Multi-Church Youth Ministry Started in New Haven Area

4/10/2018
By Drew Page

Youth from the multi-church youth group play broom ball during a "lock-in".
Four Connecticut UCC churches are engaged in an interdependent project to create a new youth ministry program for the youth of their churches. Spring Glen UCC, in Hamden, North Haven Congregational Church, Church of the Redeemer and United Church on the Green, both in New Haven, have joined resources to create a multi-church confirmation class and youth group.
 
“We are trying this radical experience in ministry,” said the Rev. Jack Davidson, pastor of Spring Glen. “We don’t even have a name yet.”
 
Davidson said when he arrived at Spring Glen in 2016, there were very few children taking part in church activities, but he quickly learned that his problem was not one of re-engaging missing youth. There weren’t that many youth even on the membership rolls, at least not a “critical mass” to create a sustainable program, he said. When he learned that several nearby churches were experiencing the same problem, Davidson began thinking they should pool their resources.
 
Davidson and Rev. Scott Morrow, pastor of the North Haven church, soon began talking about combining confirmation classes. In time, they heard from others who were thinking the same way. Within a few months, the 4 churches were discussing options with Rev. Skip Masback, Director of the Adolescent Faith and Flourishing Program at Yale’s Youth Ministry Institute. With some support from the Institute, the 4 churches agreed to hire Emily McKenna to serve as their Youth Ministry Coordinator.
 
McKenna, who also serves as the Office Manager for the Connecticut Conference office in Hartford, is responsible for logistical planning for the youth programs. Serving approximately 12 hours per week, McKenna runs weekly youth group activities for middle and high school youth, supports monthly confirmation classes, and attends planning and organizational meetings with the pastors and parent teams from the 4 churches.
 
“It’s very fulfilling so far,” said McKenna. “It’s really cool to see them make friends from others churches and get excited when their friends from a different church are going to be there.”
 
McKenna, who has a long history working with youth through Silver Lake Conference Center and facilitating youth Racial Justice Training, says she has found it interesting to work with the pastors and parents from these 4 churches. One of the challenges she has faced is trying to reconcile the different priorities of these parents.
 
Some of the more successful activities McKenna has run are a pancake breakfast fundraiser, an outdoor worship on Good Friday, and a trip to the Beardsley Zoo. Later this spring, the group will make a service trip to Boston.
 
Davidson says his attention is on growing the program and pulling in more churches.

“We’re doing this to serve our own kids,” he said, “but we’re also trying to figure out a new model for ministry in the modern era of lesser resources and attendance. In this model, there is an answer for the church of the future.”
 
McKenna is also interested in seeing the program grow. She says in the 4 months since the program began, the group has been approached by several other churches who want to get involved.
 
“I am hoping that this will grow into being its own beast where they need five of me to make it function,” she said.

Those interested in the multi-church youth group's activities can follow the group on Instagram under the username unitedctyouth.