As Christians, Paul preached that we’re to meet new people, go to unfamiliar places, and even welcome strangers into our meetings. That can be intimidating for most of us, even for youth in our local church. But a triad of Dakotas Conference youth groups has committed to trying those practices, and they’re discovering the Spirit along the way.
Last summer, Pastor Randy Hedge brought an idea forward to youth leaders from Madison UMC, Flandreau UMC, and Howard Beach UMC, all in southeastern South Dakota, to encourage more personal and group growth among the youth groups from the three different churches. Linda Liddell, a confirmation volunteer at Madison UMC, accepted the challenge to lead her church’s middle and high school youth groups, and took Pastor Randy’s idea to heart. In addition to each group's weekly meetings, they have a combined meeting every six weeks.
“I think collaboration gives youth leaders better ideas and skills. We benefitted not only from expanding our leadership team at Madison UMC, but also from two additional pastors,” said Linda.
This new three-church youth collaboration held a kickoff event at Camp Lakodia near Madison, South Dakota, in September, and over 50 youth showed up to enjoy dinner, music, prayer, icebreakers, games, food, and an introductory program lesson. A detailed plan with assigned leaders for each program element helps their evenings go smoothly.
Pastor Kim Hastings, of Howard Beach UMC, praised this new community of youth and leaders, and especially the organization. “Linda is so organized,” she said, “We have a complete spreadsheet of responsibilities, leaders, and activities for each meeting.”
Also important for Pastor Kim is the novel mixture of anonymity and comradery the youth are discovering. It was an eye-opener for her that the youth could open up more during combined group lessons, than if it had been only one youth group. One mom said to her, “My son asked how soon he can come again.”
The new combined model also has specific goals, tools, and expectations to measure their effectiveness and adapt to changing needs. The big events are spaced at about six-week intervals, and the lessons are synchronized with the lessons each youth group uses in their own meetings. Pastor Kim said the lesson she led in November on peer pressure (and resisting it) might not have been as engaging for her smaller youth group, but the larger group had a healthy discussion. She added, “They didn’t limit their feedback, and a big takeaway was that now they know we care about them and all that happens to them outside of church as well.”
Pastor Amber Laffey of Flandreau UMC is also excited about the connection of the three UMC youth groups. “Not only kids, but also adult leaders have found community and support as well. It’s been very positive to learn from other leaders and build each other up,” she said.
Linda, the lead organizer, said that the youth feel more engaged in trying something new, and to have a plan. She added, “Even if something doesn’t work out, or needs to be adapted, we can always find our way back to the plan when we’re ready for it.” For her, the three main strengths of the new model have been the fall kickoff event, the collaboration on the program content, and the sharing of gifts among the leadership team.
These three pastors and the dozens of youth they are ministering to– and with, are building new connections between believers, groups, and congregations. In the process of making disciples of Jesus Christ, new leadership models like these are an exciting way of utilizing the strengths of our United Methodist connection for God's glory.