A Multitude of Multi-Church Youth Group Models

A Multitude of Multi-Church Youth Group Models

Youth ministry can be an uphill battle, especially for small churches which have only a handful of youth.  Covid presented challenges of connection and continuity that caused many churches to rethink their approach.  One hopeful solution for creating larger groups is the shift to collaborative ministry.

Rev. Jack Davidson, pastor at Spring Glen UCC in Hamden, CT convened a virtual meeting of clergy and youth leaders in late January to discuss various models for multi-church youth ministry.  The meeting was a forum to share successes, struggles, and creative ideas for programming.

Rev. Anna Flowers, pastor of United Church in Walpole (MA), commented, "It was such a relief to know that the challenges we are facing are common and that there are so many partners in the room to help one another find the best solutions!"

Davidson and other participants told about the development of the Oasis Youth group in 2017 through a program then offered through the Yale Youth Ministry Institute.  It was founded to give youth the opportunity to join with other progressive Christian youth throughout the New Haven area in fellowship and ministry. Partner congregations include Spring Glen Church, First Presbyterian Church, United Church on the Green, and Trinity Church on the Green, and North Haven Congregational Church.  The group is led by part-time Youth Director, Emily McKenna.

Each church commits to collaborative ministry, sharing in a spirit of ecumenism and common goals. Their mission statement reflects the Open and Affirming stance of participating congregations:  We bring with us our full social and theological affirmation of LGBTQIA+ people, immigrants, refugees, and people of all races and nationalities.

Rev. Davidson reflected on the impetus for the muti-church program: “When I moved to Spring Glen there were eight kids and that was it.  But I looked around and noticed that there were four other UCC churches in close proximity. It seemed to be a simple math equation.  Each of us had a few kids; if we could get everyone together, there would be a critical mass!  Oasis youth group was born.” 

Rev. Scott Morrow of the North Haven Congregational Church described another part of the calculation: “We did not have staff for youth ministry and found it hard to get enough volunteers to initiate a program.  Oasis relies on shared leadership and shared resources, and we have created something stronger than any single church could by itself.  The youth in my church now have opportunities that would not have existed otherwise.”

Getting started with multi-church ministry
Davidson and the other leaders on the call reflected on some of the key elements for getting started.  Each church named community collaboration as a goal and invested in relationships outside of their own congregation.  The shift of focus took patience and persistence that has yielded positive results.  
“We could not have survived the pandemic without this model,” commented Davidson.

Determine the non-negotiables
In addition to prioritizing inclusive ONA values, leaders adhere to safe church policies and model transparent communication with teens and parents.  The leaders of each church said that they are personally involved, both in planning and program leadership.  They also named that it is important to center the voices of youth. 

“This work isn’t done in a vacuum. You can’t just create something and then convince the youth that this is what they want,” said Davidson.

Build relationships
Emily McKenna, part-time youth leader of Oasis, mentioned the focus on building relationships each fall. Mckenna added, “Our kids all go to different schools, so they don’t know each other well.  We schedule outings and a retreat early in the fall to help youth connect. We mix faith and fun and we have witnessed amazing spiritual growth.”

Explore ecumenical options
Rev. Anna Flowers works with two UCC churches, a Methodist congregation, and an Episcopal church.  Their program is for middle and high school youth and meets every other week.  She is grateful for the shared leadership with the neighboring Episcopal Priest and volunteers from other congregations.

Cast a wide net
Rev. Laura Kisthardt, Associate Pastor at the First Congregational Church of Southington (CT) invited many congregations to explore the idea with her, but so far, only one has said yes.  Laura decided to go ahead and get started in January of 2022 and works with a Methodist church in town. 
“We have discovered that these two churches bring different gifts that complement each other and we are open to adding other congregations,” said Kisthardt. 

Back up the program with financial resources.
Rev. Patrick Collins and Rev. Cydney Van Dyke of First Congregational Church of Greenwich, CT outlined a plan for a Regional Youth Ministry initiative that they are planning with the Second Congregational Church of Greenwich.  They have worked out a creative agreement for funding where First Church will provide salary for the staff person and Second CC will provide staff housing in their parsonage. Youth have been included in the planning and will participate as they move forward with the search.  The job description has been posted for this full-time position and applications are now being accepted. Go to SNEUCC Classifieds to see current openings
Davidson reflected that even as it is satisfying to look back and see the impact, the work takes patience and persistence.  “It still takes lots of work-- It is not an easy path. There is no magic wand for youth ministry.”
Is your congregation doing multi-church youth programming? 
Want to connect with others and share ideas?  Fill out this brief survey

Did you know that SNEUCC has not just one, but FOUR outdoor ministry sites which have elements of collaborative youth ministry:  Silver Lake Camp and Retreat Center, Pilgrim Day Camp, Edwards House, and Irons Homestead.   

Want to provide and amazing leadership opportunity for a youth in your congregation this summer?  Check out Youth @ Synod trip to Indianapolis on June 30 - July 5.

These programs  are made possible through proportional giving to Our Churches Wider Mission. 


debby kirk.jpg
Debby D. Kirk

Debby Kirk serves as leader of the staff team that provides resources for the work of nurturing disciples of all ages in the local church. Her area of focus is youth ministry. Contact her for:  Faith Formation Communities of Practice Confirmation ...

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