United Methodists have taken up a greater concern and interest in their youth as the national church body heads into its largest youth gathering next month.
Up to 10,000 youths ages 14-18 and youth leaders across the denomination are expected to gather for Youth 2007, under the theme "Splat!" – which stands for Seek, Pray, Learn, Act, and Teach. The event, taking place this year in Greensboro, N.C., is held every four years and considered THE youth gathering of the United Methodist Church.
In addition to seeking, praying, learning, acting, and teaching, attendants of the July 11-15 event will help launch Igniting Youth – a new denominational ministry aimed at welcoming teen seekers into the church.
The Igniting Ministry Youth Initiative "has partnered with youth and young adults to learn about their concerns, joys and hopes in order to encourage connection between youth and young adults and the church," said the Rev. Larry Hollon, top executive at United Methodist Communications. "The hope is that in this partnership we will find ways to encourage meaningful interaction that will lead all of us to growth and deeper faith."
Igniting Youth has been designed to help local churches offer a teen-relevant United Methodist welcome and actively invites seeker teens to join the church community and into a relationship with Jesus Christ. It's the "teen sibling" of the United Methodist Church's Igniting Ministry which is an advertising and welcoming ministry targeting 25-54-year-old seekers.
"In a nation that's becoming more unchurched all the time, we need to ensure that teen seekers encounter in us a Christ that they want to know better," according to United Methodist Communications.
"Teens need to feel they have valued voice with adults," said Susan Crawford, director of Igniting Youth at United Methodist Communications, according to United Methodist News Service. "They need to feel that the questions and issues they have are valid and warrant the same thoughtful consideration and answers any adult posing the question would receive. They need to feel that there is a community where they can share their ideas and not be judged on their ideas."
Recognizing the significance of technology when reaching out to today's young generation which grew up on computers and the Internet, United Methodist leaders are also launching an interactive website featuring resources that will be teen-focused and teen-produced and ways to enhance teen welcoming ministries.
Stressing the importance of the website as part of the new youth initiative, Crawford said, "It is based on very real teen things such as ways to tell another about the youth group, ways to talk to the youth leader and ways to talk about the strange times in life when faith becomes important – like when you are upside down on that rollercoaster."
Teens at Youth 2007 will also be voting on the website's name.
Also, youths ages 14 to 17 at the July gathering will be trying to set a new world record by playing "Operation" in less than one minute and two seconds. To play the Milton Bradley game, teens must first participate in an interactive computer experience about Igniting Youth.
As the second largest Protestant mainline denomination in the United States, the United Methodist Church, like other mainline bodies, has struggled to grow their youth membership. A lack of young people seeking clergy positions led some to conclude there is a leadership crisis in the church. With less than 5 percent of the church's current leadership being from the younger generation, pastors are calling for ways to double the number of young people in positions of leadership.
Attendants at Youth 2007 will participate in five days of ministerial, cultural and spiritual opportunities and experience worship with Kutless, Stellar Kart, Fusebox, The Katinas, and Superchic[k].