Youth Ministry Champions from across North America met January 16-18 in Ancaster, Ont., for a retreat hosted by the Christian Reformed Church’s Faith Formation Ministries (FFM). It was a time of building relationships, refueling, and realizing the value of networking with other dedicated and passionate youth leaders.
The Youth Ministry Champion model was first developed in Canada. FFM formed and fostered a network of youth ministry workers appointed to each CRC region (classis) to be a voice for youth leaders at their respective classes and to encourage youth leaders within their regions. FFM has expanded the model to the U.S. and now oversees the North American network. This was the first binational retreat. Twenty-three Youth Ministry Champions attended.
Participants shared ideas, program options, and philosophies to help strengthen their individual youth ministries. One prevalent theme was the importance of building relationships with youth so that they feel a sense of belonging and are fully integrated into the body of Christ.
“Youth need to be a part of the bigger church community,” said Ashley Patton, a champion from Classis BC Northwest. “It is my hope and prayer that when youth graduate from high school, they don’t ‘graduate’ from church as well.”
Along with building relationships with youth, the regional champions also explored the importance of building each other up as leaders, both on a denominational level and in their local contexts.
Mario Perez, a champion from Classis Southern California and Greater Los Angeles, pointed out how many youth leaders experience burnout. “One thing that I will take away is the importance of creating opportunities for our youth leaders to rest, refuel, and serve the calling God has in their life,” said Perez.
Over the various sessions, attendees were motivated to build a greater sense of community among youth leaders and at all levels of ministry.
“There was a strong sense of unity and a strong sense of vision—working for a strong intergenerational church in which youth can flourish, building networks in our regions, supporting one another, and making a difference,” said Syd Hielema, team leader with FFM and one of the retreat organizers.
“We don’t all do things the same way, but we care about supporting, encouraging, and equipping each other to do the best ministry we can in our context,” explained Brendan Stevens, a champion from Classis Lake Erie. “That’s why these retreats are simultaneously so important and such a blessing.”
The retreat was held at Mount Mary Retreat Centre, a conference centre situated on over 100 acres of gardens, woodland, and trails that serves as a place of spiritual renewal.