Where was your faith formed? How was your love of God and others cultivated? Who invested in equipping you to serve and lead?

Reverend Liz Hoyt, children’s pastor at Moncton Wesleyan Church in New Brunswick, Canada, still remembers being encouraged to get involved in her church at a young age. “I always felt like I was valued and that I was an important part of our church … that I belonged.” 

Today you will find Pastor Liz doing exactly the same thing — encouraging the younger generations to get involved. “One of my favorite things we have done in kids’ ministry in the past nine years has been to start a leadership group for our elementary kids,” she says. Children from ages eight to 11 meet every other month to come up with new ideas and projects. “In the end, they came up with some of our most successful ideas!”

The feedback from parents on what this leadership training has meant to their children, and the degree to which these children return to the church and lead has been immeasurable. “It is tangible evidence to the words ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God’” (Matthew 19:14, ESV).

In fact, Pastor Liz believes that some of her most dedicated leaders have been those under the age of 18. Moncton allows fifth graders to help younger kids. They are given leader t-shirts and included in leader meetings. They also serve on worship and welcome teams at the church.

“We need to put them in high-profile serving positions. Allow them to greet people on Sunday morning. Allow them to run sound and pour coffee. Is it messy? Sure!” shares Pastor Liz, “But when you show them at an early age that they are valued and you want — no, that you need them — you aren’t just adding numbers to the future church, you are investing in your leaders.”

For Reverend Ian Nacy, who has been overseeing the youth ministry at Generations Church in Greeley, Colorado, for the past five years, it was a two-day youth rally during high school that changed the trajectory of his life; it was where God placed a calling on his life.

Pastor Ian says the ministry philosophy for his youth group is a simple one — “We bring them in, build them up and send them out. In a day and age where isolation is high and technology has replaced face-to-face time, it’s crucial that we love students well when we are with them or when we engage with them through technology.”

And just like at Moncton, Pastor Ian says it is important at Generations Church to get the young people serving. With a hugely successful Vacation Bible School that is completely full every year, the church uses 180 middle school and high school kids to serve so that about 650 kids can learn about Jesus.

After that age, mission experiences with young adults are offered, “along with handing ‘keychain leadership’ to any ministry serving role we do” (see Growing Young for more on keychain leadership). “It’s why I am passionate about our resident pastors who are recent college graduates called to full-time vocational ministry.”

But the challenges are many. “The challenges we face in ministry are independence of teens, sports, jobs that make $12 or more an hour, friend influence and technology. They no longer have to attend youth or church to hang with friends. They interact almost exclusively online and on their smartphones in their own spaces,” said Pastor Ian.

Then of course, there is the anti-label sentiment. “To be a labeled a Christian isn’t always the easiest for them to embrace. Social media is quick to shout loud in their lives and we have to find a way to shout even louder.” Pastor Ian says camps of all kinds, retreats, mission trips, Wesleyan youth conventions play a huge role in exposing teens to the gospel and in calling them to ministry. “Almost all residents I have hired since 2012 had a call to ministry at either a camp or conference. I always say that when you can get a teen 20 miles or more from home for an overnight experience, ‘God moments’ happen!”

These are words to be heeded with summer camp season upon us. As Pastor Liz said, “Youth camps are often those moments in a kid’s/teen’s life where they place a stake in the ground and make a commitment for Christ. But what happens when the moment fades? There needs to be a bridge. Youth camps are fantastic, but we can do a much better job in facilitating their continued spiritual growth once they leave that spiritual high and come home.”

Jennifer Jones is the district administrator for the South Carolina District of The Wesleyan Church.


* The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.