Child, Youth & Family Ministry Network
S. Dcn. Charlie Germain, chair
In 2019, the Child, Youth & Ministry Network (CYFM) continued its efforts to help our synod understand how best to do ministry in our 21st century culture. Along with six others from our synod, Margy Schmitt Ajar – Assistant to the Bishop, attended the ELCA Youth Ministry Extravaganza in January 2019 in Jacksonville, Florida, and represented MNYS at the SYMBOL* meeting. Among other initiatives discussed was the study done by the Fuller Youth Institute on congregations that were welcoming to young people. Following up on that, Synod Deacon Charlie Germain attended the “Growing Young” conference held at Crossroads in New Jersey in September, representing MNYS. Fifty-four people from thirty synods attended. A written report was submitted to our synod.
CYFM sought nominations for two high school students and one adult from MNYS to attend the ELCA Youth Leadership Summit (https://elcayouthministry.com) held at Lutheridge Conference Center in Arden, North Carolina, from Oct 31 – Nov 3. In keeping with our goal to encourage training for adult leaders, CYFM again provided two $1,000 scholarships to attend the 2020 Extravaganza (www.ELCAYMNET.org/ext20), which was held in Anaheim, California, from Jan 30 – Feb 3. Seven leaders from MNYS attended that event. The Extravaganza is the only event I'm aware of where over 50% of the attendees are millennials and where, when we talk about the future of the ELCA, it’s not about maintaining the status quo!
(* SYMBOL: Synodical Youth Ministry Band Of Leaders – a subgroup of the ELCA Youth Ministry Network)
When we talk about inclusivity, we often talk about race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. We seldom hear anything about age distribution and being welcoming to those in the first third of life. Everyone will say, “Of course we’re welcoming to those in the first third of life.” But are we? If we are, why then are fewer and fewer young people joining congregations? I would argue that it’s the primary reason membership in the church is decreasing, which isn’t unique to the ELCA. We should be encouraging and giving young people the opportunity to take on leadership in our congregations. I referenced the “Growing Young” conference and the study done by the Fuller Youth Institute earlier in this report. Go to https://churchesgrowingyoung.com for more info. It should be noted that the findings of the study done by the Fuller Youth Institute pretty much echo the findings of the Exemplar Youth Ministry study done at Luther Seminary by Nancy Gong and Terri Elton over 15 years ago (http://firstthird.org/eym), but most people weren’t paying attention.
MNYS Attendees – Extravaganza 2020
We Are Church Together
“We are church together” should mean that we include everyone. We should be asking ourselves how our practices actually exclude the younger generations, and be honest about it. We need to recognize that even the practice of having the Synod Assembly on a weekday excludes most young people’s participation. It’s interesting that when you look at the studies of young people’s participation in church, statistics show that participation is decreasing. But when young people are asked about their spirituality, most say they are spiritual. This should be telling us something. We’ve often heard that when young people start having children, they will come back to church. That’s a myth. It’s true of less than 15% of the young people out there. In order to truly encompass the sentiment of being “church together,” we need to learn how to communicate in an age where almost everyone is online. We old guys are going to have to learn some new tricks.
2019 Youth Leadership Summit
The first thing individuals and congregations should do to “engage in the work of this committee” is to do some soul searching and be honest about what’s going on in their own congregation. Then they need to take the time and make the effort to educate themselves according to what the research says. There are a lot of resources available, many of them free. Rich Melheim’s, “Kill Sunday School Before Sunday School Kills the Church” might be a good book to start with. Or maybe Jeremy Myers’ “Liberating Youth from Adolescence”. Other options are to send pastors and congregation leadership to conferences where they can learn more about being the church of the 21st century. MNYS provides two $1,000 scholarships to send people to the ELCA Youth Ministry Network Extravaganza (www.ELCAYMNET.org), but there are lots of other options out there, e.g., The Institute for Youth Ministry at Princeton Seminary (www.iym.ptsem.edu) or various programs at Vibrant Faith (www.vibrantfaith.org), and more.
CYFM isn’t about budgets and butts in the pew, this is about making disciples. As you learn more and more about the research and empowering young people, you may find yourself moving away from the commonly accepted norms about teaching religion. You might sound like a radical with crazy ideas. So, it’s important that there are others in your congregation who will support you, and there needs to be continued communication with the congregation to bring them along. This is no easy task, but it is possible.