By: Christa Meland
When tending a garden, you must nurture the seeds you’ve sowed so that the roots and the stems become strong enough to hold up the plant when it starts to grow.
“That’s youth ministry right there,” says Rev. Cody Nielsen, who is leading a new and revisioned youth ministry team for the conference. “Youth ministry begets campus ministry begets adults leading the church.”
The Minnesota Conference has a strong history of developing youth as leaders and creating high-impact youth events—but in recent years, youth events have faced declining participation and financial deficits.
Last year, a variety of stakeholders came together at a youth summit to listen and dream. After that gathering, a new team was formed to provide guidance and direction for the conference’s youth ministry, said Director of Ministries Cindy Gregorson.
“Their task is to ensure that we have clear values and outcomes for our youth ministry, and that we are building a consistent and comprehensive process of faith formation and leadership development between our camping ministry, our youth ministry, and into our campus ministry,” she said. Nielsen, who is coordinating that ministry area, is “one who sees and understands the big picture of what we are trying to do, and has an ability to draw together teams and people to lead us into this new vision,” she added.
All conference events for youth and youth leaders will now come under the new youth ministry umbrella—meaning that they will have alignment in terms of how they are planned and promoted and what they consist of. The Youth Leaders Summit, an annual can’t-miss learning and networking event for adult leaders who work with students, and an annual confirmation gathering that brings together students from all over the state to worship with the bishop and learn about our United Methodist identity, will continue under this new umbrella.
The youth ministry tagline is “Equip. Connect. Transform.” The team will organize events that connect United Methodist youth and congregations from across the conference and that encourage and equip them to become leaders in their churches and spur positive change in their communities. Some of the events will build upon youth gatherings from the past but have a different feel—and others will be brand new.
Upcoming events are still in the works, but the team plans to organize a faith-formation event for junior high youth and a gathering for students being confirmed—and is also looking at district-wide days of service and other opportunities for high schoolers. Beginning next year, Nielsen would also like to be able to offer a youth leadership institute that consists of four retreats, provides time away from everyday life, and invites students to explore how they are called to serve the church.
“Events will be active and engaging … and really speak to what is relevant in their lives,” said Andrew Hagen, director of youth ministries at Eden Prairie UMC and co-chair of the ministry team. “They will speak to a generation that wonders: Where do I fit into the church? How do I express my faith on a day-to-day basis in a global culture that says that’s shied away from church?”
In addition to coordinating this new youth ministry, Nielsen serves as executive director of the Wesley Foundation, a campus ministry at the University of Minnesota. Last year, he led an intergenerational group to New Jersey to provide Hurricane Sandy disaster relief—and he’s doing the same thing this August. The youth ministry team will continue to provide mission opportunities that give young people a chance to live out God’s call to heal a broken world.
Additionally, the youth ministry team will help bridge the gap between high school and college—in part, through senior dinners in different regions of the state. At the dinners, high school seniors, their parents, and relevant staff from their churches will meet with college students, mentor parents who have already seen their kids off, and campus ministers, respectively, to talk about and plan for the upcoming transition. The youth ministry team also will connect graduating high school seniors with campus ministries at the universities they plan to attend so as to help them stay connected to their faith at a critical transition period.
Nielsen and Hagen say it’s critical for churches to partner with the ministry team in order to empower youth in the Minnesota Conference—by promoting events, hosting and/or attending senior dinners, and working with the team to keep college students connected through campus ministries. And they’re interested in your feedback. If you have thoughts about events that would benefit youth or are interested in particular resources for your own church’s youth ministry, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We need to put a re-emphasis on this generation,” said Nielsen. “I want to reinvent youth ministry.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church