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Young adults in North Rhein-Westphalia with a church background are more heavily engaged in all areas of social involvement than the whole of their age group.

Young adults in North Rhein-Westphalia with a church background are more heavily engaged in all areas of social involvement than the whole of their age group

New Study

Youth work provides a valuable contribution to the community

A new study, entitled “Young – Active – Protestant in North Rhine-Westphalia!”, reveals that the Evangelical Church offers a valuable contribution to the vibrancy of the local community through its youth work and confirmation classes.

In his presentation of the results of the survey, for which he was responsible, Professor Dr Friedrich Schweizer, lecturer in Religious Education at the Protestant Faculty of Tübingen University stated that “Voluntary activity in the church is not just an internal church affair”. Rather, it was the case that young people were involved to a considerable extent in a wide range of areas both inside and outside the church.

The survey has shown that voluntary work is in no way something just for the Third Age, which is a widespread perception in the church. Rather, it is precisely those aged 14 – 24 who are most heavily involved in voluntary activity. 

Where does the stimulus for this strong involvement come from? One of the grounds for it lies in the work done in confirmation preparation classes. “Young adults in North Rhine-Westphalia give a higher significance to their confirmation preparation than is the average across the Federal Republic”, said Dr Schweizer.

“Volunteering is hereditary”

During work placements, which is a feature of confirmation preparation in many local parishes in North Rhine-Westphalia, young people can try out voluntary work, which has a very positive effect on their involvement later on.  As a second reason for the commitment, Dr Schweizer referred to the voluntary activities of Christian families. His theory was that “Volunteering is hereditary”.

The Evangelical Churches in North Rhine-Westphalia had commissioned the survey “Young – Active – Protestant in North Rhine-Westphalia!” from the professor of Religious Education at Tübingen University  in the context of a nationwide survey on the involvement of young people in society. This representative survey in NRW involved the questioning of 1100 people aged from 18 to 26 years. It gives an indication of the ongoing effects of the confirmation preparation period.

In local church parishes in North Rhine-Westphalia it is above all the practical work placements during confirmation preparation that have a long-term influence on attitudes to voluntary work. In this way confirmation preparation work also makes a valuable contribution to civil society.

Faith is playing a stronger role as a topic

In contrast to young people in other Regional Churches and other Federal States, the survey emphasises that young adults in North Rhein-Westphalia with a church background are more heavily engaged in all areas of social involvement than the whole of their age group. “However, the voluntary commitment of young people is also a nationwide phenomenon, and in this respect many of the findings in NRW are also evident in other Federal States”, said Dr Schweizer.

“For the young people in NRW, faith plays a stronger role as a topic. At the same time they feel that they are being used to a greater extent within the parishes”.  In addition, it is here that they have particularly good opportunities during their confirmation preparation to try out voluntary activities, which tends to have a very positive effect on ongoing involvement later.

In comparison with other Regional Churches, the Evangelical Churches in North Rhine-Westphalia were however worse in what they offered young people following confirmation. Here the local churches had a lower than average contact with their young people, which Dr Schweitzer said needed further clarification. Young adults felt that they were less valued in their church communities than was the case with other churches. They had little opportunity to contribute their skills.

Pleased with the high level of involvement

Dr Stefan Drubel, Head of the Department for extra-curricular (out-of-school) education in the Düsseldorf Regional Church Office, stated: “The Evangelical Churches in North Rhine- Westphalia are pleased with the high level of voluntary involvement of young people”. Speaking on behalf of the three Evangelical Churches in North Rhine-Westphalia at the Press Conference, he went on to explain that the fact that young adults who have a connection to the church are disproportionately involved in our society, “is also a consequence of the educational opportunities that we offer.”

“In particular, confirmation preparation classes and other church youth work make an essential contribution to this”. Out-of-school education begins in the Protestant children’s day-care centres and continues with facilities offered for children, young people and young adults.

For Dr Drubel the survey also highlights where action is needed: “The considerable involvement of young people and young adults ought to receive much greater attention and be held in greater respect overall in our churches. The challenge now for us at all levels of the Church is to offer more ongoing education and support for the younger generation.”

Voluntary work needs time and space

Voluntary engagement needs both time and space. “In our discussions with political leaders we have to emphasise the importance of out-of-school education. In addition, the voluntary work done by young people could be given formal recognition through their school.” In response to the survey the Federation of Protestant Youth in North Rhine-Westphalia (aej-NRW) points out the significance of youth work as a whole for the involvement of young people.  Speaking on behalf of the aej-NRW, Simone Enthöfer, Regional Youth Pastor of the Rhineland Church, told the press:  “A Church that wants to play a relevant role in society in the future would do well to look beyond the work done in confirmation preparation and offer opportunities also to young people who are not baptised Protestants and probably never will be.”

In community, having fun, being useful

She is convinced that “what motivates young people to get involved is still the inseparable triad of community, fun and doing something worthwhile for yourself and other people. It is important to them not just to participate, but to play an active role.”

A sense of belonging and being given attractive opportunities through children’s and youth work, in order to get involved with other young people, encourages them to think about political, ecological, societal and religious values. “For many a young person this leads to a growing faith and a sense of belonging to the church.”

ekir.de / wb. photography: Meike Böschemeyer / 27.06.2018