By Stan Friedman
CHICAGO, IL (January 21, 2014) — A revived cooperative youth ministry among ten Evangelical Covenant Church congregations here could offer a model for other congregations that struggle to provide a full-fledged program for their teens.
Some 100 high school students from 10 churches in the area attend monthly events sponsored by North Side Youth Collision (NSYC), says Josh Hiben, who coordinates the program. Ten students also participate in a weekly small group discipleship program to develop leaders. About 40 junior high students also attend their own large monthly events.
Only two of the churches—North Park Covenant Church in Chicago and Winnetka Covenant Church in Wilmette—have full-time youth ministers. The others employ a part-time youth pastor or can’t afford one at all, says Hiben, who works halftime at Grace Covenant Church in Chicago. Some of the churches have only a couple of students.
Hiben emphasizes that the ministry is meant to supplement individual churches’ ministries, not replace them.
The large events are held on Sunday nights and alternate in focus. One month is primarily worship, with students breaking into small groups afterward. The next month features a general “fun” activity such as the open-mic night that was held at Winnetka Covenant this month.
“The large events provide a critical mass,” says Peter Sjoblom, director of congregational vitality for the Central Conference, who along with Greg Mesimore, pastor of Edgebrook Covenant Church, dreamed up the idea for the cooperative ministry several years ago.
For Hiben, discipleship is at the core of the ministry. Students apply to be among 10 students who get together weekly in small groups led by North Park University students or graduates. They use the Discipleship Encounters material written by former North Park Theological Seminary professor and missionary Jerry Reed.
“The point is not to consume, to not just to be talked to,” says Hiben. “What we keep pushing with these kids is that right from the beginning our expectation is that they will be discipling a group in another year or year and a half.”
The discipleship participants organize the junior high events and carry them out, including the preaching, which has thrilled Hiben. “I felt like a proud dad,” he says. “It was cool to see these high school students really lead.”
Hiben graduated last year from North Park University with a bachelor’s degree in Bible and theology. He became involved with North Side after coming across a meeting of several pastors who had met in a restaurant to discuss reviving the program.
Kristine Devine led the group while working at Sojourner Covenant Church in Evanston. A quarter of her time at the church was dedicated to guiding the larger youth project, which was funded through the Central Conference. The program ran for about two years, but when she left it ceased to operate.
Hiben was excited about the possibility of renewing the program and did most of the legwork to revive it. “Josh has the rare gift of being able to combine good relational skills with very, very good strategic and organizational skills,” says Sjoblom. “We’ve just been really blessed that Josh has been leading this.”
Organizers, which have included assistance from North Park University, have decided to pursue nonprofit 501(c)3 status for the program in order to provide additional guidance, increase the possibility of raising more financial resources, and prevent the program from being seen as the outreach of one particular church.
Sjoblom says a couple of churches in at least one other district in the conference are considering the model.