At the beginning of May, I attended the Student Leadership Summit at Willow Creek Community Church, in South Barrington, IL. My interest in this event was heightened for a few reasons. First, I grew up attending this church, it is home to me. Second, a few of my close friends and young women I have mentored through their high school years were the ones that planned it. Last, student leadership training in the church seems rare to me, and I wanted to see what it was all about.
This event was put on completely by students. The students in Willow’s high school ministry, Student Impact, planned and excited this event because of their pure passion to learn and grow together. One of the students that helped plan the event and was one of the MC’s for the summit, Cambria Khayat, said, “students are the future, we’re the upcoming generation and so if we’re able to invest in them and make them better it’s going to eventually have long-term effects in a positive way”.
This event was very unique. It was held at the church and the students chose to show video clips from past speakers at the Global Leadership Summit that the Willow Creek Association puts on each year. In between these video clips that gave a small lesson on leadership, the students gave the crowd a few discussion questions to ponder with the people near them. It was interesting and inspiring to see these students lead groups around them and discuss some serious topics. Their thoughts and voices are valid and this gave them a safe place to share those ideas with each other.
These students are onto something spectacular. If a group of students can put something like this together at one church, students at other churches can do the same. Engaging in conversation about leadership and faith is key to growing and learning together. What if the church was a place that truly fostered those relationships and spaces? How can your church create a place for the students to discuss their ideas and learn from one another?
One thing is clear: research reveals that many church leaders seem genuinely concerned about the number of youth who choose to no longer attend or affiliate with a faith community. The problem is scary real.
What’s even scarier, however, is the evidence that these same church leaders may actually be more concerned about the problem than they are about the youth themselves. A recent study of over 10,000 churches discovered that members at most of these churches did not empathize with the youth and were not able or willing to walk in their shoes.
Do you wonder if the members at your church care about the youth? Ask a sampling of youth several simple questions:
- How many adults who are not family or family friends call you by your first name?
- Will anyone notice if you stop attending your church?
- Do you have a relationship with an adult from the church?
Please share your findings with me at Generation Spark. We can help your church show youth they matter.
Comment below, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook! We genuinely want to hear from you.
Are you curious about what some of the youth involved in Generation Spark are thinking? I was lucky enough to sit down with a few of them and now I am able to share their stories!
One of the students I met with is a young woman that is in the midst of her sophomore year in high school. Her Generation Spark story began when her mother brought home the news that their family’s church would be involved in our program. This student has previously stopped attending their church because of her “busy schedule”, as she first explained to me. She later shared with me that she feels like the church is doing a lot wrong when it comes to the youth.
She explained her negative experience with her church’s Sunday School program and how she is seeing it affect her little brothers in a negative way as well. Her point of view is that there is a lot that is not working within her church and she doesn’t want to devote her time to a program that isn’t working for her.
“There are so many things that are not working in our church. I really hope that having Generation Spark will help change those things too.”
However, after she heard about GS she became increasingly interested in what our program has to offer her. She asked questions and spoke with eagerness and excitement about the possibilities this would bring the youth in her church. She told me that she hopes to be involved in her church’s second session of GS and hope’s that it will bring change to the aspects of the church that aren’t working.
Her story is a testament to why we do what we do. Generation Spark is a church ministry that will hopefully bring a revival to the whole church with the youth leading the way.
What is the average length of time you remember a sermon? How often do you feel affirmed by your congregation in your individual efforts to make a positive change in the world? What is the average monthly church attendance rate of parishioners at your congregation? How would members under age 25 rate the relevance of the sermon to their life?
Before joining Generation Spark, I had never heard these questions discussed. It feels out of place to discuss these goals at church. After all, does falling short of the goals mean God’s work isn’t being done? The stakes are so high!
Shifting the mindset toward becoming more goal-oriented adds an element of pressure. However, it’s time. As a youth, I see that many of my peers have become disillusioned with the church. This has lead to their complete dissociation with organized religion or, at best, compartmentalized church attendance on Sundays.
