Non-profit management professional, Carla Vanzant is bringing her skills and passion for Christ centered youth development to the Next Gen Ministries of GNJ. Her background in working on college campuses, co-founding and directing a summer camp and involvement in the local community, uniquely positions her to serve as Engagement Specialist. In this position, she is developing innovative initiatives to expand the number of students, parents, youth leaders, volunteers and others in ministries that are developing and nurturing the next generation of disciples of Jesus Christ.
The Relay recently had the opportunity to sit and chat with her.
Relay: Welcome to GNJ! What was it that interested you about working with Next Gen Ministries?
Carla Vanzant: Well really I have to say that the position called to me because it infuses faith and a passion for youth. The three focus areas of Next Gen are a perfect fit with my background. So many people don’t have a relationship with God. This work allows me to help create spaces to position Christ as a focus in young people’s lives and equips them to carry that focus with them and refresh it throughout their lives.
Relay: What have been some of the highlights since coming onboard?
CV: I immediately think of the connections with so many different types of ministry partners. As Ryan Clements, Next Generation Ministry Coordinator, and I travel church to church and coffee shop to coffee shop meeting with pastors and youth leaders we are beginning to build relationships. I am excited about the possibilities to help make youth ministry easier and more effective. There is a range of ministry already happening and we are here to resource pastors as they look to launch youth ministries or want deeper engagement with their existing programs.
Relay: In a year, what are some ways you hope to have made an impact?
CV: I hope that we will see more thriving youth ministries. As youth transition from high school to college, I hope to see them engage in campus ministries so they stay connected with their faith. And United Methodist camps offer such an incredible and underutilized opportunity for students to be in nature and connect with Christ. By next year, I hope to see increased enrollment.
Relay: What does thriving mean to you? Would you share some examples of thriving ministries you have experienced in GNJ?
CV: Thriving is not a numbers game. It can be any size but the goal is that it meets the needs of the young people in their area. In addition to meeting with pastors, I visit existing ministries and community events. There are thriving ministries throughout the area including Hamilton UMC in Neptune and Morrow UMC in Maplewood.
Rev. Jessica Campbell, who is the pastor at Hamilton, started a young adult Bible study on Wednesday evenings at Bradley Beach. Youth and young adults gather and discuss God’s word. They have a nice sized group and the leader makes sure there is time to talk through their questions.
Rev. Brenda Wheeler is the associate pastor at Morrow and the youth are engaged not only in understanding themselves but actively look outward to explore how to make this world better. They are intentionally focused on seeing, understanding and building relationships with people from different backgrounds. Among other activities, they recently went on a Civil Rights pilgrimage in the south; a journey that we are replicating in GNJ with the Joshua Generation.
Relay: Are you anticipating any challenges in this work?
CV: Both the geography and the mission are big for a role like this. I recently went to Flemington, Asbury Park, and Denville in the same day! So I need to be strategic. I have found it helpful to meet pastors and youth leaders at the district level in small groups.
Relay: Can you explain the process for an initial consultation? Do you have any tips for churches that want to start a youth ministry?
CV: Pastors and youth leaders who are interested in meeting with me can schedule an appointment by cell phone 732-759-7049 or email, email@example.com. I’m happy to come and meet where it is most convenient for the pastor. We discuss the resources available through Next Gen ministries and explore where the church fits in. Based where they are in development, I connect them with existing opportunities and help develop programming for their context. I also want to introduce them to leaders of nearby thriving ministries. Newly appointed pastors in particular may not be aware of potential partnerships in their area. IGNITE is a great place to start or expand a youth ministry. Invite the youth and get them engaged and excited and then let them help build on that excitement. A challenge for smaller churches is that often there are not enough children or youth to start a meaningful program. One way to build critical mass is by partnering with neighboring churches to develop regional and community ministry groups.
Relay: Are there upcoming youth opportunities that you want to be sure people are aware of?
CV: I would love to see IGNITE explode September 28-30 with every church sending students to start the school year with worship, community, inspiring speakers and great music. This fall we are beginning the Joshua Generation thanks to a grant from the General Commission on Religion and Race. A small group of students will meet monthly and deeply engage in conversations based on readings by leading thinkers about race and civil rights. In November they will travel to Washington, D.C. for extensive training to prepare them for a June pilgrimage when they will journey through the south to learn about the civil rights movement.
All pastor and youth leaders should attend the Youth Leaders Day on February 9 with guest speaker, Aqueelah Ligonde from Ministry Architects.
Confirmation Day with the Bishop in the spring is a great way for youth to get to know Bishop Schol and see the work of the conference up close. They can ask questions and spend time with other confirmation students from across GNJ.
As we look ahead to next summer, we want to help pastors promote the various camps offered at the Pinelands Center. When I speak with adults of all different ages, it is clear that GNJ camps have had a long lasting impact for generations.
Relay: Do you have words of encouragement for pastors and for youth?
CV: I want pastors to know that you are not alone. You have a heart for reaching youth but it is difficult especially if you haven’t had the resources. I am committed to working with you to help your ministries thrive. Students, you are seen and valued. I want to help you become disciples of Christ by making sure you have opportunities to grow through your church and GNJ.
About Next Generation Ministries
Next Generation Ministries is a Vital Mission Partner with United Methodists of Greater New Jersey. A separate 501c3 organizations, Next Gen has a mission of cultivating and catalyzing new generations of enthusiastic disciples of Jesus Christ that connect, engage, and lead in their congregations and communities to transform the world.