ple size, this is one of the few recent sur­veys of it type in FGC Quak­erism and it bears close study. It con­firms a lot of what I’ve been say­ing all these years (yea!, I’m not crazy) and echoes what I hear a lot of high school and twenty-something Friends talk­ing about. Take it for what its worth!


  • Hey Mar­tin! I’d been wait­ing to hear more about the Youth Min­istries Con­sul­ta­tion, and now I’ve got some specifics, thanks to you.
    (I’d recent­ly read the online sum­ma­ry from the clerk of the ad hoc com­mit­tee on youth min­istries, which seems to be more of a touchy-feely, give-ourselves-a-pat-on-the-back ini­tial report. I was hop­ing to see the sum­ma­ry some­how “endorsed” by at least a few younger Friends who had par­tic­pat­ed in the con­sul­ta­tion, though, to give it more weight and validity…)
    Back to your post and the infor­ma­tion you present in the charts, based on the con­sul­ta­tion. I have two ques­tions — and no, I real­ly don’t expect answers:
    1. How would each group define the char­ac­ter­is­tics and behav­iors of giv­ing (receiv­ing) mentorship?
    2. Sim­i­lar­ly, how would we each define “help with transitions”?
    After all, one person’s good inten­tion to help is anoth­er person’s feel­ing patronized!
    It’s clear to me there are lots more con­ver­sa­tions to be had between old­er Friends and younger Friends – about ageism, pater­nal­ism, spir­i­tu­al and per­son­al devel­op­ment through­out the life cycle, desired mech­a­nisms for authen­tic inter­ac­tion and rec­i­p­ro­cal learn­ing, etc.
    I think this is real­ly just the tip of the ice­berg. I’ll be curi­ous to see how the Spir­it moves among us as we go into deep­er waters.
    Liz, The Good Raised Up

  • Robin Mohr

    Two ques­tions:
    What hap­pened to all the high school Friends’ stars? Were there not as many of them or did they not vote?
    Why are thirty-something Friends still con­sid­ered “Young Adults”? Is this part of the forced per­pet­u­a­tion of youth or are 30 – 40 year olds real­ly not ready to shoul­der reg­u­lar adult respon­si­bil­i­ties in their atti­tudes and responses?
    I feel pret­ty firm­ly middle-aged by now, myself. (Thirty-seven.)

  • Eliz­a­beth O’Sullivan

    It seemed like the adult young friends had a lot more “strong inter­ests” and even “weak inter­ests” than either the old­er friends or the younger friends. What’s the deal with that? If you were talk­ing about a sur­vey tak­en in Min­neso­ta, where I’ve always lived, I’d sus­pect that the old­er folks were reluc­tant to cir­cle the big­ger num­bers for fear of being seen as mak­ing too much of a fuss about some­thing. I thought this was part of a Scandinavian-influenced Min­nesotan cul­ture, but do you think that old­er folks in this sur­vey were reluc­tant to “make a fuss”? Or did you tap into a par­tic­u­lar­ly on-fire group of adult young friends? Or what?

  • Hi Liz: For what it’s worth, I was asked if I would be inter­est­ed in writ­ing the Good News Bul­letin but didn’t feel it was quite right. I think the “men­tor­ing to” and “men­tor­ing from” is the desire for real, hon­est rela­tion­ships with old­er adults: a recog­ni­tion for who they are, not who they’re relat­ed to (or not). I’m not sure this is going to hap­pen: most old­er adults don’t want or know how to have this kind of rela­tion­ship. Tokenism is ram­pant (don’t even get me start­ed with sto­ries, I’m hop­ping mad about some recent examples!)
    “Help with tran­si­tions” is inter­est­ing. The high school Friends strong­ly react­ed against this. They did not want yet anoth­er old­er adult Friend com­ing up to them and ask­ing what col­lege they were going to attend. The Friends in their ear­ly twen­ties were more inter­est­ed in “tran­si­tions” which I took to mean advice and dis­cus­sion about how to bal­ance life, spir­i­tu­al­i­ty, employ­ment and rela­tion­ships. I think this is tied into the desire for mutu­al mentorship.
    Robin: As we were putting up the stars, the high school Friends were con­fused whether they were allowed to put their stars in the AYF cat­e­gories (the high school­ers were also out­num­bered: there were only four in atten­dance). As a thirty-seven year old, I explict­ly said I didn’t want to be named a “young adult” but I was any­way. Yes, infan­tiliza­tion is a seri­ous issue. His­tor­i­cal­ly, most of the impor­tant Quak­er min­is­ters were active in their ear­ly twen­ties but few get that sort of recog­ni­tion they do and even then there’s so much tokenism going that they all burn out after a few years.
    Eliz­a­beth: I wasn’t clear. It’s not that the AYF’s put down that they were “strong­ly” inter­est­ed. Every­one got a hand­ful of stars to place on the board and every star act­ed as a vote that there was one per­son inter­est­ed in that topic.
    I’ve amend­ed the post; I’ve used “devel­op spir­i­tu­al­i­ty” as an exam­ple of how the stars work.

