My annual report that was distributed at our recent Annual Meeting. I’d love to hear what you think:
When I talk with churches about “successful” youth and young adult ministries, I always caution them not to measure success merely in terms of numbers of participants in worship, Sunday school, youth programs, etc. The real measures for success are only something that can be realized farther into the future. We ultimately want young people, adult leaders and mentors and families who participate in these programs to have a vibrant faith that gets lived in everyday life through spiritual practices, their vocation and in participation in a faith community and the wider church. As I reflect on the growth of youth and young adult ministries this past year, I pray that I can be cautiously optimistic about slight increases in participants in our workshops and events.
Youth leaders and Christian educators have certainly taken advantage of the increasing training opportunities. This year the conference hosted events on intergenerational approaches to youth ministry and on planning quality summer programming. Several churches have invited me to their congregations to do visioning and planning workshops for their youth ministry leadership teams.
Our inaugural Certification School in Progressive Christian Youth Ministry (co-sponsored by the Iowa and Minnesota conferences) drew 13 students from Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota just last month. That group has deepened their understanding of their own leadership practices and ministry philosophy while also gaining core competencies in adolescent development, Bible, theology, spiritual practices and family-based approaches to Christian education and youth ministry. That group will continue to hone their skills and deepen their faith through webinars and a substantial reading list. They will develop a plan for their ministry setting to be presented at our reunion retreat in November.
Despite some strong efforts, only one vibrant Called to Lead group (a covenanted community of youth leaders) has continued this past year in the Southwest Association. Two attempts to start new groups failed due to scheduling conflicts and geography. But, like I tell local churches, I learn from these failures and am attempting to start these groups in a different way. This year I will have the assistance of two energized youth leaders in the Clinton and Waterloo/Cedar Falls areas of the state. They will help me recruit participants ecumenically and apply for funding from Princeton Institute for Youth Ministry that will provide resources for a retreat and a book to read together.
At this Annual Meeting, 22 youth and chaperones have explored what it means to be a peacemaker amidst bullying in their schools and community. In just a few weeks, 29 youth and chaperones will head to Tampa, Florida for the Youth @ General Synod program to explore their call to be leaders in the diverse national setting of the United Church of Christ. In planning the Youth @ General Synod program, I have had the pleasure of exploring Christian Leadership and Hospitality with Janet Jones and Adam Dirks from Urbandale UCC, who are coordinating the event. You may note that Adam, who has just graduated from Urbandale High School, is a nominee to our Conference Board of Directors.
Despite these modest gains in numbers of participants, I still value more the growth in the leadership and faith of the many individuals I’ve had the pleasure of working with this year. I hope and pray that we continue to explore our call to making young people part of the church today and live into our call to proclaim the Gospel in the world.