Leaping into 2020


March 23, 2020

“Back when I was in youth group…” We’ve all heard the comments about how vibrant and full of energy events once were. In 1999 the quadrennial youth event hosted by Discipleship Ministries in Knoxville peaked with 10,000 in attendance. Since then, we’ve seen a trend of decline. Their most recent event was last summer in Kansas City (Youth 2019) and only had about 3,400 in attendance. What’s happening? Are people disengaged? Have we lost our thirst for community worship? 

What we do know is that our society has had some major shifts and events. From 2001 to 2009 we saw terrorist attacks, the Iraq war, devastating weather patterns and the first large scale campus shooting. From 2009 to 2018 we experienced the great recession and a wave of social movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. We also saw a major shift in how we share information with the introduction of Facebook in 2004, Twitter in 2006 and Instagram in 2010. 

All this to say – a lot has happened. The way we gather and communicate has drastically changed in the last 20 years. The church has changed and evolved in the last 20 years too, but that hasn’t always included adjustments to include our youth. 
What does all this have 
to do with youth ministry? 
On Feb. 29, 2020, LEAP 2020 was hosted at First St. Charles and Platte Woods. This was the first major youth event hosted by the Annual Conference since 2018. Many leaders and pastors have heard of other conference events like WOW or Exploration (the college age event hosted by the General Board of Higher Education.) 

Our youth are deeply invested in learning. They understand complex topics better than we realize. They are leaders at school, in their communities and desire to learn and dig deep into what a life looks like led by the Holy Spirit. We knew that LEAP had to be different than what
we had done in the past. Youth can see straight through the production to our vision, so that had better be built on a solid foundation. We needed to respond to their interests. 

In the fall of 2019, the NextGen office asked youth what they wanted to learn about. Their responses were directly reflected in the theme and breakouts of LEAP. We designed the event to be regionally accessible and planned by our local churches instead of from the conference platform. Our planning teams set a vision to serve the youth first by creating a Christ-centered event where they could lean into Isaiah 43:19: 
“I’m about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” 
Almost 500 people from 50 churches joined us for LEAP 2020 between the Kansas City and St. Louis area events. This included rural communities with only one youth, to large multi-site churches. Student and adult leaders played, served, laughed and learned. 

The NextGen office is challenging us to reimagine what youth ministry can look like. It’s not dying and our students are more than ready to be involved, we have to be willing to listen and respond. What new rivers are we making for our youth?