  • Dan­ny

    Mar­tin -
    I have a thought relat­ing to your com­ment that YAFs placed very lit­tle empha­sis on crit­i­cal mass. It seems like we do not have crit­i­cal mass of YAFs now because Quak­er insti­tu­tions do a bad job with all those oth­er things such as I think what the num­bers may tell us is that YAFs don’t want crit­i­cal mass in itself –but we can expect to gain that crit­i­cal mass when deep­er needs are met, because YAFs will be less like­ly to run away to the bud­dhists or pres­by­te­ri­ans or whomev­er. Maybe I’m just being an opti­mist –maybe YAFs don’t care about Quak­er insti­tu­tions. But yes there are cer­tain­ly more pos­i­tive ways to read to information.

  • Mar­tin and Friends,
    I wish to clar­i­fy the par­en­thet­i­cal com­ment I made above, espe­cial­ly after recent­ly hav­ing heard a Friend’s response to that part specifically.
    I wrote that the online report from the ad hoc com­mit­tee “seems to be more of a touchy-feely, give-ourselves-a-pat-on-the-back ini­tial report…”
    As I recall, what I had orig­i­nal­ly hoped for with­in the report of the com­mit­tee, were some details of the expe­ri­ence itself, which Martin’s post here pro­vid­ed. I had also hoped to see direct quotes with­in the report from the young adult Friends who had par­tic­i­pat­ed — which is not fair of me, since I *didn’t* have an expec­ta­tion for per­sons of col­or to be quot­ed in the FGC Com­mit­tee for Min­istry on Racism’s ini­tial report.
    In ret­ro­spect, my expec­ta­tions and hunger to hear direct­ly from non-committee par­tic­i­pants, and my per­son­al, tem­po­rary dis­ap­point­ment in not get­ting the infor­ma­tion that I myself want­ed, blind­ed me to how my com­ments about the committee’s report may have been received. As I re-read the report today, though, I cer­tain­ly sense the move­ment of the Spir­it as the committee’s work unfolds.
    Post­ing this clar­i­fy­ing com­ment has been very hum­bling, as was the con­ver­sa­tion that has led to it: I’ve thought about how, on the one hand, say­ing noth­ing might be bet­ter than com­ment­ing fur­ther, so as not to draw any more atten­tion to the thing. On the oth­er hand, now that I know some of the pain my com­ment has caused, it hurts me to let that com­ment be there, unan­swered. I could ask Mar­tin to delete the orig­i­nal com­ment, but that doesn’t feel clean, either.
    Thanks to the Friend who shared so open­ly with me how my words were met by her.
    Liz, The Good Raised Up

  • Hi Liz,
    There’s some­thing dis­turb­ing about your recan­ta­tion. It’s okay to say an feel-good press release should have more depth. I think a lot of peo­ple are desir­ing more, just as you did. You shouldn’t have to be an orga­ni­za­tion­al insid­er to find out what hap­pened at an event like this. It’s the nature of an orga­ni­za­tion­al release to be upbeat and excit­ing but it makes them pre­dictable and unread. I think it might do us well to be a lit­tle less imper­son­al and cor­po­rate in our com­mu­ni­ca­tions with the out­side world. We can show our warts and have our con­ver­sa­tions avail­able for non-insiders to hear.
    We missed an oppor­tu­ni­ty when who­ev­er saw your com­ment talked to you pri­vate­ly. A con­ver­sa­tion about how we com­mu­ni­cate to the world would have been pret­ty interesting.

  • Mar­garet Obermayer

    I’m con­cerned about the way that the HS age Friends seem to have lost their voic­es in the star thing. There was cer­tain­ly less of us at the con­sul­ta­tion… HOWEVER, we all did par­tic­i­pate and we most cer­tain­ly had issues that we felt strong­ly about. We were con­sis­tent­ly vot­ing to be more ful­ly con­sid­ered and to par­tic­i­pate more ful­ly in the YAF and Adult Friend activ­i­ties. A data base of some sort to con­nect young Friends was seri­ous­ly talked about and con­sid­ered. I for one would like to see an online forum where iso­lat­ed (like me) young Friends could talk with oth­er Friends of all ages. Anther thing HS aged Friends felt very strong­ly about was inter­gen­er­a­tional work. There is too much sep­a­ra­tion between age groups in the Soci­ety of Friends. A very impor­tant thing I learned from the con­sul­ta­tion is that all Friends, regard­less of age, have very sim­i­lar needs.
    Peace Friends