Fewer than 300 teens participated in two Youth Unlimited Summits this summer, but the important things that happen at Summit really have nothing to do with numbers, said YU special-events coordinator Millie Hoekstra. “The important stories are the changes in the lives of participants and the impact the program has on the individuals who attend each event,” she said.
This was the second summer Youth Unlimited ran regional Summits instead of one large convention. It held the first Summits in 2003. Designed to be more intimate, Summits usually cost participants less than the larger youth convention and attract more first-time attendees.
This year’s Summits met those goals, with 192 teens at the one in Beverly, Mass., and 66 at Noah’s Ark in Buena Vista, Colo. The average age of participants was 16 years, and 87 percent were first-time attendees.
Both Summits centered on the theme “Discovering Your Spiritual Gifts,” but their formats differed.
In Colorado, Tom Vander Ploeg led the music. And instead of meeting in an auditorium, the teens gathered around a campfire for main-group sessions led by Brad Laninga. Activities included white-water rafting, hiking, and rappelling.
Carissa Verkaik, 14, from Haven Christian Reformed Church in Zeeland, Mich., attended the Colorado Summit. “It was a lot of fun,” she said. “My favorite part was the white-water rafting.”
Endicott College served as the venue for the Beverly, Mass., Summit. Peder Eide, who led all the Summits in 2003, made a return appearance as worship leader. Main speakers were Brian Bosscher (former director of Youth Unlimited) and Daren Streblow. For their “Day Away” this group enjoyed a cruise on Boston Harbor. They also worked in small groups to build boats out of Styrofoam, cardboard, and duct tape, which they then raced in the ocean.
Nathan Klingenberg, 15, traveled from Bradenton, Fla., for the event. Last year he attended the Youth Unlimited convention. If you like small groups, Summit is great, he said. But if you’re looking for a large crowd, Convention is the place to be. “I liked the stuff after the services, hanging out, karaoke, and the comedian,” he said of the Summit. “I didn’t like waking up early.”
While the registration was low for these two Summits, it was all but nonexistent for Summits planned for St. Paul-Minneapolis, Anchorage, and Vancouver, so Youth Unlimited canceled them. And the youth ministry plans to return to its tradition of annual conventions.
“[Summit] was an idea that some people thought would help meet the needs of youth leaders to have smaller events closer to home,” said Rachael Cooley, Youth Unlimited’s executive director. She said YU did do an informal telephone survey early in the summer to find out why registrations for the Summits were so low. The ministry discovered that many youth groups planned to participate in SERVE (one-week service trips) or were waiting for the big convention next summer.
So 2006 will see the return of the annual convention. However, Cooley said, it won’t be the same as previous conventions. Tom Tufts, a youth speaker popular at previous conventions, will not only lead the convention but also write all the small-group material that participants use after each Mainstage meeting.
“We want to make it a more intimate worship experience,” Cooley said. “Kids want to experience worship, not be led in worship.”
Next year’s convention is scheduled for July 21-25 in Flagstaff, Ariz., and in 2007 the convention will be held in Salt Lake City, Utah.