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Rethinking youth ministry for the 21st century

February 3, 2011 03:56 PM

By Deacon Charlie Germain


When my wife and I started a youth group at our congregation 40 years ago, life was easy. You brought snacks and young people showed up. Fast forward to 2011, where you read in “Taking the Temperature – Youth Ministry in the ELCA” that young people are busy and have no time to engage in the church. Parents aren’t setting faith, worship, and church as a priority. What’s a congregation to do?


“Taking the Temperature” was one of the sessions at the ELCA Youth Ministry Network Extravaganza in Kansas City. Six of us from the Metro New York Synod attended in January, including two who each received a $1,000 scholarship from the Child Youth & Family Ministry Committee. As we reviewed the Luther Seminary study, we felt that we had heard it all before. But there were no long faces or cries of despair. From all over the U.S., 500 people involved in children, youth and family ministries—paid staff and volunteers, ordained and lay people—had come together to share ideas, learn, and rejuvenate. The participants came committed to making a difference in the life of the church, and in the lives of our young people and families.

I took part in an intensive course called “Belonging, Behaving, and Believing.” The title describes the order in which faith formation takes place. First we feel we belong, that we’re in a community that loves us. Then we observe the behavior of the community and adopt those behaviors as ours. Then we start to believe. We get it backwards if we dump young people into a class to teach them religion before they feel they belong to the community. Understanding faith formation causes us to rethink how we do church.

In “Renewing Worship,” we talked about how consumer capitalism has impacted our worship. We discussed the effectiveness of service and mission experiences in “Service Learning Changes Lives,” thinking more about how to evaluate such experiences and how lives have been changed (learn more at www.sallt.org). If you are wondering how to use technology in your ministry, Rebekah Wedge from Our Savior, Jamaica led a workshop on that. Other sessions looked at the life cycle of the suburban church, “Building a Sustainable Youth Ministry,” “Godly Play,” and more! After five days, participants come away with their heads spinning, but equipped with a lot of material, references, and new ideas. We are learning to operate in the culture of the 21st century, redefining children, youth and family ministries, and that is something to celebrate.

Want to experience the Extravaganza yourself? Plan to attend Extravaganza 2012, February 8-12 in New Orleans. Visit www.elcaymnet.org to learn more.




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