Forging young leaders: A week of growth and faith in the wilderness at AIL 2024

In the fast-paced world of adolescence, Adventures in Leadership (AIL) offers an invaluable opportunity for Northwest Conference high school students to slow down for a week and focus on essential leadership skills and insights, deepen their faith and cultivate a sense of servant leadership and community that will guide them through life.

To participate in AIL, NWC students must be nominated by an adult leader in their church who sees their leadership potential. They then undergo a rigorous screening process. The nine who were selected this year came from churches across the NWC.

The week focuses on what it means to be a shepherd leader. Using the book of Mark as a guide, students learned how shepherd leaders see others, move towards them and seek to serve them. Interactive experiences throughout the week helped them understand what it means to be a leader who serves.

Students engaged in leadership lessons and challenges from the moment they began the experience, including: interactive teaching, team-building exercises, an acclimatization hike, carving a new trail in the wilderness as a service project for a neighboring camp, canoeing, orienteering and other vital camping skills.

They also reflected on their unique leadership wiring. New this year, each participant underwent a personal assessment called “Working Genius,” developed by Patrick Lencioni and the Table Group and designed specifically for high school students. This tool helps students identify their top two “Working Geniuses” and areas of frustration, aiding them not only during AIL but also in making informed career choices.

After several days at Adventurous Christians learning the essentials, the team split into two canoe groups and ventured into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, where they put their skills and wisdom to the test. Although each group had an AC guide and a NWC adult for safety and processing, the students bore much of the leadership burden, each taking turns leading for half a day. This time out on the trail exposes them to leadership situations that are hard to replicate anywhere else—unexpected weather, challenging portages, and the constant need to set up and break camp—demanding effective shepherd leadership and cooperative problem-solving.

Their leadership was immediately tested on the first evening as a “once in a century” storm furiously cut across the BWCA. They huddled under tarps, trying to avoid the torrential rains and wind. They had to figure out how to keep up team morale, as well as how to stay warm and relatively dry. This “baptism by water” experience gave them many stories and valuable lessons.

“It was harder than I expected, but looking back, that was a good thing,” one student said. “I will remember this experience for the rest of my life as something that toughened me mentally, physically and spiritually.”

A highlight of AIL is the sense of community that develops. With no cell service in the BWCA, students weren’t digitally distracted. They engaged in meaningful conversations, shared their thoughts and fears, and supported and prayed for each other. Several students had musical abilities and stepped up and led the group in times of worship. A deep and supportive community developed with this special group of students.

These are some of the reflections from students:

  • “AIL taught me lots of things about myself and my leadership skills. It is an amazing experience that has bonded me with new friends, grown my faith with God and did things I thought I was never capable of.”
  • “AIL taught me to be open to meeting new people and to trying new things even when I knew it would be hard.”
  • “The trip was an eye-opener. I knew God but I found out now I can use my leadership through him. He taught me patience through this.”
  • “This was one of the best times I have ever had with the people, staff, activities and the actual canoe trip.”

Brian Zahasky (Hope Covenant, St. Cloud), Shawn Brown (Oxboro Free Church), Kathy Castor (Wooddale Church), and Ginny Olson (Northwest Conference) made up the AIL team, joined by two trained guides from Adventurous Christians, Makenna and Grant. The Adventurous Christians base team: Matt, Lina and Trisha (an AIL alumna) played critical roles in the success of Adventures in Leadership. Buffalo Covenant generously provided transportation for the trip.

Next year’s AIL will be June 14-21, 2025. Application materials will be available this fall.

MUUUCE—the Most Ultimate, Unbelievable, Urban Camping Experience—celebrated its 37th anniversary Aug. 10-12, with 402 middle school students and leaders from 22 Northwest Conference churches.

MUUUCE began in 1986 when the youth pastors at Faith Covenant Church in Burnsville, MN, created an event to reach middle schoolers. It quickly grew to serve all of the churches in the Northwest Conference. Faith Covenant hosted it until 2011. Crossroads Church in Woodbury, MN, then hosted until 2022. Buffalo Covenant Church in Buffalo, MN, became the host church for the first time this year.

The MUUUCE fun was spread out over three days—starting with a massive MUUUCE Blitz Thursday night that included nine giant inflatables, a field full of games like 9 Square in the Air and Gaga ball, indoor arts and crafts, and ice cream from a local ice creamery.

Friday’s excursion was the annual trip to Valley Fair, where after a great day in the park, as they were loading the busses to go home, a large hailstorm missed the group by a few miles. Friday night after worship was another party with something for everyone—a movie in the sanctuary, Capture the Flag under the lights, and a huge game show in the Youth Room. Those who wanted a quieter experience could do crafts like making buttons and bracelets or hanging out at the fire pit with guitars and s’mores.

The worship sessions started with games to get the group connected and energized. Then the youth worship team from Crossroads Church did a fantastic job of pivoting the energy in the room toward worship.

One youth leader observed, “It was really cool to quietly witness my students’ comfort level with large group contemporary youth worship grow as the weekend went on. It started with clapping along/following along with some actions that went along with certain songs. It turned into tentative opened palms, then bolder opened hands, and by the end of the weekend some students had their arms fully raised in praise to God!”

Speakers Craig and Molly Sanborn fleshed out the theme of “Extraordinary” (based on John 10:10) for this rapt audience of 6-9th graders. Craig was formerly the high school pastor at Plymouth Covenant Church in Plymouth, MN, and Molly is a frequent speaker at youth conferences, where she’s known as the Cheese Ball Chick. Together, they travel all over the country, speaking to students and adults.

Their heart for middle schoolers was evident as their ministry at MUUUCE continued off-stage. They talked with long lines of students after the worship sessions and again while they hung out with them at Valley Fair. Their speaking created some memorable moments of life change.

A youth pastor captured it well: “One of our boys in the Friday night small group said, ‘It felt like the Holy Spirit was present and moving.’ … We had a boy and a girl accept Christ for the first time that night.”

MUUUCE couldn’t happen without over 150 Buffalo Covenant Church volunteers who worked long hours doing everything from serving 1,200 hot dogs, popping popcorn, and manning the inflatables at the Blitz, to arriving at 6 a.m. to make 15 bags of sausage and 400 eggs, cutting up dozens of muffins and bagels, cleaning bathrooms, or serving all night in security shifts to provide a safe place for students and leaders to sleep.

The MUUUCE 2023 planning team comprised pastors and youth pastors from several churches and the staff of Buffalo Covenant Church. The group met several times in the months leading up to MUUUCE to determine how to create an atmosphere that contained elements of fun, surprise and worship. The team was made up of James Brown (Real Life Church, Waseca, MN), Rocky Hovda (First Covenant Church, Willmar, MN), Zach Klein (Community Covenant Church, Upsala, MN), Christian Krohg (Prairie Hills Covenant Church, Sioux Falls, SD), Kara Larson (Buffalo Covenant Church, Buffalo, MN), Taavi Larson (Buffalo), Dave Macalena (Buffalo), Darren Olson (Buffalo), Kelly Totushek (Buffalo), Karina Winkleman (Roseville Covenant Church, Roseville, MN), Brian Zahasky (Hope Covenant Church, St. Cloud, MN) and the NWC staff.

One youth worker summed the event up well: “MUUUCE is my favorite event that is put on each year. I hope we can keep it going strong. These students are being impacted for the kingdom through everything we do at this event!”

Embarking on Adventures in Leadership is not just about paddling through serene waters and exploring the beautiful Boundary Waters Canoe Area—it is an adventure that shapes teenagers into servant leaders.

Eleven students from all over the Northwest Conference learned to navigate through big waves and rough portages. They discovered the essence of servant leadership, teamwork, communication and resilience. The journey is not only about conquering nature’s forces—it’s also about conquering their inner fears and doubts.


One student put it this way, “It was overall an amazing experience! It truly pushed me out of my comfort zone, helped me to lean on Jesus when the portages got rough. [It] also taught me patience, love and control.”

Experiential learning is the framework of AIL, and it’s a powerful tool for developing leadership skills. Students develop problem-solving skills by facing real-life challenges, making real-time decisions and learning to think strategically.

Through AIL, students gain a deeper understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, allowing them to grow and improve as leaders. They understand that each team member brings unique strengths and perspectives, and the leader must leverage these strengths effectively. The lessons learned during AIL stay with students long after the adventure ends, shaping their approach to leadership in all aspects of their lives.

In the words of one of the participants, “It definitely was not what I was expecting, but [it] built my character and helped me get a better perspective.”

AIL is designed to build Christ-based confidence and resilience and allow students to lead in an emotionally encouraging but physically challenging environment.

One participant said, “It was one of the most intense, enjoyable experiences of my life so far.”

Besides learning crucial wilderness skills, participants also spent time in creative learning sessions, putting servant leadership into action, and in worship and reflection. Students are encouraged on their journey of faith, self-discovery and leadership development. Through facing challenges, working as a team and honing their communication and decision-making skills, they gain invaluable experiences that will shape their future as leaders, whether at their home church, at school or in the community.

The AIL team was made up of Brian Zahasky (Hope Covenant, St. Cloud), Shawn Brown (Oxboro Free Church), Dave Cairns (Covenant Pines Ministries), and Ginny Olson (Northwest Conference), along with two trained guides from Adventurous Christians—Trisha and Gus—who are AIL alumni. The Adventurous Christians base team: Matt, Lina and Dana (also an AIL alumni), played critical roles in the success of Adventures in Leadership.

Information for AIL 2024 will be available in January.

After a two-year COVID hiatus, youth pastor Nathan Nelson said it well, “It feels so good to be back.”

From Aug. 4-6, 417 middle school students and leaders from 23 Northwest Conference churches gathered at Crossroads Church in Woodbury, MN. For three days they played, worshiped, laughed and learned about following Jesus.

The staff at Crossroads Church leads MUUUCE, and starts planning in the depths of winter to design an event that meets the needs of middle schoolers. Joey King, one of the youth pastors at Crossroads, said his vision for the event was for students to have “altar moments.”

That vision came to fruition when Eric Samuel Timm, who is both a speaker and an artist, presented the gospel in a way that immediately connected with the middle schoolers. He painted an umbrella and talked about how life may be hard, but you’re under the cover of God’s umbrella. He went on to challenge them to make a public declaration of their faith.

Over 100 middle schoolers said “yes” to Jesus for the first time, and over 200 recommitted their lives. One youth pastor said it was a holy moment watching the students stand in groups and lock arms as they prayed for each other.

