Especially during the time of pandemic, the Rev. Melissa Collier Gepford says, those who work with children and youth feel like they’re by themselves in their mission.
“A thing that I’m hearing over and over again from kids and youth workers is that they’re just feeling kind of alone and isolated,” said Gepford, intergenerational discipleship coordinator for the Great Plains Conference. “I think that’s a common feeling for a lot of ministry leaders right now, probably everyone in general.”
New positions within the conference are meant to help alleviate some of that loneliness, Gepford said.
The conference will add five kids ministry regional coordinators, she said, to help plan training events, as well as working on resourcing and equipping staff members. The people chosen for those positions — three in Kansas, two in Nebraska, roughly based on the Great Plains camps service areas — will receive a stipend.
In a pilot program, Gepford added, two of the regions will have a coordinator to work with youth programs. Those who already have been working as district youth coordinators will remain, she said.
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The new positions will “foster a sense of connection and solidarity with one another,” she said, “to really create a support system for kids and youth workers.”
The posts are the results of a survey from Ministry Architects, which the conference has hired for two years to register the needs of those working with children and youth.
Cohort training for eight churches began in September, during which participants alternate between group meetings and one-on-one calls to improve ministry.
“They’re getting equipped with really solid foundational training for kids and youth ministry in their context,” Gepford said.
The team will host a kids and youth ministry visioning summit online in March and will have a separate brainstorming session March 9 to develop guidelines.
Part of the results from the survey has been the implementation of renovation teams, whose members include Ben Wheeler, director of youth and discipleship ministries at McPherson First UMC.
“Our goal is to begin to create systems and structures that work within the existing conference youth ministry system,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler said the resources would be adaptable to any situation in the conference, from volunteer youth and children’s leaders to churches that have several fulltime staff members.
Wheeler, who grew up in the former Kansas West Conference and fondly remembers his time on the Conference Council on Youth Ministries, said he hopes the additions will make a difference for the next generation.
“I know the potential these programs have to really change the lives of youth. I really care about this and really want to see great things happen in the Great Plains,” he said. “I think they really have a shot to help churches in Kansas and Nebraska take the next step in whatever ways they want to do that.”
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