Conference working to improve children's, youth ministries

David Burke


The Great Plains Conference is in the midst of a two-year renovation of its children’s and youth ministry programs and is offering smaller churches the chance to improve their work with young attendees. 

Since late last year, the conference has been working with Tennessee-based Ministry Architects for a status report on kids and youth ministry in the conference and what can be improved. 

“They’re working on laying the foundation – and they use a lot of architectural terms – for bolstering youth ministry and creating a structure for kids’ ministry at the conference, which includes networking with our colleagues in kids ministry and youth ministry and really reinforcing them,” said the Rev. Melissa Collier Gepford, intergenerational discipleship coordinator. 

The Great Plains Conference is in the midst of a two-year program designed to improve children's and youth ministries. File photo

Eventually, Gepford said, a system will be in place that encourages peer learning, resource sharing and continual training for staff and volunteers in those areas. 

That will begin in September, with a yearlong cohort for those in smaller congregations – average attendance of fewer than 150 – with one opening left, Gepford said. 

Read the 25-page report by Ministry Architects. 

The monthly training will alternate between one-on-one sessions with Stephanie Caro, senior consultant for Ministry Architects, and group discussions over Zoom. 

Caro, who conducted many of the interviews for the report, said she was encouraged by what she heard from clergy, laity and staff in the Great Plains. 

“One thing we heard overwhelmingly is the love and support and backing for Melissa in the job that she is in,” Caro said of Gepford, who began her role in early 2019. “People everywhere said she was doing a great job and what a big job this is.” 

The previous incarnation of the position focused only on youth, and Caro said those interviewed for the study appreciated expanding the focus to include children. 

“Children’s ministry is a very important tool for church development in the next five years,” Caro said. “Both (children and youth) are so important, that if I only had time to do one, churches are better off putting all their eggs in the basket of children’s ministry, then they can grow their own youth ministry.” 

Caro said the remnants of the merger of the three former conferences – Nebraska, Kansas East and Kansas West – in 2014 still remains in children’s and youth ministries. 

“There are some places where the merge has gone smoothly, and there are still some dynamics of three separate conference that make a delightful difference in the mix of children’s ministry,” she said. “Traditions are wonderful remembrances, and each conference had its own tradition and way of doing things.” 

The cohorts will provide reinforcement and encouragement to those in small- to medium-sized churches in their ministries. 

Rev. Melissa Collier Gepford

“The goal is to empower those churches to let them know they are stronger, better, greater than sometimes they think they are,” Caro said. 

A simple way that children’s and youth ministry can improve, Caro said, is to improve its communication practices, fully employing email, text messages and other forms of communication. 

“There’s never a more important time than there is now in this pandemic,” Caro said. 

Five-member renovation teams for youth and for children’s ministry, each led by Gepford, have been formed. 

The kids’ ministry team includes Allison Brewer, Topeka First; Mona Candea, Olathe Grace UMC; Jenna Roskilly, Derby Woodlawn UMC; and Madison Stumbough, Winfield Grace UMC. 

Youth ministry team members are Polly Pierce, Omaha Faith Westwood UMC; Tim Fleming, Wichita Calvary UMC; Ben Wheeler, McPherson First UMC; and Ross Janovec, Camp Lakeside. 

Further plans for children’s and youth ministry, both Gepford and Caro said, are on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“We felt like during this time we’re really trying to innovate and almost stay afloat for a lot of folks,” Gepford said. “We want to get beyond the survival mode and into thriving before we decide what our vision is.”

Contact David Burke, communications content specialist, at

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