Since its kickoff in April 2015, the Canadian Youth Ministry Pilot Project has been so successful that staff has been increased and the Christian Reformed Church’s Board of Trustees decided to expand it to U.S. churches.
The pilot project is 18 months into a two-year experiment, led by Syd Hielema, Faith Formation Ministries (FFM) team leader, and Ron DeVries, youth consultant in Classis Alberta North. It is funded by the FFM operating budget and a grant from the CRC Foundation. “Because the first year went better than expected . . . this process will be incorporated into the long-term denominational ministry and is no longer considered a temporary experiment,” Hielema said. “I’m very grateful and surprised and moved by how well it’s gone.”
Reactions from youth workers experiencing support through the project have been positive. Rev. Anthony Elenbaas, a pastor working with youth, discipleship and outreach at Immanuel CRC in Hamilton, Ont., said, “The greatest impact I’ve seen has been on our youth who participated in the Leadership Studio. One of them said to me [that] no one had ever pointed out their gifts for leadership before. Another noticed how members in the congregation have been surprised to see their mature, adult-like participation in small group sermon discussions. In a sense the faith of the whole congregation has been impacted through this one, catalytic event!”
The backbone of the project’s approach is the appointment of youth ministry champions in each classis, mostly volunteers, to serve as advisors and encouragers for youth group leaders. Their role is to provide a stabilizing presence in a ministry area that experiences high turnover. All 12 classes (regional groups of churches) in Canada have appointed a champion.
Now invitations have gone out to classes in the U.S. to send a representative to Chicago next spring. A $5,000 donation is making it possible to subsidize half of the cost of each participant. The ongoing development of support for congregational youth ministry will be part of existing denominational support structures.
Hielema’s initial goal with the U.S. expansion is to see 10 classes sign on per year in the first four years of implementation. In the spring, FFM hopes to hire someone to work half-time to develop the initiative in the U.S. and provide continued support for the Canadian youth ministry project.
This project complements the work of Youth Unlimited (YU) within the CRC. “This [new approach] will enhance programs such as YU’s SERVE,” Hielema said. “This is putting programs in a larger context: a holistic vision of how a congregation carries out its baptismal vows so that congregations in their entirety become places where teens are walked alongside with and loved on the way to growing in Jesus.”