We, the youth, are getting tired of programs coming from good intentions. We’ve attended many youth groups, Bible studies and other activities centered around young adults. Somehow, they are missing the mark. The youth exodus from the church is proof that something isn’t quite working.
As a member of the Evaluation Team for Generation Spark, I am excited to discover the tangible results of the program. After months of developing assessments by working with experts at the Frost Research Center and gathering feedback from youth, the team is seeing the fruits of labor in our initial results. It’s time for the truth. Church youth deserve results.
In a recent article featured in the “News and Views” section of the CRCNA’s website, Chris Meehan interviewed Wendi Kapenga, the Generation Spark director at Victory Point Ministries.
The article states, “Like many churches, Victory Point has faced the challenge of how to keep young people interested and involved in their congregation as they grow into their 20s”.
Kapenga is quoted saying, “We have a discipleship culture here at Victory Point, and this program fit perfectly. We want to have something to offer before they go off to do life”. This attitude going into the program is key. The congregation wants to disciple their youth and Generation Spark is exactly what they needed to kick start that.
“Many churches, she said, have not created the spaces and places in which older members can listen to and try to understand the hopes and dreams and concerns facing young people.”
Kapenga also shared that “we want to create meaningful connections. We believe the older generation has a desire to share stories and to feel valued. We have mentors who have invested in their own kids’ lives. They have walked their children through challenges and now have more time and flexibility to share what they have experienced”.
Meehan writes, “as part of their program, Kapenga said, they have also recruited prayer partners to offer continual prayer as the pilot program unfolds and relationships between the generations develop”. With this excitement and understanding for Generation Spark, there are great things in store for Victory Point Ministries.
America’s youth are sending a message: “We want to be heard.”
I wonder…when will disaffected youth stage walk-outs at their churches?
This question came to mind as I observed unprecedented numbers of youth nationwide leading protests against gun violence that killed 17 people at a Florida high school on February 14. Triggered by a senseless act of violence, the students’ actions were directed at authority figures—the big people they have been told they can trust—who seem to care more about gun rights than child safety. These words, spotted in a sea of protest signs, gripped my heart: “Why must we be the adults?”
The students tell us “enough is enough,” a mantra heard following every school shooting since the massacre at Columbine. With more than 150,000 children (Washington Post) experiencing a shooting at their schools since 1999, a reasonable person would conclude that change is imminent. But legislators have clearly not had enough and are unlikely even now to change gun laws or protect the children.
Abby Kiesa (Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement) observes that these teenagers insist on being heard. They “want the country to be better so they are going to stand up to make it better.”
At Generation Spark, a ministry designed to help churches engage and retain more youth, we hear these same words from youth. “The church doesn’t listen to us,” they complain. “We don’t even feel we belong.”
I wonder…when will disaffected youth stage walks-outs at their churches? Oh, wait, they are already doing that, with 70% of them leaving churches every year.
Welcome to the Generation Spark Blog!
Generation Spark (GS) was started at the Center for Leadership at Hope College by Virgil Gulker with the assistance of Hope College students. GS is a church ministry program designed to solve the problem of youth and adults leaving the church. This intergenerational mentoring ministry integrates youth and adults into the life and leadership of the church.
In the Summer of 2017, the Lilly Endowment caught wind of Generation Spark and decided to award the initiative with a 3 year grant to fund a pilot program. Right away a team was created to market the program to local churches and the excitement surrounding GS was outstanding.
Currently, the GS team consists of four Hope College Students, including myself, that are involved in different aspects of the project. Over the past year, we have worked with Virgil and Sarah Kolean, as well as other Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), to begin the implementation process of GS. As of today, we have 6 churches in Holland, Zeeland, and Grand Rapids that are piloting our program. Each church has already been through a director training that prepared them to launch GS at their churches. For now, the next step is for the directors to train their participants.
In this blog, you will be able to learn more about Generation Spark from many different perspectives. We will keep you updated on the pilot programs and the relationships that are being built at each church.
Stay tuned to see God’s plan for Generation Spark unfold!
To learn more visit our website: https://hope.edu/academics/center-leadership/generation-spark/
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Find us on Facebook: @thegenerationspark