The three days included a massive Welcome Party with inflatable games, food trucks, as well as trips to The Fun Lab and Valley Fair. The Silent Disco was a huge hit. Students danced, only able to hear the music through their headphones. Students rushed to the stage during worship designed with middle schoolers in mind.

The small group times were vital. One pastor said, “The conversations that came out of the small groups were the start of some new beginnings.”

MUUUCE wouldn’t happen without over 100 Crossroads volunteers who served long hours doing everything from chaperoning the Welcome Party to cleaning bathrooms and vacuuming confetti. Sandra Florin is the administrator who coordinates the details of MUUUCE along with Joey King and the whole Crossroads team. They work for months to create an affordable and memorable event for our Northwest Conference churches.

MUUUCE is one of the few events in a middle schooler’s life where the church designs an event specifically for them. An event where fun and Jesus go hand in hand, where their questions about faith and life are taken seriously, and where they can know they are deeply loved by God and their youth leaders.

The UNITE North high school conference drew over 750 students and leaders from across the upper Midwest and Canada to Bethel University in Arden Hills, MN, July 14-17, to hear about the life-changing message of God.

“After the last four days of observation, and conversations and worship with students, I have so much hope for the future and the Church,” said Chris Kelly, Youth Pastor at Linwood Covenant in Wyoming, MN. “Students love Jesus!”

With dynamic speakers, worship music and engaging workshops, these teenagers grew in their faith and learned how they can impact the world for Jesus.

“There is hope! There is hope!” The cries of Bob Lenz rang through the auditorium on Sunday morning as hundreds of students and leaders stood to their feet in response to a call to discipleship. While we are besieged by news of teenagers walking away from God and the Church, this group was committing to let Jesus be in charge of their lives, to be held accountable and to get into the Bible daily.

This followed on the heels of Saturday night, where Terrence Talley challenged students to respond to the Gospel and 200 stood to commit to following Jesus, some for the very first time.

Welcome Party

UNITE North kicked off on Thursday with a massive Welcome Party. As music filled the air, students and leaders were greeted with a rock-climbing wall, inflatables, a community art wall where students used spray paint to create and express themselves, a tent where they could paint their own T-Shirt, lawn games and mini-golf, as well as hamburgers, sno-cones, cotton candy and popcorn.


MainStage was a huge part of UNITE North. These morning and evening sessions were held in Bethel’s Benson Great Hall and marked by worship, speakers and artists. The UNITE North worship team created a holy space as students worshiped with perhaps the largest group they had been with in almost two-and-a-half years.

Cortland Pickens and the KNOWN choir, Candice Wynn and the Skit Guys were the featured artists the first night. The rest of the week, students heard from Laurel Bunker, Brannon Shortt, Terrence Lee Talley and Bob Lenz.

“God doesn’t want us to disqualify ourselves when God has already prequalified us for the next leg of the journey,” Wynn shared in her MainStage talk.

On Friday night, there was an incredible concert with Colton Dixon, from American Idol fame. As authentic off-stage as he was on, he stayed late into the night signing autographs and taking pictures with students.

After MainStage, youth groups gathered all over campus to talk about what they had learned and experienced throughout the day.

Melinda Fisher, Youth Director at New Day Covenant in Rochester, MN, said, “The conversations that we had during our small group time will likely stay with me forever. They were these beautifully sacred moments where I could see God actively forming hearts right in front of me.”

Experiential Learning

During the day at UNITE North, there were lots of opportunities for experiential learning. There were breakout seminars in the morning where students packed rooms to find out about their own or their friend’s mental health issues, reimagined Scripture with Theater for the Thirsty, explored the connections between the Old and New Testament in “Battle Royale,” learned how to share their faith in the Bless seminar, heard God’s call to live out the multiethnic kingdom, were challenged to listen and notice God’s movement, or practiced to be part of the UNITE North Worship Choir that performed Saturday night.

In the afternoons, students could head to Learning Labs where they heard about immigration stories and visited the Hmong market, or served by painting a house or weeding a garden. Some went to the world-renowned restaurant Owamni by The Sioux Chef and learned about native food practices and had a chance to eat buffalo tacos.

Others spent the afternoon on Excursions to Wild Mountain’s water park and alpine slides, or hiked at Afton State Park, or tried their hand at indoor sky diving or paintball.

Some students stayed on campus and competed in tournaments, played disc golf or watched the Family Camp movie, while others explored Sacred Space—a huge room filled with all sorts of creative spiritual practices designed to help people slow down and reflect on God’s work in their lives and the world.

“UNITE North was one of the best experiences I have ever had. I had fun, met lots of great people, and furthered my relationship with God in new and creative ways,” said a student named Aquiliana. “UNITE North was a wonderful adventure and I am so thankful that I was able to attend.”

UNITE North Team

UNITE North was created to fill the need for a large gathering event for high school students. This was after the Evangelical Covenant Church decided to postpone and then cancel the national UNITE (previously CHIC) due to COVID concerns. The ECC had been pondering whether it was time for regional high school events and it was clear, now was the time to test out that idea. Thus was born UNITE North (for churches in the upper Midwest and Canada), UNITE West (for churches from Alaska to California), UNITE East, Engage (Midwest Conference), and Serve Together (Central Conference).

“Our singular prayer was that UNITE North would be a catalyst for Christ-like transformation in the lives of students. Over four days, students heard from amazing communicators and participated in numerous faith forming activities,” said Brian Zahasky,  Chair of the planning team and Lead Pastor at Hope Covenant Church, St. Cloud, MN. “All of this culminated with over 200 students standing up on Saturday evening as an act of response to Jesus and a commitment to live for Jesus. To God be the glory.”

The planning team of UNITE North, with the exception of Ginny Olson and Bryan Malley (NWC staff members), was made up of people from local Covenant churches, many of whom had served on CHIC councils. As previously mentioned, Zahasky chaired the planning team. Erik Anderson was the producer. Also serving were Jessa Anderson, Michelle Beilby, Josh Danielson, Kevin Farmer, Mary Kate Fretheim, Katie Friesen-Smith, Sarah Hazledine, Rachel Jacobs and Paulita Todhunter.

Scores of people volunteered which was critical in an event of this magnitude. People put in long hours, serving in areas like medical services, the sensory room, security, prayer, photography, helping at the Welcome Party and much, much more.

“The gift of being able to gather for an event like UNITE North was an answer to prayers. Our students and leaders left this conference feeling filled and encouraged,” said Rick Penner, Student Ministries Pastor at Nelson Covenant Church (Canada). “The planning team did an outstanding job in building an intentional experience of encounter with Christ.”

In the words of one student, when they were asked what their favorite part of the week was: “Everything. I just don’t want this to end.”

Once again, we are celebrating the completion of our Adventures In Leadership (AIL) Program by 13 NWC high school students. The week-long event took place June 11-18 and its impact was recognized by the students.

How does it work? Through an intentional partnership between the Northwest Conference and Adventurous Christians. Together we facilitate an eight-day experiential learning adventure in Christian leadership with a defining tagline of: “Servanthood is the beginning and end of Christian leadership!”

We frame the experience in three sections. The first two-and-a-half days involve a base camp training pathway to sharpen both leadership insights, competencies and potentials for each student, along with the necessary skills to negotiate a wilderness canoeing/camping adventure.

The next four days are dedicated to a student-led canoe trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of northern Minnesota. The canoe trip serves as a wilderness learning laboratory for the students by leveraging the required team dynamics, physical effort and unpredictable elements of wilderness canoeing/camping to maximize leadership growth opportunities from the experience.

By design we provide each student with the chance to lead their group for a portion of the trip in order to personally practice, test and evaluate with their peers what they have been learning about leadership.

The final 24 hours of AIL is dedicated to debriefing the experience and exploring what God may be preparing each student for in the coming weeks and months as leaders.

And speaking of impact, here’s what some of the students had to say:

“I so appreciated all the lessons on leadership provided through AIL. Growth and learning don’t just stop. I need to learn and apply new things daily.” – Dana

“AIL far exceeded my expectations. It was a lot more fun, exciting and meaningful than I expected. I gained greater confidence and a deeper relationship with God through it.” – Noah

“I learned that I am so much stronger than I think I am. I also learned that leadership isn’t all about being the loud, outgoing one. You can be an introvert and be a leader, too.” – Grace

“This program has one purpose: to make Christ-centered leaders. And the program accomplishes its purpose wonderfully.” – Dan

“AIL reinforced how the Bible should be a part of our everyday life and leadership.” – Rosemond

“This experience was great! The leadership training was very good and helped me get a better understanding of myself as a leader. I thought the daily journaling was really beneficial as well.” – Carter

We praise God for His continued hand of protection and blessing upon this unique journey we provide student leaders in our Conference. Congratulations again to our AIL Class of 22!

In this video, Lilly Lewin teaches a group of youth pastors how to create participatory Advent experiences. These activities can be used with students or the whole church, online or in person. Lilly is the worship curator at Free Range Worship


On Saturday, Aug. 7, around 280 middle schoolers, leaders and volunteers from all over the Northwest Conference converged on Minnehaha Academy for One Big Day. It was a day packed with fun and faith, all designed with middle schoolers in mind.

The day began with a massive Welcome Party. There were giant inflatable games, a mini-golf course built by a member of Dassel Covenant Church in Dassel, MN, 9-square in the air and corn hole, arts and crafts, colored hair spray, and sno-cones and gigantic donuts. One student exclaimed as he walked in and surveyed the scene, “You mean all this is for us?”

After a Chick-Fil-A lunch, students headed to different stations to learn about four of Jesus’ miracles through hands-on, interactive lessons. For the blind man who was healed, for the paralyzed man whose friends put him on a cot and ripped apart a roof to get him before Jesus, for the 5,000 who were fed, and for the fishermen whose nets were almost broken by the weight of the fish they caught … the day those miracles happened was their One Big Day.

At the different stations, students heard from the former owners of the Rustic Inn about what it would take to actually feed 5,000 people. They heard from a fisherman about what it would be like to catch that many fish. They learned about the miraculous creation of an eye. They built cots out of wood and rope and had to carry a teammate across the gym floor, experiencing a taste of what those friends might have experienced 2,000 years ago.

From the miracle stations, students headed out to the Minnehaha football field for an epic tournament. Through screams of laughter and cheers, four teams battled to win crazy, creative camp games.

Pausing to catch their breath and eating giant ice cream sandwiches, students headed to the final session. There they experienced C.H.A.O.S. (Crazy Humans Attempting Outrageous Stunts). There were reverse charades, competitive cheese ball tossing, and more.

