Reflections on the Youthwork Summit

A couple of weekends back, I was part of the team which delivered the third Youthwork Summit event, in London. This one-day youth ministry conference is pretty much the highlight of my working year, and even though it’s really still in its infancy, there seems to be a growing number of people who feel just as passionately about it as I do.

I was one of the on-stage hosts, along with the brilliant and lovely Beth Tash – but I also have quite a complicated role because I’m also one of the leaders of the event. Chris Curtis and Matt Summerfield, my great friends and co-founders of the Summit, really call the shots on the day while I play the role of performing monkey.

If you’ve never heard of the event, it’s basically a new kind of youth ministry gathering, where somewhere in the region of 30 speakers over the course of the day get between 5 and 15 minutes to deliver a big idea, tell stories, and deliver a challenge to an assembled crowd of youth workers.

Dr Conrad Gempf: ‘Play the saxophone… but you’ve gotta let it sing…’ No-idea what that means, but it sounded wonderful.

The event is growing and gaining momentum fast – we had around 500 people at our first London event in October 2010, and about 700 at our Manchester event last October. This time around, we had roughly 1,000 people at Jesus House, Brent Cross, and encouragingly we saw our biggest mix to date of cultures, church streams and even nationalities (thanks to our growing Dutch contingent; ‘Hallo’ if you’re reading this). Having moved the event from October to May to create distance between ourselves and the Spring Harvest Youthwork Conference, we had to plan, market and deliver this year’s event at fairly breakneck pace – now is the first time for quite a while that I’ve had some space to stop and reflect on how the Summit is doing. As a starting point for that, I’m going to run through a few of my thoughts on YWS ’12.

The highs
There was lots to be excited about this year. From having Matt Redman appear unannounced to lead our morning worship, to Tim Vine’s brilliant stand-up set, it felt like the day was laced with little treats – exactly what we intended, because blessing youth workers is one of our core values. The Rend Collective Experiment (our house band for the last three years) seem to get better every time we see them, and Tom Wade’s hilarious spoof videos all deserve to go viral.

Miriam Swaffield spoke in rhyme; impressively she also stuck to time. I’m sorry.

In terms of the micro-talks, I felt like we had some of our strongest ever this year (they’ll all be online on the website before long, so you can judge for yourself). It’s really hard for me to pick too many personal highlights, as I’ll offend those I don’t mention, so let me just mention three. Dr Conrad Gempf, possibly the coolest lecturer in the history of theological training, wasn’t just a brilliant presenter – he has implanted an idea in many of our heads which seems to have taken deep root. ‘Don’t be like Jesus,’ he said softly – ‘you’re not Jesus. Duh.’ Neuroscientist Dr William Struthers, who in the week following the summit delivered a seminar to MPs and VIPs at the House of Commons, gave a massive, shocking challenge, when he segued his talk ‘Your youth group is watching porn’ into the revelation: ‘Your youth group is making porn.’ And while there were lots of other speakers who I loved, I think it’s wrong not to mention Miriam Swaffield, one of the best and most natural young communicators I’ve ever heard. I have to mention her, because she delivered an entire ten minute talk in rhyming couplets, and boy, that must have taken some rehearsing.

The things we have learned
Yes, the event went brilliantly. Yes – our delegates loved it, and literally hundreds of them immediately booked for next year’s event. Yet we’d be foolish to assume that means we’re doing everything right.

Tim Vine. Definitely the funniest man in the room. Or in any room.

Some of our friends who are good enough to be honestly and constructively critical pointed out that there really wasn’t much opening of the Bible on the day. This is something which personally I’m very annoyed about – annoyed that we missed it. It’s something fundamental which we overlooked in creating the bigger picture. I absolutely believe (as do Matt and Chris) that good Christian youth work is Bible-centred; and that’s certainly how I practice it as a volunteer. We will definitely address it in 2013.

I also feel like we didn’t really deliver on a coherent theme. ‘Visions and Dreams’ was quite a vague term and underdeveloped idea, and unlike 2011’s rather ambiguous ‘It All Comes From Here’, it didn’t provide a thread or journey through the day. Now, for some delegates, that was positive, as it freed them to take what they wanted to from the presentations; to adopt a pick n mix approach. However, that isn’t what we intended, and again, this is something to which we’ll give some serious thought in the year ahead.

The future
The Youthwork Summit journey continues to be a very exciting one. Here’s why – and it’s the same reason I’ve just been so ticket-sale-harmingly honest: this really isn’t my event, or Matt’s, or Chris’s. The Summit is planned and delivered by a team of over 100 youth workers, who see God on the move, and have signed up to be part of His movement. This isn’t about an event – this is about gathering together a group of people who are going to be equipped to radically impact the lives of young people. We love God, and we love young people – whatever our denominational background – that’s pretty strong glue which binds us all together.

So if you’re not already on the journey, join us. Tickets aren’t currently available for the 2013 event, but booking will re-open in October. In the meantime, visit the website, watch some of the previous events, and get that date – May 18th 2013 – in your diary right now.  And if you were there – let me know what you really thought of it by leaving a comment below, or linking to your own reflections on the day.

The 2013 Youthwork Summit will take place on Saturday, 18th May in the Midlands. For more information visit

These brilliant photos were taken by the wonderful Steve Fanstone. You can see lots more of them on his website

One response to “Reflections on the Youthwork Summit

  1. Pingback: The perils of an event north of Watford | MARTIN SAUNDERS·

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