A new project by The United Methodist Church called Spark12 is focused on reaching and keeping youth in the church. The initiative will give young people tools, and funding, to create ministries that tackle their interests.
The Rev. April Casperson, an executive member of the Spark12 team, told The Christian Post that many young adults are already involved in secular social justice initiatives. She said her team found "that young adults want to make a difference in the world, but don't always have the confidence in religious organizations."
Spark12's aim is to reach out to young people by changing that mindset and combining missions with social justice.
Focusing on young people has been a push in many churches since the Barna Group released a study last year finding that nearly three out of every five young Christians (59 percent) disconnect from church life, either permanently or for a long period of time after the age of 15.
Giving young people a foundation and a cause oftentimes keeps them in the church. Grieg Stier of the youth ministry Dare2Share told CP in a previous interview that today's youth is a "generation of causes."
He echoed Casperson's comment when he said that the secular world has presented a lot of causes for teens to get involved with, "but the church oftentimes compresses all that into a weeklong mission trip to Mexico instead of making it a yearlong mission to our neighborhood."
Stier told CP that it's important for the church to show young people "what it looks like to live a lifestyle of evangelism," not just for a week, but year round.
The Spark 12 projects will be funded by seed money raised from the UMC.
To receive a grant, young adults ages 18 to 35 can submit ministry proposals to the four member executive design team, as well as representatives from general agencies, and profit and nonprofit advisers. The executive team will then determine which ministries they will fund.
Casperson said Spark12 is not designed "to make money or a profit, but to develop sustainable ministry in the world."
The young adults picked to design new ministries will have 12 weeks to launch their idea, but Casperson said the hope is that the ministry will continue after as well. The UMC website states that Spark12 "is meant to be a catalyst – [to] create a good, solid foundation."
The Spark12 ministry projects will vary and Casperson said they are leaving ideas very open ended because they want people to come up with creative ideas on their own.
At the end of the 12 weeks, representatives from the teams will go before a committee to make a case for continued funding to sustain their projects long term.
According to DJ del Rosario, another executive member, "'sustainable' can mean several things. An existing group might fold a project into its ministry. The project might go forward on its own with the original team members and perhaps others. Team members might collaborate with other groups or agencies to continue the project."
Back in May, the executive team began developing the initiative and the UMC Council of Bishops endorsed the plan at its November 2011 meeting.
The Spark12 website launched this month and young adults can start their application submission on April 1, 2012.
Correction: Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012
An article on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012, about a UMC initiative incorrectly reported that Spark 12 was being funded through seed money from investors raised through a company called TechStars. The Christian Post confirmed that the project is being funded through money raised from the UMC.