In a way that only middle schoolers can pivot, they turned to dynamic worship led by Emmanuel Covenant. When Greg Speck got up on stage, he had the room laughing and groaning as he talked about his One Worst Day. And then had them leaning forward in anticipation as he told them about meeting Jesus and how that was his One Big Day.

Youth pastors lined the chapel, praying with and for students, some who came to know Christ for the first time, others who were renewing their commitments and yet others who just needed prayer.

One Big Day was led by a team of youth pastors from across the Northwest Conference who met for months planning and designing the event: Mike Bechtold (First Covenant Church, Red Wing, MN), Rocky Hovda (First Covenant Church, Willmar, MN), Evan Kolding (Lakeview Covenant Church, Duluth, MN), Chris Kelly (Linwood Covenant Church, Wyoming, MN), Zach Klein (United Covenant Church, Clear Lake, WI), Luke Korthuis (Salem Covenant Church, New Brighton, MN), Annie Larson (Plymouth Covenant Church, Plymouth, MN), Dan Swartz (Emmanuel Covenant Church, Shoreview, MN).

Our NWC youth workers shined as they shepherded their students. The backbone of the day was a team of amazing volunteers who made it all possible: they set up and swept up, stood in the rain, greeted and cheered. They fed hungry kids, bandaged bumps, took photos, led games, picked up garbage, refilled water jugs, handed out masks, and, most importantly, prayed.

It was a day overflowing with fun and with moments of joy and connection with each other and Jesus. It was One Big Day.

As we peruse the biblical narrative, something we observe is how God has used the wilderness as a dynamic molder of leaders. For example, consider the stories of Elijah, David, John the Baptist and Jesus. Through God’s sovereignty, each of these leaders experienced the wilderness as a profound encounter with God and formational place in their lives.

So what is it about the wilderness that uniquely stages the potential transformation of a person? This space that is primarily uninhabited, uncontrollable, unpredictable, desolate, wild, removed from the “normal,” and yet remains under the steady care and presence of God.

David Collins suggests the following: “The wilderness is spiritually formative because it creates a setting where the comforts of life are stripped away, and you are placed in a more discomforting space. And it is in this disorientated space where the individual is more sensitized to new revelations and personal growth opportunities. Because in God’s creation you can slow down and reflect. You have time to let go of, disconnect from the worries of life and to rest. It’s also where, coupled with the wilderness vulnerability and discomfort, one finds it difficult to not let go of control and place God at the center of their life again.”

Since 1991, the Northwest Conference has tapped into this same wilderness potential in the forming of young emerging leaders from our churches. Yes, it was 30 years ago that Adventures In Leadership (AIL) was born. And this past month, we took this journey again with 13 NWC high school students and once again saw God do His transforming work. Truly, through our partnership with Adventures Christians over the years, this eight-day journey in Christian leadership continues to be a testimony of God at work in our students and a privileged space that we are humbled and honored to share in.

So what did the students have to say?

I spent a little over a week learning about who I am, who I can be and who God wants me to be. Then I was challenged in all of this by being thrown into the wilderness, and it was a perfect way for me to try out everything I had learned and find out actually what it is to lead.” – Lydia

“I would say that this experience completely blew my expectations away and I was very amazed! On the canoe trip I learned that through the ‘rapids of life’ we can stand together as a team.” – Corbin

“AIL is an awesome experience. I made great connections, furthered my relationship with God, and grew as a leader. This was a great space to disconnect from the outside world and truly grow.” – Lily

“AIL is a unique experience. I didn’t expect to connect with God as much as I did, and it was amazing. I built unbelievable relationships with my peers as well. I learned leadership skills and discovered talents that will help me in the future. It’s an eye-opening experience.” – Audrey

Praise God and may He bless this Adventure In Leadership for 30 more years!

There is a huge increase in mental health issues with teenagers during the pandemic. Our youth pastors have been ministering on the front lines of this rise, which is getting worse in these dark days of winter.

In light of that, we hosted a pop-up training on mental health and students on Friday, Dec. 18. Tim Cryer helped us learn what questions to ask and how to do a support group with students to delve beneath the surface. We’ll actually ran a beta support group and you can see what it looks like and how to do it yourself.

Tim Cryer has a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy and has worked at TreeHouse for over 10 years working with teens, parents, and communities throughout Minnesota. He, like many of you, is struggling as a spouse, dad, employee, and person during this time.


If you look at a typical youth ministry summer calendar, it’s packed with events and experiences: mission trips, camps, Vacation Bible School, bon fires and backyard grilling. These events create opportunities to build relationships as well as opportunities for discipleship. But this summer, youth ministry leaders have been scrambling to figure out what ministry looks like when summer programming is anything but typical.

We asked our youth pastors on Facebook about how their youth ministries have changed—or perhaps, have stayed the same—this summer. Here is what we heard:

“Our youth ministry looks incredibly relational. Running programming has gone closer to the bottom of our list of priorities, and spending time with students has moved to number one,” said Sophie Arland, Youth Pastor at Crossroads Church in Woodbury. “There has been no planning of services, events, and such. Rather, the question has been: How do we maintain and grow relationships during this season? Relationships with students and students’ relationships with God. The difficulty has been how to invest in those relationships and grow them while staying safe and keeping the engagement of students.”

The students at First Covenant in Red Wing gather outside at a weekly bonfire as they follow maximum size and social distancing recommendations. Knowing that youth ministry isn’t just about students, Mike Bechtold, Associate Pastor for Youth, also started a podcast for parents, talking about developing faith at home (

“Our group has been gathering every week for the last five weeks at our normal times and such, but we are doing more of a Bible study/group discussion format as opposed to our ‘traditional’ setup. We just started doing a game again last week,” said Jake King, Youth Pastor at Braham Covenant. “We’ve met outside until last week around the fire where we have tackled some of the deeper issues that are in our culture now. Being so far north there is a disconnect from many of the issues among students, but it has been very beneficial as it’s led to other biblical discussions. I plan to take the time to grow relationships deeper both with students and me and leaders and the students amongst themselves.”

He went on to say, “We also did a Q&A night which we haven’t done in a while, even before COVID. It really seems to help newer students click and feel like part of the group. Events are at a minimum for now, but I am planning some small group things like meeting at other leaders’ homes throughout the rest of the summer and fall.”

At United Covenant in Clear Lake, WI, Youth Pastor Zach Klein said, “We are meeting weekly all summer, which is actually a change.”

In order to keep socially distant, they’ve worked hard to create games that can be played spread out. They also split their group into two smaller groups to keep numbers down, but Zach noted, “Our numbers have grown since we started doing this!”

First Covenant in River Falls is still meeting weekly. Youth director Neil Vance said that rather than leadership team students hosting at their homes, “We are requiring that we meet at one of the parks in town where we are outdoors and there is enough room for everyone to spread out better.”

Linwood Covenant’s summer youth ministry is called “Summer Set” and has been meeting the last four Thursday nights in the backyard of the church. Chris Kelley, Associate Pastor of Youth & Families, observed, “We’ve had a smaller group (less than 20) each week, but it’s been wonderful to open the Word together, eat ice cream and play some volleyball together. Our current series is called, ‘Can I Ask That?’ It’s a series about questions students are often hesitant to ask. It’s been really good!”

No matter how youth ministry has changed this summer, it’s clear that two priorities are at the forefront: keeping students healthy and keeping them connected to Jesus and each other.

Rites of passage are critical in an adolescent’s life. They help students and their families mark the transition from childhood into adulthood. In our culture, the high school graduation ceremony is one of the most important rites of passage.

Here’s how several Northwest Conference churches are honoring this big moment in the lives of their high school seniors.

Bemidji Covenant has 20 students graduating from high school this spring.

“I’ve made lawn signs with their senior photo and name, plus a gift bag containing ‘Starting Now’ (a devotional for the first six weeks of college), an 18+ phase guide for their parents, blessings written by me and their small group leaders, and lots of fun stuff like confetti, silly string and Swedish fish candy that is attached to memories of youth group,” said Youth Pastor Sarah Holt. “We also have a senior video we’ll show on our YouTube channel and for Sunday church online.”

Alexandria Covenant has 32 students graduating from seven different schools. Brian Farka, Pastor of Student Ministry, explained the church will be hosting its celebration right before the high school’s online graduation so students can get home to watch the live stream later that evening.

“We are planning to have people in cars in the parking lot to cheer and honk. They will get a grad brochure with pictures and grad info. The graduates will drive up, get out of their cars for a gift and to wave,” Farka said. “I’ll announce each grad over loudspeaker and possibly FM broadcast. They will then drive away and we’ll repeat for the next one.”

Amy DuFrene, the Christian Formation pastor at Oak Heights Covenant in Hutchinson, MN, is also utilizing the church parking lot to gather.

“We are going to do a drive-in/drive-by tailgate type graduation Sunday,” she explained. “We’ll have each graduate decorate their car, hand out cake from the kitchen and have families drive to each station.”

Smaller groups allow for a different kind of celebration.

“With four students we will have them show up for Friday night worship taping. And, with safe distancing under 10, present our fun/crazy gift baskets and this year’s grad parade pictures,” explained Pastor Craig Johnson of Mahtowa Covenant. “We are trying to go the extra mile this year with our amazing seniors.”

Some ministries are creating videos featuring the seniors. Nathan Nelson, Associate Pastor of Youth at Mission Covenant in Poplar, WI, created a senior slideshow as part of their Sunday worship service. He included a bio of each student and a flier for everyone to have.

Matt Christiansen, the Youth Director at New London Covenant Church, is combining video with a small, live gathering.

“I recorded Zoom interviews with our seniors and am having a student compile them into a video that we’ll put up on our church website and social media for the church family to see,” he said. “It’s taking the place of them getting up in front of church and sharing their future plans. And we’ll have a small in-person Senior Night around a fire with affirmations pre-submitted by underclassmen.”

Alicia Vela Anderson, Pastor of Youth and Young Adults at Roseville Covenant, adds a personal touch to the celebration.

“Every year I buy books for the graduating seniors based off where they are at spiritually, and I present them and interview them in a service,” she said. “So, this year I’m delivering their books along with letters from their leaders/Sunday School teachers and we’ll record a Zoom call to add to our Sunday Worship service.”

Whether you are graduating from high school, or perhaps college or graduate school, or maybe eighth grade or kindergarten, the Northwest Conference staff celebrates this rite of passage with you and prays for God’s blessing on your future.

“Semper Gumby, Always Flexible.” It’s an old phrase used by youth pastors and Marines alike. It’s based on the rubbery, super-bendable, green claymation character from the ’60s. The flexibility that Gumby was famous for is a necessity in youth ministry. In youth ministry, youth workers know that circumstances change quickly and that they must be nimble and agile with their ministry plans. Never has that been truer than now.

