Transforming youth ministry

WELS youth workers share the importance of equipping teens to serve in their local congregations and giving them opportunities to live their faith.

Alicia A. Neumann

Bill Monday, associate pastor at St. Peter, Freedom, Wis., has been seeing a trend throughout his ministry: After youth members return from college, they aren’t getting involved in their congregation. “In high school, teens have youth group—but they have never really connected to the adult life of church,” he says. “Then when they come back after college, they aren’t comfortable connecting with the other adults, whether it’s through Bible study or serving on a committee. That’s foreign to them; they haven’t had that experience.”

Monday says this is because the youth and adult experiences are very separate in many congregations. He likens it to the “kids’ table” at holiday celebrations. “You go to Grandma’s house for the holiday dinner and you see the beautiful table with the cloth napkins, the china, and the turkey. But that’s not for the kids. The kids sit at a card table in the corner with plastic silverware and folding chairs.”

Preparing them for service

He continues, “So how do we take those two different tables and learn to eat the feast of God’s grace together, as soon as possible?”

One solution for bridging that gap and assimilating young adults into the adult life of the congregation is a “confirmation curriculum” that Monday recently developed. “It’s a seven-year plan to introduce youth to the adult leaders of the church,” he says. “Throughout those years, they begin to get to know the adult members and connect with working committees, so they can start using their gifts as soon as they’re confirmed.”

Equipping them to live their faith

Another way to equip youth and keep them engaged in the church is to help them learn by doing. “It’s all about giving kids opportunities to live their faith and challenging them to have conversations,” says Jon Enter, pastor at Hope, West Palm Beach, Fla., and youth coordinator for the South Atlantic District. “We want to get them in the ‘simulator of life’—we want to put them in a safe environment and give them unique experiences to express their faith.”

Enter says he uses three different kinds of experiences for his youth group: themed lock-ins, Christian camps, and mission trips. “For themed lock-ins, we take a tough spiritual topic or social issue and turn it into a faith experience,” he says. Whether it’s taking teens to watch the filming of the local news then having a Bible study or having teens volunteer at a local food pantry and then discussing how Jesus ministered to those less fortunate, “the Bible study hits home a lot more when they’ve had that shared experience together,” says Enter.

Christian camps also provide opportunities for teens to grow in their faith. “The youth are away from their parents, and they feel very grown up,” says Enter. “This leads to amazing opportunities for faith talks that they’d never get in their regular environments. I’ve really seen a magnificent difference in kids who have gone to camps.”

And finally, there are the mission trips. “Their primary focus is serving others,” says Enter. “You do so much for other people, but you get exponentially more in return.”

Take Marisa Capobianco, Hayley Binder, and Tricia Mahnke, for example. All have participated in mission trips through Kingdom Workers. Although they are from different congregations and participated in different mission trips in different parts of the United States, they all agree: Their experiences were life-changing.

Capobianco, a member at Mount Zion, Kenosha, Wis., has participated in two different mission trips: one in New Orleans, La., and the other in Peoria, Ariz. “Serving others in the capacity of mission trips is very different than I thought it would be,” she says. “I was excited about serving people before each of the trips, but every time I came home, it always struck me that the people that I met on the trips served and taught me more than I could ever give them. Serving others is a wonderful opportunity that we have, not only to help with people’s physical needs but also to be God’s instruments in leading them toward Jesus—and that is the most powerful gift of all.”

Binder, a member at Divine Peace, Garland, Tex., has also served on two trips: helping with vacation Bible school in New Orleans, La., and a camp in Sault Sainte Marie, Mich. “Serving others in this way was such a blessing to me!” she says. “They were easily some of the best experiences I have ever had. Answering all the questions that the kids had about Jesus and seeing their faces when I answered made me smile! It was also eye-opening because we got to hear all these great stories from the different members about the amazing things that God is doing in their lives, and how they’re using these blessings to serve the Lord. It really made me want to dedicate all my time and talents to God.”

Mahnke, a member at St. John, Appleton, Wis., says mission trips are a great way not only to serve but also to gain a new perspective and outlook on life. “I helped with a soccer vacation Bible school in Arlington, Texas,” she says. “Before I arrived, I anticipated setting up equipment, leading soccer drills, taking down equipment, reading Bible stories, and offering assistance anywhere I could. What I didn’t expect was the deep strengthening of my own confidence in Christ. I’m prepared to share my faith with whomever God puts in my path.”

Enter says whether a congregation decides to organize a mission trip across the state or canvass in their local community, the most important thing is to just get teens serving. “We want to get kids in ‘life experience’ mode,” he says. “It’s like any new job you’ve ever started. When someone tells you how to do something, you really don’t know how to do it yet. But when you actually start doing it yourself, that’s when you get good at it. You can put kids in the classroom setting and tell them what faith is, but these experiences help them live it. And when you serve others, you realize that we are all different but at the core we are all the same, and we all need Jesus.”

Alicia Neumann is a member at Christ, Zumbrota, Minnesota.

This is the third article in a four-part series on the importance of youth ministry. Next month’s article will focus on partnering with parents and marriage-building ministries.

Monday and Enter are both presenters for the new WELS School of Youth and Family called Transformed: Equipping Youth Leaders. For more information about this eight-part video series or to order, visit and search for “Transformed: Equipping Youth Leaders.”


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Author: Alicia A. Neumann
Volume 103, Number 11
Issue: November 2016

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