Mennonite Church USA’s Constituency Leaders Council brainstormed strategies for strengthening youth engagement at its first meeting of the 2023-2025 biennium via Zoom on October 27, 2023.
Forty-six leaders attended the four-hour meeting to worship, engage with Executive Board staff and discuss the challenges and opportunities of engaging young people. Moderator-elect Marty Lehman presided over the meeting, which was attended by leaders of area conferences, racial/ethnic groups, constituency groups and Executive Board staff.
CLC representatives responded to questions related to youth engagement in Zoom breakout rooms and reported their findings to the larger gathering.
Challenges impacting youth engagement
Leaders acknowledged the many challenges impacting youth engagement across the country.
“One barrier is simply the low numbers of youth that are part of our congregations and our conferences,” said Doug Luginbill, conference minister for Central District Conference, on behalf of his breakout group.
“Children’s time and schedules have changed,” said Ruth Yoder Wenger, associate conference minister for New York City for Atlantic Coast Conference, reporting from her group. “Saturday and Sunday are no longer protected … Sports activities and a whole variety of things keep children out of church with their families. Worship has just become one of many options for Sunday morning,” she added.
“We noticed a decrease in staff time in congregations and across conferences for youth-specific ministry roles,” said Steve Kriss, executive minister for Mosaic Mennonite Conference, on behalf of his group. “There seems to be waning money for paying staff people … and we still notice lots of questions about passing faith on to next generation persons.”
Other challenges that the groups named were less volunteer involvement, lack of clarity around faith formation, and ubiquitous violence surrounding today’s children and youth.
The leaders shared ways that conferences and constituency groups were working to engage youth. These included internship programs; intergenerational service projects; small group and family faith formation activities, and intentionally including youth in annual meetings and committees.
Suggested ways MC USA can help
CLC representatives discussed ways that MC USA could facilitate Anabaptist faith formation in youth. Many of the suggestions focused on building stronger relationships.
“Camps continue to be an important place of faith formation throughout our various conferences,” said Luginbill, on behalf of his breakout group. “Maintaining a strong relationship between camps and conferences can provide good synergy to continue the faith formation process.” Luginbill’s group also suggested that there could be more coordination between conferences and MC USA-affiliated schools and colleges.
Ken Sims, moderator of Ohio Mennonite Conference, said his group talked about bringing youth together more frequently. “Is there something that can be done at the denominational level to help conferences do collaborative faith formation activities?” he asked, reporting that his breakout group suggested a scholarship or financial assistance if two or more conferences worked together to plan a youth gathering in the year between MC USA conventions.
Ben Woodward-Breckbill, associate pastor of Shalom Mennonite Church in Newton, Kansas, and a representative for Western District Conference, similarly reported that his group said, “One important thing MC USA can do is to bring youth together to talk about peace and build a peace witness.”
Several groups mentioned the success of MC USA’s Youth & Young Adult Climate Summit in Kansas City on July 8, 2023, which brought young people together to understand how Anabaptist faith values can inform their response to climate change.
“How do we build on that excitement and add other topics, such as gun violence or other issues that youth are interested in and want to speak to?” asked Iris de León-Hartshorn, MC USA associate executive director, reporting from her discussion group.
There also were requests for more resources to equip youth and their leaders, including opportunities to convene youth leaders; pastoral training around sexual orientation, and online discussions to highlight creative engagement strategies.
Following the youth engagement discussion, MC USA Executive Director Glen Guyton presented an overview of the key objectives of the Executive Board staff for the 2023-2025 biennium.
“We have a theology that causes us to stand out,” said Guyton, speaking of the denomination. “As we move forward, we will continue to work at what God has called us to do, so that we can truly be effective instruments of God’s peace in our world.”
Randy Spaulding, pastor of Boulder (Colorado) Mennonite Church and the representative for the Queer Constituency Council, led the CLC in worship throughout the meeting, concluding with Voices Together #832 “The Lord Lift You Up” in honor of songwriter and denominational leader Patty Shelly, who recently passed away.
The next CLC meeting will be March 21-23, 2024, in Goshen, Indiana.
Mennonite Church USA is an Anabaptist Christian denomination, founded in 2002, and a recognized peace church. Members seek to follow Jesus by rejecting violence and resisting injustice. MC USA’s Renewed Commitments state the following shared commitments among its diverse body of believers: to follow Jesus, witness to God’s peace and experience the transformation of the Holy Spirit. MC USA is comprised of 15 area conferences and more than 470 congregations across the United States. MC USA is part of Mennonite World Conference, a global faith family that includes churches in 60 countries. Mennoniteusa.org
Written by Camille Dager.