In a few short weeks, youth ministry leaders have had to figure out how to go from leading in person to leading from a distance. While the methods might have changed, the basic premise is still the same—connecting relationally with students and their families and helping them pursue their relationship with Jesus.

In the Northwest Conference, our youth ministry leaders have been incredibly creative as they’ve flexed to minister in these changing times. Some approaches are high tech, while others are low tech. Some meet weekly in groups while others are meeting one-on-one. It all depends on what their context, and their students, need. Here are some examples of how our people are reaching students:

Joey King (Crossroads Church campuses – Woodbury, MN) and his team are doing a full service with teaching and worship on YouTube and then doing Zoom small groups. They are also doing daily devos through Instagram live to help get students engaged in scripture daily.

David Strelow (Lewis Lake Covenant, Ogilvie, MN) is doing a daily verse that he texts students and then it’s open to discussion.

Jake King (Braham Covenant, Braham, MN) is utilizing Instagram posts, a daily verse with discussion and one-on-one texts. He suggests using the “Remind” app for texting because it allows for more than 20 people in a conversation.

Alicia Vela Anderson (Roseville Covenant, Roseville, MN) is trying Zoom youth group this Wednesday with worship, a talk and small groups. They’re also creating a youth directory to connect students and leaders. She suggests trying the Marco Polo app for the high school group to stay connected. Sunday School and confirmation will both be held online.

Her insight during this season, “I’m trying to find a balance between resourcing them and not over programming. I want to try and find a way to do a few things really well with high engagement rather than over saturating our students.”

Michele Thompson Arndt, church planter at The Crossing Covenant Church, Houlton, WI, is hosting a Tuesday Talk Show for their students. This week, she posed the following questions: a) What has been the hardest for you personally about the past 2 weeks? b) What are you learning? c) What questions are you asking about Jesus/your faith as a result?

Mikey Bechtold (First Covenant Church, Red Wing, MN) is providing several different touchpoints: Wednesdays evening he’ll be sending out a link to a pre-recorded youth lesson with some reflection questions. Thursdays he’s sending out a pre-recorded confirmation lesson with some sort of online form for students to reflect on what they learned. Fridays he’s sending out a link to a pre-recorded Zoom call with a student he interviewed to share their faith story and talk about how they are navigating this season of life.

He’s hoping to coordinate a few projects like a team of students to write cards to those in our congregation who are shut-ins, widowed, or live alone. He’s also planning on starting a young adult Zoom gathering on Friday or Sunday night.

Neil Vance (First Covenant Church, River Falls, WI) is doing a youth group Zoom call during youth group time Wednesday nights to do games, a short lesson and small groups. They also started a Bible study plan on the YouVersion app where students can leave comments and do a Zoom study Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays to discuss the readings.

Neil added, “I’m also reaching out to students individually over text/phone calls to check in. More to come I’m sure, but that is where we are started now.”

Geo Linna (Riverwood Covenant, Greenfield, MN) is meeting via Live YouTube Wednesday evenings and using the comment section to interact with students. They are encouraging whole families to watch, not just students. On Sunday nights, they host their Zoom high school Bible study. She’s also connecting with parents through weekly parent e-mails with links to things like Spotify and YouTube worship playlists, games and other things to engage the family.

In her words, “I feel like it’s a great time to help the families get faith in the home.”

Rocky Hovda (First Covenant Church, Willmar, MN) began making YouTube videos last week. He said, “Monday and Friday are called DISC: Dive Into Scripture Challenge and are short tools used to give you a verse to memorize and a short story on it. Wednesday night I have one called revolution2020 which is a full lesson and some discussion questions that hopefully either parents will do with their student or my leaders follow up with. Sundays is a scripture reading video to get kids in the word and then a batch of discussion questions and a game. We also have many kids and leaders engaging on Houseparty! I purposefully put the launch times of Wednesday night and Sunday mornings there to keep some regularity in their schedule if they chose to do so!”

Layne Johnson (Moose Lake Covenant, Moose Lake, MN) met via Zoom with their senior high youth. He shared, “We just talked about our week and shared prayer requests. Now with a better idea going forward we’ll have a lesson time and small groups if enough teens are able to join us.”

Eric Kuehner (HOPE Church, Grand Forks, ND) said, “We’re doing a lot of similar things that other groups are doing at HOPE Church. We have a prerecorded service that premieres at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday nights with worship and a short message. From there our leaders are engaging their small group students and having their small group sessions after the service—whichever platform works best for their group. We do a Survival Kit giveaway during service and deliver it the next day. We have a daily SOAP devo (SOAP stands for Scripture, Observe, Application, Prayer) on our Facebook and Instagram page.”

Sarah Holt (Bemidji Covenant, Bemidji, MN) has students giving daily devotionals on Instagram. Their youth ministry is a recorded teaching video and then small groups meet in Zoom for an hour. In addition, she’s making personal phone calls to small group leaders and coaches, and they in turn are calling parents. Confirmation is meeting via Zoom.

She stated, “We’ll add more later, but for now keeping them in their normal rhythms has been good.”

This is just a small glimpse at how youth ministry in the NWC has quickly and nimbly changed in just over a week. Please pray for our youth ministry leaders as they figure out how to do Semper Gumby ministry in rapidly changing circumstances

10 questions in 10 minutes with Sara Sosa from Plymouth Covenant on how they’ve adapted their ministry to strengthen connections with the home by intentionally partnering with parents.

10 questions in 10 minutes with Sanctuary Covenant’s ministry leaders Rose Lee-Norman and Tara Hollingsworth on how they’ve focused on intergenerational ministry in their context.

Imagine 614 middle schoolers learning about what it means to be unleashed for Jesus. That was the theme of this year’s MUUUCE (the Most Unbelievable, Ultimate, Urban Camping Experience). From Aug. 1-3, 614 students and youth leaders from 40 Northwest Conference Covenant churches gathered at Crossroads Church in Woodbury for this awesome middle school event.

The three days included a massive Welcome Party with inflatable games and food trucks, a trip to the Big Thrill Factory and Valley Fair, lots of pizza and Chick-fil-A, as well as worship, teaching and small group discussions that are designed specifically for them.

During the worship sessions, Karl Romeus, the student pastor at Bayside Church in Sacramento, CA, confronted students to think about what it means to be unleashed for Christ as young adolescents. They leaned in to hear his stories and his challenges. The Crossroads worship team created a powerful worship experience designed to help middle schoolers connect with God.

Chad Melton, pastor of middle school ministry at Alexandria Covenant said that a highlight for him was witnessing God soften a student’s heart.

“That this student encountered Jesus after a year of praying for that breakthrough… it’s beyond words,” Melton said.

MUUUCE is led by a team of a few paid but mostly volunteer leaders at Crossroads and a few other Covenant churches. This team meets all year to create and implement this crucial large-scale event for our Conference. They work hard to keep the cost affordable and still give students a memorable experience.

As you can imagine, feeding that many teenagers gets expensive. With that in mind, one of the 210 Crossroads attenders who volunteered for MUUUCE is Wendy Rhein. She spearheaded an effort to get local businesses to contribute to help defray the cost. For example, Chick-fil-A in West St. Paul donated chips and gave a huge discount on sandwiches and delivered them free of charge. Kwik Trip in Woodbury donated 120 pounds of bananas as well as pop. Dairy Queen in Woodbury gave MUUUCE a huge discount on Dilly Bars. Green Mill in Maplewood gave a discount on burritos and pizzas, and Cub Foods in Cottage Grove cut their price on donuts, watermelons and carrots for MUUUCE.

In a world that thinks middle schoolers are too young to think about the things of God, too squirrely to make a decision to follow Christ, too immature to handle spiritual questions, MUUUCE is a rare event that is designed to help these students understand that they are deeply loved by God, and that church is a place where you can have fun.

Rachel Lassen, the youth pastor at Hope St. Cloud, summed these amazing three days up well: “What was especially meaningful for our crew was that many of our students got to conquer ‘firsts’ together … first time on a rollercoaster, first time hearing the good news, first big-time retreat and first major encounter with God.”

Twelve high school students were chosen to participate in this year’s Adventures in Leadership [AIL] from June 15-22. AIL is an intense week of leadership development at Adventurous Christians on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

Students spend the first part of the week at AC learning crucial camping skills as well as what it means to be a leader who follows Christ. They spend time exploring how they’re wired to lead and what it means to be a servant leader, then put that knowledge into action out on the trail in the Boundary Waters.

Throughout the week, they are leading and reflecting on their experience with guides and their peers. For example, Jasmine from Brookdale Covenant, wrote in her reflection, “I learned that there are different kinds of leaders and you don’t have to try and be like everyone else. I also learned about my own strengths and weaknesses.”

Christian from the Covenant Church in Bemidji offered this perspective: “I like how AIL not only teaches us about leadership but lets us put what we learn into practice.”

This year students had a front-row experience of observing leadership in the midst of a crisis. They had just arrived back at camp from their trip and were cleaning their gear when a fire broke out in the AC sauna. They watched as the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department swarmed in from the surrounding area to deal with the fire and kept it to just a loss of the building and nothing more.

Jon Kramka, NWC Director of Congregational Vitality, observed, “It could have been so much worse, and I was so proud of how our AIL students responded during this crisis. This brought the ‘adventure’ element of this years’ experience to a whole new level.”

As a follow-up to the AIL experience, there is a leadership challenge extended to student’s home church: partner with the student to make sure they are growing in their leadership abilities over the next year. Each student’s home church receives an evaluation of the student’s experience from the AIL staff, as well as ways for the church to engage each student further in leadership learning and experiences. They are also given support materials to assist them with this process.

Precious, an AIL student from Community Covenant, summed it up well, saying, “AIL went beyond my expectations because it really mapped out what it means to be a leader.”

Applications for next year’s Adventures in Leadership will be available in early February 2020.

“True evangelical faith cannot lie dormant. It clothes the naked, it feeds the hungry, it comforts the sorrowful, it shelters the destitute, it serves those that harm it, it binds up that which is wounded, it has become all things to all people.”

These words were written in 1539 by Menno Simons, the founder of the Mennonite movement. They could’ve easily been written in April 2019.

April 5 and 6 to be exact. Over those two days, 132 high school students and their leaders from 17 NWC churches gathered at Hope Covenant Church in St. Cloud to focus on living out Jesus’ words in Matthew 22:37-39, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’(NIV). No excuses.

