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Hear to Help


The Missouri Conference NextGen team just did a tour of Missouri to better connect with local churches and learn how they can best help the local church with children, youth and college-age ministry. 

Associate Director Mona Candea has been on the job for six months and is scheduled to be ordained as a deacon in full connection at the Annual Conference Session in June. Rev. Angel Garcia is also expected to be commissioned as a provisional elder at this Annual Conference Session. Josh Schaller has been working with NextGen ministries for the Missouri Conference for seven years. 

Candea came into the position after working for multiple local United Methodist churches, so she wasn’t surprised by anything she heard from the listening sessions. However, she still found the information gathered to be helpful. 

“This will help us shift our priorities and move some things up the list due to what we’ve heard from local churches.”

She said it was also good to get face-time with people since she has been on the job for about six months, and hadn’t had an opportunity to meet a lot of the local church children and youth leaders yet. 

When working in youth ministry at First UMC Sedalia, Candea said she had realized how misunderstood connectionalism is in many areas of ministry.  The aspect of it serves clergy well but doesn’t necessarily filter down to other ministries. Rev. Jim Downing, senior pastor at First UMC at the time, proactively tried to increase connectionalism through the church hosting events like the Converge Conference that provided learning opportunities for various aspects of ministry.

Candea has seen first-hand how local church youth workers can plug into the connection, both for the benefit of their program and to help other churches. She helped write the curriculum for mobile camps while she worked at a local church, and her church hosted a mobile base.

By the mid-May publication deadline, the team was about halfway through their state tour, having done in-person meetings at Community UMC in Columbia, Chillicothe and Church of the Shepherd in St. Charles, and a Zoom call with lake area churches and northeast Missouri. Attendance at the meetings was lower than they had hoped for, but the team felt they had a broad spectrum of participants that included children’s ministry leaders, youth leaders, volunteers and pastors. 

“It is a good conversation with many different perspectives,” Schaller said. 

The team heard some common themes that came up again and again. 

Leaders don’t understand how to connect with Gen Alpha and Gen Z.

Many leaders are dealing with trying to provide informed care to youth with mental health trauma; churches don’t know how to help.

Children’s ministry leaders are looking for a curriculum.

The team asked local church leaders about their biggest dream for their ministries. 

“The word that comes to mind for me is regrowth,” one youth leader said. “Our context has shifted, and we’re in the middle of an identity crisis. We were one kind of church, and now we’re not that anymore (post-pandemic). I spent last year in grief for our ministry. Some of our ministries will never look the same.” 

She added that the youth in her ministry are interested in social justice issues but reluctant to commit to any mission service supporting those issues.

Candea said she understood and had heard similar things from other churches. 

“God does his best work in chaos. Creation proves that,” she said. “During this liminal season, this will all come together at some point. You’re paying attention, trying to provide programming that aligns with their values.”

A youth leader said one new competition for programs is downtime. During the pandemic, families saw the benefit of shutting down and having some time to breathe,” she said. “Now, when it comes to signing up for something, they prioritize. And the priorities are ‘What’s going to help my kid go to college? What’s going to help my kid thrive?”

It was also mentioned that if a church doesn’t have something geared toward young adults, it can be challenging to build a children’s ministry if the parents don’t feel any connection to the church. 

There is a new ministry beginning to happen organically. For example, one youth director mentioned they had started a meetup on their playground on the fourth Sunday of the month, and after it got going, it evolved into a small group for the parents.