Fuel 2021 weekend has come and gone. But there’s still time for Next Gen leaders to learn and grow from the content shared during the conference.

Last year, FUEL was held as a strictly online event because of COVID-19. This year’s meeting was even more different. While leaders could attend the meeting virtually in the comfort of their own living room (like they could in 2020), this year, they could gather with other leaders at a local church — with safety measures in place. Teaching sessions featured various kids, youth and Next Gen ministry pastors from across North America as well as some help from our global youth ministry directors from the Philippines (Micah Abalos), United Kingdom (David Whyte) and the Caribbean (Stevie Henry).

“Fuel Weekend was Feb 19-21, but the beauty of this type of event is how customizable it was,” said Rev. Zach Coffin, director of Next Gen Multiplication & Discipleship. “Our Fuel team provided all the promotion resources, social media, three main session teachings, 16 breakout teachings and day-of resources, which then empowered the local kids, youth or Next Gen pastor/director to make the best choice for their local church.” A couple of breakout resources at the event included: “How to serve when you are tired” and “What does the win look like now?” A main session resource included “Grieving is not giving up.”

More than 170 Next Gen churches and leaders registered for the event.

Pastor Jessica Folz, assistant pastor at Lakeview Wesleyan Church (LWC) in Marion, Indiana, hosted a Fuel event. Folz, who started serving as a volunteer in 2011, followed by an internship, has been serving in her current role since 2015. Folz and other key leaders hosted an in-person event at LWC for the Crossroads District. The result was approximately 20 Next Gen leaders from seven area churches coming together to learn, grow and encourage one another. The gathering was much needed in the midst of some challenging days.

“I feel like 2020 just threw a huge wrench in the rhythm of ministry,” said Folz. “We still have students who haven’t returned since last March — even students who were super consistent before. In a lot of ways, it felt like we were totally starting over from scratch. We had to learn how to do things we’d never done before, and we’re having to learn how to do ministry differently.”

That has felt heavy at times for Next Gen leaders, who, like many lay and clergy, see in-person interaction invaluable in the virtual world. Folz is no different. She chose to host an in-person event because of the interaction need, “especially in ministry, [as] it can feel like you are totally isolated.”

Next Gen leaders are asking, “How can we foster connections and develop intimacy despite distancing and not being able to be together the way we used to be?” instead of asking, “How can we get a lot of people in a room for an awesome event?”

Folz noted how it was encouraging to know that they aren’t failing. “We’re all learning how to do new things together, and we can celebrate the wins our brothers and sisters in ministry are experiencing in these strange new times.” She left the event with a renewed hope as the group encouraged each other, mourned common losses and celebrated the ways in which God is still working. Others who attended shared that they, too, felt encouraged and refreshed.

Pastors Jonathan and Kaylee Wilkerson of New Covenant Church in Pleasant Garden, North Carolina, also hosted an event at their church. Jonathan is the executive pastor (for eight years) and Kaylee is the children’s pastor (for six years). Approximately 25 leaders from North Carolina West District attended.

The Wilkersons valued the Fuel resources but said getting together with other pastors was golden too.

“I believe in the saying that ‘you cannot do life alone,’” said Jonathan. “Pastors need each other and so do other volunteers. For me, Fuel was a great resource, but it was also a great reason to get together.”

“I was so eager to connect with others,” said Kaylee. “I am used to seeing these leaders at least a couple times a year, if not more. I haven’t seen many of them in over a year due to the lack of district events. I am always looking for ways to learn and grow, so that was a major pull for me as well.

“I think the biggest difficulty right now for leaders and students is human interaction. God made us to connect with each other, and we cannot do that digitally. [This past year] has proven that to be truer than ever before. Genuine human interaction is something everyone needs right now.”

Kaylee also walked away from the event with a renewed hope about the future.

“I was reminded that many times we are looking at the finish line or the moment of victory, but we forget to see God’s hand through it all,” said Kaylee. “In the midst of the crazy season of ministry that we are in, it is really easy to hope and dream for when all of this is over, but God reminded me that he is walking with me now and is using moments now to still affect his kingdom. None of this is wasted.”

Even now, when ministry is challenging.

“One of the major difficulties I see right now is maintaining connection with our students and kids,” said Kaylee. “I am learning that proximity is vital to a relationship with someone, so when you are not able to see and connect with them on some level … being creative and mindful of how to still connect in this season is a big challenge.”

“All of the content was available to download or stream for free,” said Coffin. “Our team was committed to making this a simple training where volunteers would leave encouraged and equipped.

“Fuel 2021 equipped the local ministry leader to use the resources kit however best fit their context and needs. My prayer was that this Fuel Conference Resource Kit would equip and encourage our Next Gen leaders during this tough season. No matter if people met in person or online, Fuel provided our churches a chance to grieve what we have lost but also look forward with great hope because God is with us. His promised presence is our hope.”

Resources are still available for those who are interested.

“Churches can host this event at any time, whatever works best for their church calendars,” said Christen Carlson, administrative assistant with Next Gen Multiplication & Discipleship. “We have given them all the tools to host this event, and it is totally up to them when it works best.”

“I’m so proud of how our Next Gen leaders are shepherding with grit, creativity, flexibility and faith,” said Coffin. “They are leading with such grace and courage.”

Free resources are still available at Wesleyan.org/fuel.