MOVE is like other high school retreats in that there’s worship. Lawrence Miles and his band did an amazing job of leading the students. And there’s teaching. Stephanie O’Brien challenged MOVE participants to wrestle with their excuses and to get creative in living out Jesus’ commands.There’s sleeping on church floors. Hope Covenant was an incredible host. And there’s lots of pizza and donuts. HUGE donuts. Donuts the size of pies.

What makes MOVE different is that it’s focused on putting faith into action. Right here. Right now.

Early Saturday morning, students and leaders put their faith into action by spreading throughout St. Cloud and serving with ministries and organizations that are addressing tough issues and situations in their communities. Groups assisted newly arrived refugees to the United States, learned about those who are being forced into sex trafficking, and heard stories about the needs of those who are in the foster care system. They walked the neighborhood and learned about those who call St. Cloud State home. They picked up trash and cleaned up boulevards.

What also makes MOVE different is that it’s focused on putting faith into action in the future. At home—in students’ own towns and cities and suburbs.

Saturday afternoon, students investigated their own community’s issues and then brainstormed solutions, ala Shark Tank. After presenting their ideas to the Shark Tank judges (Stephanie Williams O’Brien – pastor and author, Kirsten Wagenius – InterVarsity staff at St. Cloud State, and Josh Svendsen – K-YES Radio), First Covenant River Falls was awarded the Judges’ Choice Grant. They received $250 to implement their idea of creating tied fleece blankets to bring comfort to those in the mental health system in the River Falls area.

Hope Covenant (St. Cloud) won the People’s Choice Grant of $100 for their idea of raising concern about sex trafficking in St. Cloud. The last time MOVE did Shark Tank, Bemidji Covenant received the Judges’ Choice Grant and started a color run to bring awareness to addiction issues in their community. That color run is still going on to this day.

MOVE is a unique retreat. It’s filled with eye-opening experiences, hard and dirty work, challenging topics and uncomfortable lodging. It’s not for every student. But for those who come, they walk away with a clear sense of Menno Simmons exhortation, “True evangelical faith cannot lie dormant.”

Can we talk about background checks? It’s 2018, and we’re officially past the point of making excuses for why churches would not do proper screening on their volunteers. Claiming “we all know each other” doesn’t cut it anymore.

Parents expect adults who work with their children to be trained and screened, and the safety of our kids demands it. Background checks are an important step to weed out obvious predators and are one part of a robust screening process.

This, along with abuse prevention training and careful oversight, are the critical steps that contribute toward a comprehensive safety system for our kids and vulnerable populations.

On Nov. 8, the Northwest Conference, along with Covenant camps in MN, offered a one-day Ministry Safe training on abuse prevention. Over 200 people learned about the sobering reality of child abuse and were equipped with the tools needed to implement a safety system in their ministries.

If your church already has a safety system in place, great. If you’d like to know about how to get started, please contact the Conference office.

Finally, know that the vast majority of adults desire children to be healthy and safe. Unfortunately, our culture believes churches are willing to sweep abuse accusations under the rug. Let’s change the narrative and let the Church lead the way in making sure the next generations can hear the good news of Jesus in a loving and safe environment.

How many pizzas do you need to feed 644 middle schoolers and their leaders? One hundred sixty, which were devoured in less than five minutes. It also takes 689 Chick-fil-A sandwiches, 4,320 bottles of water, 32 watermelons and 180 volunteers.

From Aug. 2-4, middle school students and leaders from 43 NWC churches gathered at Crossroads Church in Woodbury for MUUUCE: the Most Unbelievable, Ultimate, Urban Camping Experience. MUUUCE has been going on not just for years, but for decades. For a few days, middle schoolers learn more about Jesus at an event that’s designed specifically for them.

On Thursday afternoon, students unpacked their gear in one of two huge school gyms  where they would camp for the next few days (there was no air conditioning, hence the “camping” part of the event). They then headed out to a massive field where they were greeted by a Welcome Party that was a middle schooler’s dream. It included lots of giant inflatable games, hair painting, a huge video game where students were actively part of the on-screen action, mini-donuts, ice cream bars, Mountain Dew, tacos, sno-cones and popcorn.

After the worship session that evening, students headed to the Big Thrill Factory where they could ride go karts, climb high ropes, spend time in the arcade, jump on trampolines or let loose with laser tag.

Friday morning kicked off with another great worship session featuring Leonard Davis from Young Life in Kansas City talking about the theme, “Trusting Jesus.” Worship was led by James Howard and the worship team from Crossroads. That afternoon, everyone loaded on the bus and headed to Valley Fair. The day finished up with another worship gathering and then the final service took place Saturday morning before they headed home.

Sydney Zenk was a student at MUUUCE just a few years ago. Now, she was participating for the first time as a leader with Countryside Covenant. She reflected, “Coming here [as a student] was my first big step into the faith. It’s cool to be able to come back and help other kids take that first, second or third step in their faith.”

MUUUCE is led by a team of a few paid but mostly volunteer leaders at Crossroads and a few other Covenant churches. Tim Stanley, pastor of the Crossroads Hastings Campus was the MUUUCE director and Sandra Florin and her team provided the creative and administrative backbone to the event.

Luke Korthuis (Salem Covenant, New Brighton, MN) and Alica Vela (Roseville Covenant) were active on the leadership team as well. This group meets all year to design an event that will help middle schoolers understand that they are deeply loved by God and that church is a place where you can have fun.

CHIC 2018 was an amazing week full of powerful preaching, incredible worship, unbelievable concerts, great teaching and a whole lot of fun! With 1,105 students and leaders from 69 of our churches, the Northwest Conference was the largest group at CHIC.

During morning Basecamps (experiential education sessions), students had a chance to interact with four of the priorities of the Covenant: make and deepen disciples, serve globally, develop leaders, and love justice and do mercy. In the afternoons, participants had a chance to head off campus on excursions like white water rafting, horseback riding and exploring caves. Some stayed on campus where they could swim or hang out at the Nest where they had crafts, conversations, and a chance to connect with others in the denomination.

The evenings were marked by powerful gatherings called “MainStage,” at the University of Tennessee’s basketball arena. Five thousand people worshiped together, led by the CHIC band. They heard from world-class speakers like Megan Fate Marshman and Eugene Cho. Included in the evening sessions were artists like For King and Country and Andy Mineo. On Tuesday night, students and leaders alike participated in communion. Those who were sensing a call to ministry or missions had the chance to be anointed with oil.

The Northwest Conference had leaders woven throughout CHIC. They put in long hours serving on the Counseling, Excursion, Security, Production and the Prayer teams. Yet others served the NWC participants as Resident Supervisors and Dorm Pastors.

There’s a post-CHIC curriculum available for the whole church to use. This all-church initiative rallies around the “I Am” statements used during MainStage at CHIC. It is written by several Covenant pastors and leaders and the hope is that the momentum of #CHIC2018 can carry over in to your entire congregation.

Again this summer, like over the past 30+ years, the Northwest Conference made an investment in a select group of emerging high school leaders through our Adventures In Leadership (AIL) camp. Like with the example of the Apostle Paul affirming young Timothy for his leadership calling and gifts, and then pouring further knowledge and insight into Timothy as he grew as a leader, AIL continues to do so with our students each year.

AIL is an intentional partnership between the Northwest Conference and Adventurous Christians. It is an eight day experiential learning adventure in Christian leadership with a defining tagline of: “Servanthood is the beginning and end of Christian leadership!”

The experience is framed in three sections. The first two-and-a-half days provide a base camp training environment to sharpen both Christian leadership insights and potentials for each student, along with providing each student the necessary base skills to negotiate a wilderness canoeing/camping adventure.

The next four days are dedicated to a student-led canoe trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of northern Minnesota. In essence, the canoe trip becomes the learning laboratory whereby each student provides leadership for their group during a portion of the trip, and in the process practices, tests and evaluates what they have been learning about leadership. Following their time as group leader each student is then provided feedback from the group on their leadership as a source for their continued growth and learning.

So in summary, over the first seven days students experience:

  1. Exploration/practice of the spiritual disciplines; taking a personality inventory; participating in group leadership simulations; investigating biblical leadership models of the shepherd and the servant; engaging in acclimatization, navigation and orienteering activities, and giving & receiving feedback for the purposes of personal/group growth & learning.
  2. Serving as the group leader for ½ of a day on their canoe trip.
  3. Discover and develop positive team dynamics where each person’s gifts and abilities are uniquely supported, utilized and valued by the group.

The final 24 hours of AIL is dedicated to debriefing and processing the experience and pondering what God may be preparing each student for in the coming weeks/months as leaders. In addition, as the students return home we encourage their church to take an active role in building upon AIL and walking alongside their student over the next year as they assume new or greater leadership roles within their church, school or community at large.

Following are a few brief reflections offered by some of our students this year:

  • “The whole thing was one of the greatest things I have ever been a part of.” – E.
  • “This experience helped me grow in so many ways and go deep.” – A.
  • “This was amazing! I didn’t think it would impact me this much. I learned that I can be a strong leader.” – M.
  • “I will never forget AIL.” – A.
  • “I went into this not really knowing what to expect. I learned and grew so much!” – O.
  • “AIL has changed me forever and I have built life-long friendships.” – B.
  • “I was super scared going into it, and it turned out to really be a life-changing experience.” – T.

We praise God for His continued hand of blessing upon this unique journey that we have taken with student leaders over all these years. And we look forward to our next leadership adventure with students in 2019.

In its fifth year, Go:Serve was held Thursday, June 21, in partnership with the ECC Annual Meeting, called Gather. Sixty+ participants, ages 5 and up, met at Sanctuary Covenant Church in North Minneapolis, for a crash course on culture and ministry in the Twin Cities.

From there, participants loaded onto a bright yellow coach bus (courtesy of Richfield Bus, who transports our high schoolers to CHIC) for a short ride to South Minneapolis, where we learned about Bethlehem Covenant Church’s partnership with Ace in the City. Launched in one of the most diverse neighborhoods on the planet, Ace in the City builds community through relationships. Go:Serve participants learned about their ministry, then helped create backpack tags for children who will benefit from Ace’s back-to-school backpack drive, held later in the summer.

From Bethlehem, participants walked four blocks down the road to observe and to pray for Minnehaha Academy, a PreK-12 school that is a ministry of the Northwest Conference. Minnehaha’s Upper School was devastated by an explosion last summer that destroyed much of the building, injured many, and two employees lost their lives. You can read more about Minnehaha here:

After the prayer walk, participants hopped back on the bus to head to Hmong Village for lunch. Hmong Village is the largest Hmong-owned and operated indoor shopping mall/market in the cities, and possibly the world. Participants enjoyed a variety of foods, including pho, tri-color drink (nab vam), stuffed chicken wings, papaya salad, Hmong sausage and purple sticky rice.

