Youth Workers Gather for National Ministry Conference

Scores of youth ministers and workers have gathered in Columbus, Ohio, for this year's National Youth Ministry Conference (NYMC) with the intent to connect, to learn, and to worship.

The annual conference, put together by Simply Youth Ministry and Group Publishing, Inc., officially kicks off Friday with the opening general session at 7 p.m. and closes Monday before noon.

"We've pooled our ideas and hearts together to create a conference with some distinctive from deeper learning tracks, affinity groups, experiential worship experiences, and programming for spouses," says Doug Fields, founder of Simply Youth Ministry. "[W]hen it comes down to it, it's really indescribable."

The conference is geared toward anyone who works with junior high or high school students, and aims to equip and encourage leaders ranging from full-time paid youth ministers to volunteers who lead a small group.

Tracks this year will be led by ministry leaders from around the nation including Greg Stier, founder and president of Dare 2 Share Ministries; Dan Webster, founder of Authentic Leadership, Inc.; Dave Rahn, vice president and chief ministry officer for Youth for Christ/USA; and Chap Clark, the professor of youth, family, and culture, and department chair at Fuller Theological Seminary. Topics will include "Secrets to a Healthy Youth Ministry," "Thinking Theologically in Youth Ministry," "Trends in Youth Culture You Need to Know," and "Helping Hurting Kids."

"Every single person on our team bleeds youth ministry. It's part of our job description; not the blood, but the passion," says Group leader Andy Brazelton. "The tools we develop at SYM and Group aren't created in a laboratory. They were created by this team, in the trenches of ministry alongside [other youth workers]."

But perhaps what is touted as more valuable than what there is to learn at the conference is who youth workers will get to meet and the relationships that will be developed or strengthened throughout the four days.

"Youth workers just have to experience [NYMC] because authentic relationships are foundational in everything we choose to do .... and then God does all the rest," says Fields, who is also the life development pastor and director of Purpose-Driven Youth Ministry at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. "I've read all the evaluations and the feedback has been incredible. I've never been involved in anything that was received with this kind of passion."

This year will mark the last year the conference will be held as the National Youth Ministry Conference. Next year's gathering has been scheduled for Feb. 26 to Mar. 1, 2010, as the Simply Youth Ministry Conference.

This year's ministry partners include Dare 2 Share, Group Magazine, Compassion International, interlinc, and National Network for Youth Ministries.