By Pamela Dilmore
Rev. Garrett Drake is the new director of Catalyst for Next Generations Ministry, and two words resonated again and again in his report. Discipleship and local churches. He gave an overview of how ministries to the Next Generation will strengthen congregations to lead people to actively follow Jesus Christ. The ministries have begun by placing youth-age ministry, college-age ministry and camping and retreat ministry under one umbrella. He celebrated existing ministries for young people and pointed to the need to help local churches strengthen their ministries to the next generation.
He shared with the conference a poignant and all too familiar story of his experience in an early appointment. When his daughter and only one other child came forward for Children’s Sermon, his heart sank. Parishioners there talked about good ol’ days when more than 50 kids would come forward for children’s time. They once had a children’s choir. As he listened to stories of the good ol’ days, he realized that the once vibrant church was now struggling just to maintain the building.
Change did happen. They decided to develop strategies based on what was best for the church. They looked at every ministry, including infants in the nursery, as serving the mission of the church. Things began to change and so did their fruitfulness! Hope was now alive. As more children and young people became part of the church, Drake told the story of a woman who came to his office. She told him that she needed his forgiveness. She told him that although she would never leave the church, for 20 years she gave her tithes to a church across the street. “I just gave up hope this church was going to stay alive and be effective, but now I see these kids and youth everywhere and I need to say I’m sorry for giving up.” People wonder if there is really any hope for ministries to the next generation.
He hears time and time again the groans of how the next generation has given up on the church. He also hears the groans of young people in the next generation who feel that the local church has given up on them!
Drake reported, “As the office of Next Generation Ministries continues to develop over the next few months...we must develop a strategic plan that looks at how are we leading congregations to lead children, youth and college age young people to actively follow Jesus Christ.” Currently, these strategies include several areas of action and they target local churches.
Next Generation Ministries is currently working with a target group of local churches on a pilot program to partner with each local church. They will look at results to determine whether the pilot program will be helpful to the entire conference.
They have developed a new partnership between Central Methodist University and the office of Next Generation Ministries in order to provide an intentional process to equip staff and to navigate the cultural shifts. These efforts include a certification through the General Board of Discipleship.
Camp & Retreat Board and Staff are also asking how to help local congregations in their discipleship efforts. Each camp and retreat site will make it a priority to go into the local churches and help facilitate the needs of those located at each site. Drake concluded with a very hopeful vision. The next generation is still open and still seeking to be part of a community of faith.