With full bellies and many stories to tell, participants rode the bus 5 minutes down the road to First Covenant Church in St. Paul to learn about the refugee experience in Minnesota, hosted by Arrive Ministries. In the midst of a difficult time in our country, Arrive is committed to providing top-notch resettlement services and compassionate care for displaced refugees, immigrants and asylees who now call Minnesota home. We were grateful for the chance to dialogue about practical ways to partner with those who are trying to build a new life for themselves and their children after fleeing difficult circumstances.

Overall, it was a good day! Children and adults left with much to ponder about how Christians can engage with the world around them, starting with learning about the needs of others, and then dreaming about how to serve those in our communities in Jesus’ name. Maybe your church could envision hosting a Go:Serve-type event in your community?

While many are still scratching their heads over what to do with Millennials, Generation Z (kids born between 1997-2015) have snuck up on us and now represent nearly 25 percent of the population. This unique generation invites the Church to pay attention so that effective ministry can take place.

When the Millennials came of age, we made the shift from digital immigrants to digital natives. The next generation, GenZ, had a digital footprint from before they were born, thanks to parents posting their sonograms on Facebook.

Whereas generations before GenZ had most of their friendships located in their communities with maybe one or two long-distance pen pals, these digital natives were born into global citizenship. It’s a generation that can have more in common with kids their age around the globe than they do with adults in their own country.

Global citizens

Being a global citizen makes young people more aware of the scale of problems around us. Terrorism, war and climate change rank high as legitimate fears for our kids.

Thankfully, young people deeply desire to be part of the solution. According to a survey by the Brookings Institute, “Two-thirds said they crave the opportunity to make a ‘contribution to society beyond themselves and their family.’”

Setting politics aside, you can’t help but be amazed at the ability of young people to organize a national movement to advocate for reform with our nation’s gun laws after the Parkland, FL, shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. This generation sees themselves as leaders, able to organize a national movement through social media. Having been tech-savvy since their nursery days, they are already experienced in knowing how to get a message out in a way that attracts others’ attention.

Previous generations of teenagers have advocated for change, whether here in the U.S. with the Greensboro sit-ins in the 1960s, in South Africa with the anti-apartheid movement, or via the pro-democracy protest in Tiananmen Square, Beijing. The difference is that this current generation knows how to organize more quickly and more broadly than ever before.

What can we do?

It’s urgent that the Church learn how to engage this generation that is globally connected and yearning to make a difference. Here are some ideas:

1. Give children and young people an opportunity to engage in compassion, mercy and justice-minded issues.

Show them the Church cares about things that matter to them and to the world. Teach and model biblical justice, not in a way that only caves to the pressures of society, but in a way that keeps the incarnate Christ who walked this earth at the center of all we do.

2. Invest in children and youth ministries.

We know families are busy and don’t prioritize church. So, take the Church to families. Partner with local schools and community centers, send your kids to CHIC and Go:Serve so they can hear God’s invitation to mission and can connect with other like-minded young people.

3. Engage the home.

Eighty-nine percent of young people still say parents are the greatest source of influence when it comes to values. Equip parents and grandparents, fight for healthy marriages, and advocate for robust intergenerational mentoring so that older generations can love and mentor and learn from the young ones.

Generation Z is our future. They are also our present. The Church needs to take this generation seriously. Believe in them, teach them well, and equip them to bring Christ to the world in both word and deed.


Top Ten Reasons to Ride the NWC CHIC Bus

  1. You get to play endless rounds of Bloody Knuckles without having to pay attention to the GPS.
  2. That one kid who drinks 12 cans of Mountain Dew? There’s a bathroom on the bus.
  3. You don’t have to worry about an exhausted leader falling asleep behind the wheel. Seriously important.
  4. There’s a spare bus that rides with the caravan in case something happens (vs. being stuck in the middle of a cornfield with that broken-down beast of a church van).
  5. Flight from MSP to Knoxville: $400. Bus trip: $230. Haven’t you done enough fund-raising?
  6. The volunteer with the smelly feet? You can move to another part of the bus.
  7. Every bus rider gets a highly collectable T-shirt, included in the price!
  8. You don’t have to worry about herding cats, … er… kids, through the airport, and wonder if that one kid will start joking with TSA.
  9. No need to worry about getting extra insurance for the church van to cover the volunteer drivers or buying new tires to make sure you make it to Knoxville and back.
  10. You get a chance to hang out with other youth workers from all over the Northwest Conference!


$230 per person (students and adults)

Cost includes transportation to and from the University of Tennessee in an air-conditioned coach bus. Individuals will be responsible for the cost of meals (2-3 fast food meals each way plus snacks) during the trip. There is not a reduced transportation cost option for one-way riders.


  • March 1 – Registration form and $100 per person non-refundable deposit due
  • June 1 – Final payment due ($130 balance per person)

Please note: CHIC and Northwest Conference payment deadlines are different. The NWC has extended our deadlines to accommodate and encourage your fundraising efforts.


Download and fill out the PDF registration form, with names of students and adults riding the bus. Be sure to indicate which bus stop you are requesting. Send one church check payable to the Northwest Conference for the transferrable, but non-refundable, deposit due for all the students and adults in your group by March 1. Changes (additions or substitutions) can be made by e-mailing the NWC office (

For more information, including registration forms, scholarships and tentative bus stops, go to:

Ginny Olson, Northwest Conference Director of Youth Ministry, was presented with the first Rev. Dr. Gary Downing Leadership Award by Youth Leadership (YL) at its 50th Anniversary dinner on Thursday, Oct. 5.

Olson is currently serving as the interim director of Youth Specialties as well. She’s been involved in youth ministry for several decades on a variety of levels: youth pastor, professor, speaker, consultant and writer.

She taught in the North Park University Youth Ministry Department from 1995 to 2011, and was co-director and assistant professor at the NPU and North Park Theological Seminary Center for Youth Ministry Studies from 2001 to 2011.

Olson said the award was extra special to her because it is named in honor of a Covenant colleague who taught her first youth ministry class, adolescent counseling.

Downing had been pursuing a nuclear physics degree at the U.S. Naval Academy, but while driving a bus of high school students to a Young Life camp, he suddenly developed a desire to go into youth ministry.

He went on to work for Young Life and then served as pastor at several churches, including two Covenant congregations in Minnesota—Faith Covenant Church in Burnsville and Rochester Covenant Church.

The award was presented by longtime friend and mentor Tiger McLuen. Downing’s widow, Kathy Downing and their children participated in the presentation as well.

The event also celebrated McLuen, who recently retired as YL Executive Director, and Eric Iverson, the new Executive Director.

By Stan Friedman | This article originally appeared in the Covenant Newswire and is reused with permission.

The Most Unbelievable, Ultimate, Urban Camping Experience is the Northwest Conference’s annual middle school summer blow out. From Aug. 3-5, 625 middle school students and their leaders from 42 Covenant churches gathered at Crossroads Church in Woodbury, MN, for fun, worship, middle-school-focused teaching and small group discussions.

When students arrived on Thursday afternoon, they were greeted by a massive Welcome Party that was a middle schooler’s dream. It included lots of giant inflatable games, a GAGA ball pit, hair painting, mini-donuts, sno-cones and popcorn. After the worship session that evening, students headed to the Big Thrill Factory where they could ride go karts, climb high ropes, spend time in the arcade, jump on trampolines or let loose with laser tag.

Friday morning kicked off with another great worship session featuring Ben Kerns talking about the theme, “Jesus Is.” Ben is a long-time Covenant youth pastor from Marin, CA. He’s a speaker, author and blogger at Worship was led by James Howard and the worship team from Crossroads. That afternoon, after downing 152 pizzas, the students loaded on the bus and headed to Valley Fair. The day finished up with another worship gathering where the students raised $1,882 for Covenant Kids Congo. A final service took place Saturday morning before they headed home.

Lauren from River Falls observed about the three days, “It’s fun and exciting. You get to connect with people and learn about Jesus.”

Hannah from Vista Covenant Church, said, “My favorite part was the church. The music was powerful. I learned that God loves us just the way we are.”

One middle schooler exclaimed, “I haven’t been on my phone all day!” And another mused, “You don’t sleep; you eat.”

Phil Tolbert, Director of Children, Youth and Family Ministry at Dawson Covenant Church, said, “It’s a great experience for our middle school kids to break away from their normal lives and to meet God where they’re at.”

Anna Cornell, Pastor of Student & Family Ministries at Bloomington Covenant, remarked, “This is the first time our kids have been part of a larger church experience. It’s like a mini-CHIC. They get to experience the Covenant as a whole.”

MUUUCE is led by a team of paid and volunteer leaders at Crossroads Church. This group meets all year to design an event that will help middle schoolers understand that they are deeply loved by God, and that church is a place where you can have fun. The Crossroads team again did a fantastic job designing and hosting the event, with a team of 198 volunteers working different shifts to make it run seamlessly.

Thirty-one families from 16 different churches converged on Redeemer Covenant Church in Brooklyn Park, MN, on June 28 for NWC Family Go:Serve, a day of service and experiential learning for families.

This is the fourth year for Go:Serve, an event designed for families with children in PreK-upper elementary school. The day was an opportunity for families to learn and grow together in a family-friendly, yet stretching environment suitable for younger children.

The event kicked off with activities for kids, including a prayer wall and a binocular-making craft as a visual reminder to be careful observers of the world around us. After worship, Covenant missionary Sue Peterson led the kids in an activity where attendees learned about sharing the love of Christ with others as the paralytic’s friends did when they brought him to Jesus on a mat. Sue reminded kids that God calls people at all ages to serve God as missionaries—whether overseas or in our own communities.

Kids were given an official Go:Serve passport to carry with them throughout the day and received a sticker in their passport after completing each ministry project. Kids were also in charge of the family debriefing throughout the day, using the questions provided in their passport books.

Families participated in three ministry projects—assembling birthday bags for homeless kids, creating joke-themed care packages for staff at our five Northwest Conference camps, and creating encouraging and hopeful placemats for kids at the children’s hospital. The planned free community-based car wash was rained out, but families rallied around the indoor projects. Kids expressed interest in learning about the different ministries, and participating in these projects showed that even young kids can make a difference.

Volunteers from Linwood Covenant Church donated the supplies to assemble the birthday bags. Each child received a homemade, reusable bag, a few small toys and a boxed cake mix with frosting so they could celebrate their birthday with a small party.

