Bryan H. Reed, informal religious education and youth work

Bryan H. Reed, informal religious education and youth work. The Rev. Bryan Reed was a key figure in the development of youth work within the Methodist Church, and made a seminal contribution to our understanding of youth work in post-war Britain through his research.

Contents: introduction · eighty thousand adolescents · informal religious education · conclusion · further reading and references · links · how to cite this article

Bryan H. Reed (1905-1991) was born in Okehampton, Devon, the son of a Methodist minister (1). Described as a ‘tall, reserved man’ he was known for his loyalty to colleagues. His early ministry had included the development of youth work in Walthamstow along the lines of the ‘Clubland model’ pioneered by James Butterworth. He used a local church as the base for seven different youth clubs and groups. Bryan Reed later joined the staff of the Methodist Westhill Training College, Birmingham as a youth tutor. Later he became general secretary of the Methodist Youth Department and was involved with the development of the Methodist Association of Youth Clubs. As part of his work there he organized the collection of one million half crowns to build a new headquarters along with a hostel for young people on the North Bank estate in Muswell Hill.

Bryan Reed held pastoral appointments in Prestatyn, Finchley and the United States, as well as his periods of service to youth work.

Eighty Thousand Adolescents

To the broader youth work field it was Bryan Reed’s work on a major study of young people and youth provision in Birmingham that will be remembered. Eighty Thousand Adolescents (1950) was one of a trio of important studies that provided workers and policymakers with important insights both into the worlds of young people and the scale and nature of youth work provision towards the end of the Second World War and in the post-war period (The others were undertaken by Leonard Barnes [1945] and Pearl Jephcott [1954]). His colleague, Leonard Barnett also provided a more specialized insight into Methodist clubs.

The research for Eighty Thousand Adolescents was undertaken while Bryan Reed was Youth Tutor at Westhill College, and was carried out by staff and students of the College. Funded by the Edward Cadbury Trust, the study provided a comprehensive picture of the leisure and educational activities of young people and of the nature of youth work provision. He concluded by suggesting that two phrases, ‘the creation of faith in democracy’ and ‘the creation of faith in purposive living’ may suggest the direction in which youth workers should be looking as a motif to inform their activities. He argued that the youth service as a whole should provide:

Provide an experience of democratic living,

Help young people to discover significance in their daily work

Contribute to the strengthening and enrichment of home life,

Enlist young people in service to the community,

Offer them general training for future unspecified service, and

Provide education in citizenship.

These ends, Bryan Reed argued, could only be ‘truly realized’ by those lived in a ‘truly Christian spirit’. In an important and challenging passage he argues as follows:

The ideal of a free democratic society which embodies principles of freedom, courtesy, tolerance, justice and brotherhood for all, and yet which fully recognizes the worth of the individual, derives alone from Christian faith. It has grown out of faith in the Christian God, and will only be sustained as it continues to be derived from the same source.

The Report was influential in its time and has continued to be a reference point for researchers and students of youth work and informal education.

Informal religious education

Bryan Reed also had some fairly telling comments about the state of religious education within churches and youth work organizations. He argued that many of the churches in his study were failing to offer enough teaching to those young people who were seeking after faith. ‘There is in fact, no danger of too much “inculcation”‘, he wrote, ‘Birmingham churches appear to be giving young people very little systematic instruction’ (1950: 185). He was worried that the massive expansion in open and more recreational youth club work had entailed a diminution in the more intensive training that had been given in the past in Bible classes and study groups of different kinds. However, Reed also recognized that a lot of religious education had to be ‘occasional, spontaneous and opportunist’.

[N]ot all leaders seem able to recognize or to use the opportunities that arise in general conversation or to give an answer to the direct question put by the young seeker after truth. In a world where young people are assailed by the claims of many competing ideologies leaders need to know more than they do, both of Christian doctrine and of the possibilities of informal religious education. (1950: 166)

He was convinced that ‘the two essential requirements for any successful religious education are , firstly, Christian leadership, and secondly, the setting of a Christian community’ (1950: 186).

Unfortunately, tens of thousands of young people today are growing up in homes in which for two or three generations there has been no profession of religion. Their religious needs will not be met by a monthly church parade, or even a weekly Bible class: they need what can only be given by their association with the total life of a worshipping community of young and old. (op. cit.)

The Churches needed to care more, Reed argued, and Christian workers had to deepen their knowledge, and to develop as both formal and informal educators.


Bryan Reed’s made a lasting contribution to the development of youth work both within Methodism and beyond. His direction of the Birmingham research project set a standard and a series of benchmarks for subsequent research; his work within the Methodist Youth Department helped to establish the Methodist Association of Youth Clubs and sustain its development; and his conceptualization of the purpose of youth work and of the role of religious education still repays attention today.

Further reading and references

(1) Biographical details have been taken from an obituary in The Times, Tuesday December 31, 1991.

Barnes, L. J. (1945) Youth Service in an English County, London: King George’s Jubilee Trust.

Barnett, L. P. (1951) The Church Youth Club, London: Methodist Youth Department

Hubery, D. S. (1963) The Emancipation of Youth, London: Epworth Press

Jephcott, P. (1954) Some Young People. A study of adolescent boys and girls, London George Allen and Unwin

Reed, B. H. (1950) Eighty Thousand Adolescents. A study of young people in the City of Birmingham, London: George Allen and Unwin.


To cite this article: Doyle, M. E. and Smith, M. K. (2002) ‘Bryan H. Reed, informal religious education and youth work’, The encyclopedia of pedagogy and informal education, Last update: May 29, 2012

© Michele Erina Doyle and Mark K. Smith 2002