It was a Sunday night, and I was sitting down for dinner at a senior living center after having just preached for their evening worship service. “So,” one of my hosts started out as we sat down to the table and I braced myself for the question I often get as a young pastor. “How are we going to get young people back in our churches?” In the past, whenever I got that question I would shift uncomfortably and stumble through some cliché answers. After all, being a young pastor does not mean I’m an expert in all things young people. However, this time I didn’t shift or mumble. I smiled and replied, “Have you heard of Next Generation Ministries?”
In May 2017, the United Methodists of Greater New Jersey took a bold step forward in voting to transform the GNJ Camping Board into Next Generation Ministries; dramatically expanding the organization’s focus to include not only camping but also youth and college campus ministries. Guided by a strategic plan developed with input from churches, ministers, and national experts, Next Generation Ministries is GNJ’s response to the call for greater engagement, resourcing, and leadership for ministries that serve young people. Building on the momentum that has been created by IGNITE, Next Gen Ministries will serve as a catalyst to pour fuel on the fire that the Holy Spirit has started in Greater New Jersey.
As the first coordinator for Next Gen, I get the blessing of talking with congregations and hearing the stories of how God is working amid our youth and college ministries. One pastor shared with me his vision of transforming the empty field behind his church into a kickball field where local teens can play and get to know the church staff. A youth minister shared her hope of having a huge Back-to-School Bash in partnership with other youth ministries so that students may know that their churches love, support, and will walk with them as they navigate through the school year.
This is why Next Generation Ministries exists: To find those places where God is already working, stirring up dreams and visions, and to help turn those visions into reality. Being a connectional organization, Next Gen will help churches plan retreats and district-wide events when local leaders don’t have the time or resources to organize on a larger level. Next Gen will connect congregations together for a greater impact in campus ministry and will raise up student leaders who will lead in their home congregations. Next Gen will offer summer camps that provide space for transformational encounters with God and respond to the movement of the Holy Spirit in growing our next generation of disciples and transformational leaders.
When I first heard about Next Generation Ministries in August, I couldn’t help but think of the story of Eli and Samuel in 1 Samuel 3. You may know the story, where God has to call out to the boy Samuel three times in the night before Eli and Samuel finally realize it’s God calling. Looking back at my own life, I realized that it took a few tries (and several years) for me to hear God’s call as well. Wouldn’t it be great if our youth and college students didn’t need God to call out three or four times? What if they heard God the first time? Through the ministries of our local churches, the dedication and passion of our local ministers, and the collaboration and support of Next Generation Ministries, I believe they will. May it be so.