After a delicious taco lunch, families got in their vehicles and drove down the street to Dragon Star Foods, where they each had $5 to spend on dessert. Families purchased all kinds of interesting candy and food, and experienced new cultures, foods and smells. One participant shared that the supermarket was the most stretching experience of the day.

Another parent summarized the most meaningful part of the day this way: “Seeing children find joy in serving Jesus by caring for others,” while others appreciated that the event “exposed needs of people in our communities.” All enjoyed being able to serve alongside kids and families from other Covenant churches.

Families gathered back at Redeemer Covenant for a chance to share highlights and stories from the day. Kids and families were sent out with a blessing to go and look for ways to serve their communities back home. We hope families from your church can join us for Go:Serve next year, or dream about hosting a similar event in your own community!

On Friday, March 31, 185 students and youth workers from throughout the Northwest Conference converged on Minnehaha Academy’s south campus in Minneapolis for MOVE 2017—a 2-day experience of teaching, worship, service and experiential learning.

This year’s theme was “Illuminate,” focusing on God’s calling for His people to be bold in sharing the light of Christ through what they are doing and who they are. During MOVE, students had the opportunity to seek out what it means to illuminate the world around them through service and learning experiences.

The weekend started with a special concert from TRU-SERVA, a Twin Cities based hip-hop artist who uses music as a way to preach the gospel and encourage positive change.

“The walls of the church need to fall down,” says TRU, “and people need to get out of their seats and go out.”

The evening continued with a worship service that featured the Covenant Worship Team. This multi-generational, multi-ethnic group is made up of members of New Covenant and Bethlehem Covenant churches in Minneapolis, and Maple Grove Covenant Church in Maple Grove, MN. Between the three churches, they have people from the USA, Mexico and 14 other Latin American countries.

“I really felt a connection to God through worship this weekend!” said one student, who was deeply impacted by the genuine and passionate worship experience brought by the team this year.

Edrin Williams, Pastor of Equipping and Formation at Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis, delivered a message on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon. He spent the weekend challenging students to “Light it Up” for the Lord. Using Matthew 5:14-16, as a scripture reference, Williams encouraged students to not be held back by the things in their lives that trip them up, but rather to change the world with their light.

After the message on Friday, churches were given time to talk and pray as a group and prepare themselves for the following day of service and learning experiences. Before the night ended, all of the churches joined in Minnehaha’s hockey arena (sans ice) playing games like Nine Square and Gaga Ball, taking pictures in the photo booth, and enjoying late night Taco Bell tacos and burritos.

On Saturday morning, youth groups spread out across the Twin Cities to serve at 11 different organizations. They played with children at a domestic abuse shelter, sorted donations at a thrift store, painted rooms at a respite care facility, and helped with spring cleaning at several churches. Each of these ministry sites is deeply grateful for the servant-hearted work that is put in by these students and leaders. The impact is long-lasting.

After a morning of service, students headed out to locations throughout the Twin Cities for an “Urban Plunge” challenge. Each person received one dollar for lunch, the objective being to allow students to experience a little of what it might be like to struggle with poverty. Students were faced with the reality of limited opportunities and resources as they sought to provide lunch for their group with the money they were given.

“It was so great for our students to walk the neighborhood and be engaged in the culture,” said Amy Dufrene, Youth Pastor at Oak Heights Covenant Church in Hutchinson, MN. “I will be doing this at other times throughout our year as well!”

Students also used this time to explore the neighborhood, tasked with being aware of who might be considered “invisible,” and what resources may be lacking or harder to access as a person who lives in poverty.

At the completion of the challenge, groups headed back to Minnehaha Academy for a time of worship and another powerful message from Williams.

“This event was awesome,” said Josh Hodgson of Community Covenant Church in Upsala, MN. “Our students definitely left thinking hard and being changed by their experiences!”

Of our 140+ Covenant churches in the Northwest Conference, less than 20 have staff devoted full-time to children’s ministry. Forty have part-time staff and nearly 90 of our Conferences churches have children’s ministries that are led by volunteers.

When your church is staffed at less than capacity, building a thriving ministry with children and families will require more intentionality, and a mentality that views leadership for children’s ministry as more than simply “covering the bases.”

Here are five things to consider with your volunteer-led children’s ministry.

1. Are expectations clear and appropriate?

We all like to know what we’re being asked to do. Even volunteers will benefit from having a job description. Those who work in children’s ministry are generally resourceful, passionate and dedicated to the task. Without clear and reasonable expectations, children’s ministry can become a hamster wheel of details that leads to burnout.

2. Are priorities clear?

In ministry, there will always be work that doesn’t get done. Make peace with the fact that your church won’t be able to offer all the programs of the church down the street. Discern what you will be about, and do that well.

3. Is there a clear chain of command?

To whom is the children’s ministry leader accountable? Is it clear how decisions are made, budget is managed, facilities are maintained, supplies and curriculum are determined, and what safety policies are implemented? Clearly articulating all of this up front helps to avoid the difficult situation of giving someone responsibility over something without authority to make it happen.

4. Does the ministry leader have a seat at the table?

In other words, who will advocate for this ministry area when broad leadership decisions are made? For example, a leadership team may decide to have multiple Christmas Eve services, then inform the children’s ministry team that childcare is needed. How would the conversation change if children’s ministry leaders were invited to give voice on the front end about how to creatively meet the needs of families during Advent?

5. What is the plan for training?

God has a long history of equipping those God calls, and children’s ministry is no exception. Intentional training and connections helps our volunteer leadership move from a place of “filling holes,” to strategic investment in the lives of kids and families. Help your volunteer leaders be successful by encouraging a learning mentality that allows your leaders to grow into the role to which God has called them.

Thank you to all of the children’s ministry leaders and volunteers for your work with kids and families. Praying along with you that your ministry impacts lives and kids, and families will know the love of God.

13882079_10153653645097204_5353902543341590100_nFrom Aug. 6-8, 605 middle schools students and their leaders from 45 churches gathered together for creative craziness, on-their-feet worship, formative teaching and incredible fun at Crossroads Church in Woodbury, MN. There were several NWC churches that have been coming all 30 years of MUUUCE (Most Unbelievable, Ultimate, Urban Camping Experience), dating back to the event’s creation at Faith Covenant Church in Burnsville by youth pastors Tony Deach and John Skelly.

This year, the speakers had all spoken at previous MUUUCEs: Cesar Castillejos (2015), Kara Stromberg (2011), and Erik Anderson and Eric Bemowski (2014). They focused their talks on the theme of Pixels: “When we come together, we make a beautiful picture.” The house band at Crossroads led worship that had this crowd on their feet. One youth leader choked up as she shared, “It’s amazing to see jr. highers freely raising their arms as they worship Jesus.”

A massive Welcome Party greeted students when they arrived. Giant inflatable games, a fair hair booth where students and leaders could get spray painted or crazy extensions put in, a gaga pit, spike ball, quad carts and a low-tech bean bag toss game greeted students, along with tons of middle school-approved snacks like sno-cones, mini doughnuts, popcorn, pizza as well as kiddie pools stocked with water and soda. That evening they had the choice to go to Grand Slam, Vertical Endeavors or Sky Zone. On Friday, attendees spent much of the day at Valley Fair. All together, they went through 1,100 hot dogs, 153 pizzas, 30 gallons of milk, 3,520 bottles of water, and 1,215 cans of pop.

13925846_10153656012407204_2638053599455610295_oIt takes a massive amount of volunteers to pull off an event of this size. Crossroads has a MUUUCE leadership team that meets for eight months to design an event with middle schoolers in mind: the messages, the worship, the games and the discussions are all geared towards helping middle schoolers realize they are loved by God, they’re important to the church, and that fun can be a big part of their faith journey.
Crossroad’s has over 200 volunteers who serve throughout the three days, many of whom take vacation time and have done so for years. It takes over 35 volunteers just to run the Welcome Party alone. Others arrive at Lake Middle School (where everyone slept in the gyms) at the crack of dawn to set up breakfast, while others work late into the night cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming and setting up for the next day. There was even a team of volunteers who created a “lounge” for when adult leaders needed a break and stocked it with homemade treats and strong coffee.

As one youth pastor put it: “It’s my favorite event of the year. It’s with our Covenant family, it’s super for building relationships with students and I don’t need plan any of it.”

Another one said: “It’s great for smaller churches that typically don’t have access to these kind of events or experiences. It’s a function that brings jr. highers together where they can be focused on God with a little fun mixed in.”

NWC-Event-GoServe-2016-600x350-2Twenty-six families from 13 different churches converged on First Covenant Church in St. Paul, MN, on May 7 for NWC Family Go: Serve, a day of service and experiential learning for families.

This is the third year for NWC Family Go: Serve, an event designed for families with children in PreK-upper elementary school. The day was an opportunity for families to learn and grow together in a family-friendly, yet stretching environment suitable for younger children.

One parent summarized the most meaningful part of the day this way: “Being able to expose my children to some of the brokenness of our world and what it means to help make those things right. I find meaning in seeing my children find joy in helping others in need. Loved the exposure to other cultures!”

The event kicked off with activities for kids, including puzzle piece prayers and a binocular-making craft to help remind us all to be careful observers of the world around us. We transitioned into worship led by a team from Crossroads Church in Woodbury, MN.

Pastor Touger Thao of Roots Covenant Church shared with the group how the Twin Cities became the home of the largest urban population of Hmong in America, due to refugees settling here after the Secret War in Laos. Attendees learned some Hmong words, and he helped the group get excited to sample Hmong food and culture at Hmong Village later in the day.

Kids were given an official Go:Serve passport to carry with them throughout the day, to be stamped at each ministry site. They were also in charge of the family debriefing in the car, using the questions provided in their passport books.

Families served at two ministry sites, both focusing on homelessness in the Twin Cities. Serving at the Union Gospel Mission and making sandwiches for the Sandwich Project showed that even families with young kids can make a difference. Allan Law came to pick up the sandwiches the groups had made and shared how he will take those same sandwiches out for delivery to homeless men and women that night. In addition, those who wanted to could make themselves a bologna and cheese sandwich so they could experience eating the same meal a homeless person would eat.

Union Gospel Mission in St. Paul invited families to decorate placemats with messages of hope for residents, then led attendees on a brief tour of UGM facilities. Families learned about the importance of donations—specifically nice work clothes people can wear as they gain job skills and interview for positions. Families were given coupons for a free meal that can be given to homeless people they meet out in the community.

“We loved being able to work as a family in a service capacity,” said a parent. “It was incredible to see our children’s faith come out in the form of Bible verses, ‘God Loves You,’ etc., on the placemats.”

