Building Lifelong Faith through Youth Ministry
Three congregations from the Presbytery of Los Ranchos are participating in the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) program Living a Better Story (LABS) Cohort. “The Fuller Youth Institute turns academic research into practical resources to help make the church the best place for young people to grow. An innovative branch of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA, FYI research has pioneered a new era of youth ministry practice and intergenerational discipleship, partnering with faculty from all three of Fuller’s schools to create tools which will change the way the world sees young people.(1)” Geneva Presbyterian Church, Grace First Long Beach, and Placentia Presbyterian Church have all committed to the work of the Lilly Endowment funded FYI cohort program over the next two years, and beyond.
Rev. Ryan Romberg, Associate Pastor from Geneva Presbyterian Church, grew up in Southern California and went to school at Westmont College, and eventually to Fuller Theological Seminary. Despite not having the greatest experience in youth group as a young person himself, or maybe because of his experience, has felt a long and persistent call into ministry for youth.
His first full-time ministry position was to Director of Middle School Ministry at San Clemente Presbyterian Church. “[They] were early adopters in intergenerational ministry; not programs, but building real, Christ-centered relationships,” Romberg said. He moved on to encompass ministry for high school aged youth and family ministry, and finally settled in to his current position with Geneva Presbyterian Church.
A New Way
Since their 2013 launch of the Churches Engaging Young People Project, FYI has been the leader in research for learning how to reach and retain youth ages 15 – 29. “This year, 130 churches across the US and internationally will commit to joining [the] Growing Young Cohorts—resulting in over 200,000 church members empowered and equipped to engage teenagers and young adults like never before.(2)”
But what does that even mean?
They have shown that having real, intergenerational relationships with Jesus at the center, improves the likelihood that young people will call themselves Christians and continue to go to church once they leave high school.
The Logistics of Connection
There are two teams: the Summit Team and the Church Team. The Summit Team travels to five Cohort Summits over two years. The groups of 4 – 6 people do training and learning and bring back information and skills to share with the Church Team. The Church Team is made up of around 10 people, including teenagers and young adults.
“The first thing we do is listen,” said Romberg. “We have conversations and ask questions and work to retain all of the information we can. The goal is to get to know the person with whom you are talking. That is the phase we are currently in. We’ve just been to our first Summit in January.”
And while the team members are to listen to the surface details of what is happening in the day to day lives, they are also to listen deeper. What does the storyteller need on a deeper level? And how can one show up for the storyteller? Literally. Is there an award banquet, or a soccer game? How can the team members be present in the everyday life of the storyteller?
The churches involved with the LABS cohort will listen for the narratives that shape our youth and work toward replacing them with Christ-centered narratives using “new ministry approaches.” Basically, churches involved in this process are willing to blow-up what they know about youth ministry in order to most effectively reach youth in 2020 and beyond.
There will be another Summit in August, where the Summit Team will bring back the learnings from all of their conversations; digging in to what is needed. There is something called LABS (Living A Better Story) and there will be playful experiences created from the information gathered, but that is still far off. Right now, it’s all about listening.
“The audacious hope that I have is that every one of these kids goes to college as a Christian and keeps their faith through college and into adulthood. We don’t necessarily need a million kids in church, but we must really take care of the ones who are already in our midst. Build them up to leave strong. We want to see them keep their faith into adulthood.” – Rev. Ryan Romberg