By FFWPU USA: The National Youth Ministry focuses on one theme each month around which communities across the nation structure their activities, rotating between the five elements of youth ministry established by National Youth Ministry Director, Kaeleigh Moffitt: Connect, Inspire, Empower, Contribute and Expand. Each local community is encouraged to find one aspect of the theme they find relevant and meaningful for their community and build upon it. September’s theme was Connect, intended for youth to meet new people, deepen their relationships, and push past their comfort zones. Youth ministry leaders designed events to build an environment where youth could feel they are loved, safe and belong as a foundation to discover their spiritual life and explore what aspects of faith are most meaningful for them. This month, we heard from the Illinois, North Carolina, Florida and Connecticut youth ministries and how they incorporated “Connect” into their youth group activities:
The Chicago High School Ministry hosts a monthly HighEST (High Schoolers Experience the Spirit Together) event, and in September they rented a gymnasium for a special “HighEST Race” event—a day of games set up in stations.
They grouped the youth into teams, which made it easier for them to interact with each other. A member of the staff led each team, which allowed them to get to know the youth more personally while helping them accomplish the tasks needed to win the games. This event was a successful opportunity to break the ice for the rest of the semester.
The Youth Ministry team in Chicago made a special effort to invite high school youth who do not participate regularly in events, and fortunately, they were able to see many new faces at this event. The team spirit set a solid foundation of relationships for the year to come.
“I think this monthly activity was very valuable,” said a staff member. “Many of us as staff are brand new to this ministry and to organize an event like this was very much needed to get a feel of things. We are hoping to add more aspects into this high school ministry.”
In North Carolina, the youth ministry team demonstrated the theme of Connect through a white water rafting and camping trip. Fourteen high school and college students came out for the weekend, including some youth who have not been very active in the ministry. It was an opportunity to bond through the adventure of working as a team and avoiding rocks or capsizing.
In the evening, they camped in the woods overnight, roasting hot dogs, eating smores, playing games and sharing stories of their rafting experience.
“The most memorable part of the trip for me was having conversations on the four-hour car ride with various people,” said staff member Gene Huneycutt. “We felt more connected through conversations about what we’re currently up to in our lives, what’s been going on, and sharing funny moments.”
The youth all expressed enjoyment and looked forward to future events. They appreciated simply being with each other in a culture of love, joy and laughter.
Fort Lauderdale, FL
The Florida Youth Ministry started a new youth group called SWITCH (Shining with Identity, Truth, Character, and Heart) for the new academic year, leading to many new people attending the first events of the year.
“It was perfect to have this month’s theme as Connect, because we were able to incorporate it into the new start,” said staff member Leilani Owens. “Participants were able to get to know one another, connect with new friends, meet someone new, and most importantly, were able to reach a deeper level of connection that they may not do in their daily lives.”
The night of their first event began with light-hearted activities that were fun and energizing. They also got to learn each others’ names through a fun activity called the Blanket Game, where a blanket creates a wall between two teams, and a representative from each team must try to say the other person’s name first once the blanket comes down.
Later on in the evening, the staff implemented activities provided on the Youth Ministry website to help create a space where participants can connect on a deeper level. They were able to have participants open up and share with one another on a level they have never reached before. They shared about their insecurities, barriers blocking them from being their true selves, and reflections on how people view them versus how they view themselves. They were able to discuss how connection with others is important, and how to begin with connecting to and reflecting upon themselves daily.
“It was amazing to see how willing they were to share and become vulnerable and honest with one another,” said Leilani. “Getting them together and starting our youth group for the year gave them a place to not only discover things about themselves and other people, but also to feel a sense of belonging.”
In Bridgeport, Connecticut, the youth ministry team held four events over the course of the last month which had their youth sharing, bonding and creating a foundation for connectedness in the future. The events consisted of a university-wide scavenger hunt, a series of one-on-one pair shares, having conversations about being people who can make a difference for others, and sleepovers.
Over the course of the month, the youth had the opportunity to have new conversations about themselves and what is important to them in their lives. They also created relationships with new friends and staff members.
“The experience was welcoming, fun, and meaningful,” said staff member Sam Orman. “After being with our youth in this new year, I’m discovering that they have so much potential!”