A Methodist leadership conference for youth interested in ordained ministry positions within the church was attended by nearly 700 people at the Millennium Hotel in St. Louis over the weekend.
Exploration 2011, which was open to young adults age 18 to 26 in the Methodist Church, was sponsored by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.
For the past five years, Christina Sheperd said she felt called to become an elder and continues to be passionate about missions. At the conference she was able to explore this calling with young adults like herself through worship and workshops.
Sheperd, who is an industrial engineering major at The University of Florida, said she was able to network and hear speakers talk about how to pursue different vocations within the church. The time she spent at the conference helped her redefine her calling to ministry work. “I feel more at peace” after this weekend, she said.
The weekend consisted of worship music, speakers and workshops for attendees. Some workshops included topics titled, “Possibilities Amid Passion: I’m Called…But To What? Explore Your Options for Leadership,” and “Chaplaincy, Counseling, Campus Ministry.”
The Rev. DJ del Rosario, director of Young Adult Ministry Discernment and Enlistment for the denomination, told The Christian Post that the event planners picked young leaders from the Methodist Church to help explain topics like what to expect the first year out of seminary, exploration of different parts of church ministry, and a guide to the application process for seminary.
Within the past 10 years, the Methodist Church has focused on encouraging young people to join the ministry because of declining numbers within the denomination. In the early '90s “we realized as a church there was a generational gap,” he said.
A 2011 report from The Lewis Center for Church Leadership found “elders between ages 55 and 72 [comprised] 52 percent of all active elders, the highest percentage in history.” The number of young people joining the clergy has grown slightly in the last 10 years, but church leaders would like to see more youth involved.
The Methodist Church as a whole has also seen a decrease in numbers. The National Council of Churches USA reports that the denomination’s attendance is down by 1.01 percent in 2009 (the most recent year available) to 7,774,931 members.
The Rev. Juan Huertas, senior pastor of St. John’s United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge and a speaker at the event, said Monday that even though there was a lot of social media and technology involved this weekend, the conference was not about “being hip.” He said too many churches try to use technology to attract people.
Leaders in the Methodist Church, regardless of technology, believe young people “need the good news of Jesus Christ, and have a hunger for meaning,” Huertas said. You have to “be careful with words like decline, [because] then you’re only reaching out to survive, and you lose the real reason why we’re reaching out,” he said.
Del Rosario said events like Exploration 2011 also gives young people access to representatives from seminary administrations. The Methodist Church has recently changed its ordination process from eight years to five years to make it more efficient for people to join.
At the end of the weekend, those in attendance filled out cards detailing their experience. The organizers received 172 cards from people who said they felt a calling to ordained ministry. Of those turning in the cards, 132 people said they felt like they were in the process of discernment and 26 people said they heard a calling to something other than ordained ministry.