‘Learn to Listen’ conference summary


  • to help us listen to the voices of children and young people in our churches and communities


Within ten minutes of the first session beginning, It was clear that I was part an elite task force gathered from across the Church of England given the mission of saving the church from extinction. Whilst that is a bit James bond-esque, there is some truth in it. These 48 hours felt like a significant marker in our work with children and young people and this project is a potential game changer for the church.

There’s nothing more frustrating than thinking that no one is listening to you. Tragically, it’s a feeling children and young people often have. However, in the last few years there has been a growing paradigm shift from previously seeing children as vessels to be filled to increasingly recognising them as candles to burn brightly. Furthermore, as ‘Going for Growth’ states;

…we must commit ourselves to listen to the voices of younger generations and the challenging messages they may bring to light.

Going for Growth, 2010

Learn to Listen is another step in this sea-change. It is based on Biblical precedents such as the call of Jeremiah to rebuild and to plant, and upon British and International Laws relating to the rights of the children to have a say on the things they are involved in. It also stems from knowledge about early childhood brain development that shows how babies are born ready to develop through experiences of interaction with other people – as we listen, we grow.

Tony Cook both stated and showed us that listening to children is not rocket science, but it requires the adult church to change it’s culture, patterns and ways of thinking. We thought about the benefits of listening, the barriers to listening and worked on solutions. Significantly, as someone who has been working in churches full-time with children for 16 years, and who takes pride in listening to the hearts of children and their views on scripture, God and faith, listening to children’s views and opinions on what the church is like, on what they do in church , and on how they meet God has not been a big part of my ministry. I am challenged deeply by this.

Ali Langton and Ester Gregory shared their experiences of how youth councils and children’s councils can work with great and profound impact and Sonia Mainstone-Cotton took us through the practical and ethical issues involved in working with children in their early years, showing that they have a deep sensitivity to other’s needs as well as their own and that they have a powerful voice that needs to be heard as well.

The truth is that children and young people have much to give to the church and some, if not all, have a prophetic voice to the church, for today. Dare we risk missing that voice? I know the feeling of being listened to and being heard. It feels good. It builds me up, gives me confidence and inspires me to do more. We need our children to feel this, to feel valued and engaged, to feel like they own the church, are genuinely part of it and can actually make a difference. Without this, many will leave the church.

Below, and on the Learn to Listen website there are scores of thoughts, ideas, reasons, benefits and tools to back this up and enable every church, big and small to listen to the voices of children and young people. There are 300 questions to ask children, simple ideas for holding a consultation session, ideas for involving young people on PCC and creating a children’s PCC and countless more.

It was a very encouraging and challenging time with excellent input, guidance and facilitation from people with a great heart for children young people and the church. So to sum up in short; ask questions, listen and act upon what children say.

www.learn-to-listen.org.uk (national website)

Learn to Listen Conference (full write up download)