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Youth devise plan for greater involvement throughout conference

Youth devise plan for greater involvement throughout conference

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Youth devise plan for greater involvement throughout conference

July 5, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0697}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

LAKELAND — With ever-shrinking numbers of United Methodists in their 20s and 30s, Florida Conference leaders are hoping more youth and young adults will become involved in the work and ministry of the church.

Youth who attended the 2007 Florida Annual Conference Event June 6-9 seemed to have a similar goal in mind.

During the conference nominations report June 9, members of the youth/young adult delegation presented a plan outlining a new structure for youth and young adult leaders — a model they hope will ensure greater participation by younger members in the life of the church for generations to come.

The Network of Ministry With Young People, which was voted on and readily passed, focuses on three intersecting groups: youth, young adults and adults who work with young people.

The model calls for the creation of a Youth Table, a Young Adult Table and an Adult Workers With Young People Table. Each will have at least 13 members, including nine representatives of the table’s specific demographic, a network coordinator, one or two clergypersons, depending on the group — youth have two, the others have one — and representatives from the other tables. The three will individually decide when they should meet.

Representatives from the three tables will then form the Network Leadership Table, which will include two clergypersons, two young adults, three youth representatives, two adult workers with young people and a network coordinator. That group will meet once a year.

All four groups will also meet together annually.

Kelly Minter, a young adult who works as volunteer with the youth at her church, Ponte Verda United Methodist Church, said the idea for the overall model was a collective effort, evolving at a pizza party for younger members attending the conference June 7 at Florida Southern College. Carlene Fogle-Miller, a youth member representing the East Central District and a member of Trinity United Methodist Church in DeLand, noted there that the conference has not had a working Council on Youth Ministries for about 10 years.

As the pizza party began to wind down, those who were interested were asked to stay and consider options for greater youth involvement. They broke into three small groups — youth, adult workers with young people and young adults — to discus the importance of each of the three emphases and the things each group could do to make their churches, the conference and the world a better place. Each group also selected two co-leaders and a person who will be responsible for gathering group information and serving on the Network Leadership Table.

Minter said the model the group chose is similar to one the South Carolina Annual Conference and the General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church use.

Lynette Fields, who was present at the initial planning meeting, said it was exciting to watch the model come together.

“They worked it out themselves,” she said.

Fields, who serves as executive director of Servant Ministry at St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Orlando, helped coordinate the group of about 100 younger members who attended the annual conference event as a first-ever youth/young adult delegation.

“All they needed was enough young people to generate ideas and encouragement,” she said. “I think this new structure and the ability to bring new people to the table will transform the Florida Conference in years to come.”

Scott Sandlin, 16, a member of Avondale United Methodist Church in the North East District, helps present the Network of Ministry With Young People model to members attending the 2007 Florida Annual Conference Event. Photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #07-0620. Web photo only.

Minter said the plan is vital to the conference.

“It is important for young people to have a voice,” she said.  “That said, these days there are so many diverse needs in each of these three groups, it is hard to concentrate on everyone’s needs. Usually when that happens, voices get silenced.

“This way, each group can be autonomous and more effective since they know their own needs best. The representatives from the other tables help us to stay connected and supportive, which is essential in ministry to young people.”

Minter said she can’t begin to explain why youth and young adults have been absent from many churches for so long. She said she believes part of the answer is that young people perceive what goes on at many churches as not relevant to their lives.

“Even today, a lot of our young people in church would rather attend a coffee house Bible Study than a Sunday morning church service,” Minter said. “A lot of things factor into that, some hard to hear and some easy to accept. The main thing is that the absence has been seen and felt. They made a difference being there (annual conference event) this year and will continue to be present and be heard, as long as they feel like the church is open to what they have to say and contribute.”

Minter believes the model will connect people in local churches. She said it will be a resource to youth, young adults and adult workers with young people in a way that empowers them to make a difference.

Minter said the model is already at work. It has prompted conversations and meetings, with people hammering out details and casting visions. She said meetings are being set up with conference leadership, all of whom appear supportive and excited about the model.

Sixteen-year-old Scott Sandlin, a member of Avondale United Methodist Church, was at the pizza party when the model was being developed. The North East District member said the importance of youth and young adults shouldn’t be overlooked.

“We are the future, and the future is now,” he said. “I want us to become more and more active by doing our own things. I think this plan is fantastic.”

Sandlin said he hopes the model demonstrates the breadth of competency found within youth and young adults.

Melissa Justice, also a member of Avondale United Methodist Church, is very happy the model was approved. The 15-year-old said she hopes it sends a signal to conference leadership that younger members want to be active and have more of a voice within the church.

Fields, who has worked for years to increase youth and young adult participation throughout the conference, said, in addition to creating the model, youth and young adults brought new life, hope and energy to the annual conference event. She said at one point she asked the youth and young adult group if at any time during the conference someone had welcomed them and expressed appreciation that they were there.

“Every person in the group raised their hands,” Fields said. “In fact, I think they were a little surprised at how much the older delegates appreciated their presence.”

Although conference leaders were successful in increasing the number of younger members participating at the conference event, Fields said the demographic requires a constant “intentional and proactive” approach to keep them involved and feeling welcomed.

“I think after awhile we will begin to wonder why we didn’t do something sooner, but it will take a commitment from the leadership to make sure it happens year after year,” she said.

Videos, photos, summaries and additional information about the conference event are available on the Florida Conference Web site at


This article relates to 2007 Florida Annual Conference Event.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.