At Hmong Village, the group was warmly greeted by the general manager before exploring this indoor mall that houses well over 200 vendors, including a full a farmers market, meeting rooms and many food vendors. Families tried egg rolls, noodles, boba tea, fried plantains and other delicious and curious treats. A few people were brave and ordered a whole fish!

Families gathered back at First Covenant for ice cream sandwiches and a chance to share highlights from the day. We hope families from your church can join us for Go: Serve next year, or dream about hosting a similar event in your own community!

NWC-News-2016-MOVE-600x350On April 15-16, 200 students and youth workers from throughout the Northwest Conference converged on Minnehaha Academy’s south campus in Minneapolis for MOVE 2016—a weekend of teaching, worship, service and experiential learning.

This 2016 theme of “Unsung” focused on the truth that God still uses the average person to do amazing things. With examples like kids in the Bible stepping out in faith to help feed over 5,000 people, or the ordinary people who risked their lives for their Christian faith, students were challenged to step out of their comfort zones and allow God to show them how to be “unsung” followers of Christ.

The weekend kicked off with a session that featured the returning Blue Oaks Covenant Church worship team, led by Nicoshia Wynn. This multi-generational group brought high-energy worship that had students on their feet.

“We loved them last year, and we loved having them here again this year!” said one student, who was deeply impacted by the passion, excitement and spirit-filled worship.

The evening continued with a message from Hector Saucedo, a dynamic speaker out of Norwalk, CA, who was featured at CHIC and works with Urban Ops Music. He spent the weekend challenging students to think about obstacles, options, opportunities and obedience.

“If out of obedience you can give God a little of what you have, God is going to do great things with it,” Saucedo said.

Messages throughout the weekend encouraged students to use their past, present and future to be a light for God and in their communities.

“God desires to do in your neighborhood what you allow Him to do in you,” Saucedo told students.

Friday night, churches were given time to talk and pray as a group and prepare themselves for the following day of service and learning experiences. Before the night ended, all of the churches joined in Minnehaha’s hockey arena (sans ice) playing games like Nine Square in the Air and eating late night pizza.

MOVE-2016-BuildingsOn Saturday morning, youth groups spread out across the Twin Cities to serve at 11 different organizations. They played with children at a domestic abuse shelter, sorted donations at a thrift store, made and served breakfast at North High School in Minneapolis, helped sell shoes for a food shelter ministry and cleaned several churches. Each of these ministry sites is deeply grateful for the servant-hearted work that was put in by these students and leaders—the impact is long lasting.

After a morning of service, students headed to the Boy Scout Base Camp at Fort Snelling to grab a quick lunch. Churches were then split into small groups and sent out on Light Rail trains for a community exploration tour addressing justice issues in the urban context.

Groups had a chance to travel through Minneapolis, making stops at places like Government Plaza Station, the new US Bank Stadium, the Cedar/Riverside neighborhood and Lake Street, to hear speakers talk about issues such as the Black Lives Matter movement, sex trafficking, immigration, Native American concerns and urban gentrification. Tour guides included Mike Hotz and Marque Jensen of Sanctuary Covenant, Amy Long of Redeemer Covenant, Bob Slandered of the Dakota Tribe, and Leya Copper of InterVarsity. Each guide offered a unique perspective on these major issues that surround the Twin Cities and beyond.

“I can’t think of a better way of engaging our Covenant students on issues of faith and justice than MOVE 2016,” said Hotz, who guided the session on Black Lives Matter. “It’s in struggling with complex issues like the ones we tackled that a vibrant and lasting faith is inspired!”

At the completion of the tour, groups headed back to Minnehaha Academy for a time of worship and another powerful message from Saucedo.

“It was awesome to see students come together through teamwork,” said Tyler Menssen, the new director of Solid Rock Discipleship Program at Lake Beauty Bible Camp. Solid Rock students participated as leaders and volunteers throughout the weekend. “This event was truly a chance to see the fulfillment of the mission of Christ carried out in our youth. It was an incredible weekend and we are thankful for the opportunity we had to be there.”

IMG_9135Some might say that “youth ministry” and a “youth lock-in” go hand in hand. For many youth, few things are more exciting than staying up all night with  their friends being loud, eating junk food and playing crazy games. For youth pastors like Zach Klein of Maywood Covenant Church in Foley, MN, it is a strategic and potentially hugely influential event that is not for the faint of heart.

In 2013, when Klein started at Maywood, he was told that part of his job would be to host a lock-in for the youth group at the church. Although around 25 kids showed up to the first lock-in, Klein knew that he needed to do something different in order to bring more kids to this event and allow for the lock-in to play a bigger purpose in the lives of the students in Foley.

The following year, he decided to ask another local youth pastor, Nick Benson of New Life Church of Foley, to join forces to create a new level of excitement for the lock-in. They used the local high school’s swimming pool for part of the evening and planned for 60 students to attend. That year, the lock-in brought 93 students. They knew something was changing and agreed to keep planning for bigger and better.

The 2015 lock-in was a spectacular event. They were given permission to use the local high school for the entire night, brought in a speaker, and amped up the level of games and activities. The final count was 167 kids

“The night went off without a hitch, and we were very excited with how God worked that night,” Klein said.

IMG_9416Students had a blast, and most importantly, they deepened their relationships with Jesus. There were even several first-time commitments that evening.

God was doing huge things and Klein and Benson were ready to continue trusting that greater impact was in the future.

That is why in 2016, when 256 students showed up, Klein and Benson were not surprised. They rented inflatables, played games and even had a special concert from John Chuck & The Class. Students from the Solid Rock Discipleship Program at Lake Beauty Bible Camp were recruited to help out for the night. As an incentive to bring friends, Klein promised to let kids give him a makeover—including hair dye, makeup and waxed legs! The evening also included a special worship band and a guest speaker, Phil Johnson from the Twin Cities, who gave an altar call to which many students responded.

“This event has really shown me that God can use anyone,” Klein said. “Even two mid-20s guys can do great things for His Glory.”

After three great years at Maywood, Klein recently accepted a new call and has just moved into the position of Youth Pastor at United Covenant Church in Clear Lake, WI.

MUUUCE-2015-Web-2Imagine 661 middle schools students and their leaders gathered together for three days of amazing worship, fantastic teaching and awesome fun. The energy, the passion, the laughter, (okay, and the smell) all melded together to make the 29th annual MUUUCE (Most Unbelievable, Ultimate, Urban Camping Experience) an incredible event. The team from Crossroads Church in Woodbury, MN, again did a fantastic job designing and hosting the event with a team of over 160 volunteers working different shifts to make it run seamlessly.

From the Welcome Party to worship, students knew they were at an event designed with them in mind. Whether it was giant inflatable games, a huge GaGa ball pit, color hair spray experts, mini-donuts and sno-cones, or Cesar Castillejos’ highly-visual teaching, students got the message that there is a God who cares for them. One student reflected, “You have a lot fun but you also learn about God.” Cesar (who also spoke at MOVE earlier this year) drove home the Amplify theme with this perspective, “Our true identity is the cross and that’s what we amplify—His work in us.”

MUUUCE provides a great opportunity for youth leaders and pastors to build relationships in their youth ministries and help their students connect with Christ. Youth pastor Mikey Bechtold (Crossview Covenant, North Mankato, MN) put it this way, “I love MUUUCE because it creates a space for middle schoolers to engage in faith and to build a close relationship as a group.”

Luther Brown (Lakeview Covenant, Duluth, MN) noted, “Kids are on fire and are finding their light in Christ.”

As one middle schooler put it after a full day of fun and worship, “This was the best day of my life!”

Roughly 1,300 attend from NWC

CHIC happened! Over 5,500 people attended the Evangelical Covenant Church’s triennial youth event, CHIC, July 12-17 at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Roughly 1,300 of those were from the Northwest Conference, and we certainly made our presence known.

The theme of SHIFT invited students to make a shift in their worldview, commitment to Christ and view of the Holy Scriptures. In addition to powerful speakers, robust worship, interesting and educational morning base camp sessions, students found time for rafting, hiking, cave tours, swimming and other activities on and off campus.

In case you have people at church wondering if all the fund-raising, long road trip, and sleepless nights are worth it, read youth pastor and CHIC council member, Ben Kerns’ thoughts on why CHIC is so important.

CHIC is more than a one-week experience for high school students. Click here for a free 6-week, all-church discipleship curriculum, written specifically as a follow-up to CHIC. The SHIFT curriculum includes a sermon series, adult bible study, and youth and children’s ministry program elements.

Click here for a link to music, stories, devotionals and information about Project Blue, the clean water initiative in partnership with Covenant World Relief, the Hindustani Covenant Church and Water First.

NWC-News-2015-GoServe-600x350By Kara Stromberg

Nearly 40 families from 14 different churches converged on Redeemer Covenant Church in Brooklyn Park, MN, on May 2 for NWC Family Go: Serve, a day of service and experiential learning for families.

This is the second year for NWC Family Go: Serve, an event designed for families with children in PreK-upper elementary school. The day was an opportunity for families to learn and grow together, in a family-friendly, yet stretching environment suitable for younger children.

The event kicked off with worship music led by First Covenant Church of St. Paul’s youth worship band and an interview with Pastor Yeak Monneh, a local pastor who grew up as a World Vision-sponsored refugee child in Liberia, now serving the Liberian community in Brooklyn Park. Families learned about Pastor Yeak’s desire to ensure families back home in Liberia had adequate medical supplies during the Ebola crisis.

Pastor Kari Jacott from Linwood Covenant Church in Wyoming, MN, asked Yeak why so many Liberian families came to live in cold Minnesota. Yeak replied, “Because we have family and friends here! We come here to take care of each other.”

Pastor Amy Long from Redeemer explained the contents of bags given to each family, full of supplies they would need that day—a magnifying glass to encourage them to look more closely at the world around them, a puzzle piece to help them remember that they were an important piece of doing God’s work in the world, and a rubber band to remind them that they will feel stretched.

Before families dispersed to assemble sandwiches, they watched this news story that showed how these sandwiches are distributed for homeless people in the twin cities.

After the morning session, families grabbed boxed lunches, then drove to ministry sites to serve.

Serving at the ministry sites showed that even families with young kids can make a difference. Families sorted through over 1,500 pounds of clothing at ARC’s Value Village Thrift Store (the equivalent of 30 hours of work for one ARC employee), packed 24,192 meals which will be sent to Haiti to feed 66 kids for a year at Feed My Starving Children, prepared and packaged 600 sandwiches for the homeless, and collected food for the Brooklyn Park Area food shelf, serving homeless youth in the Brooklyn Park area.

Food was a big part of the day. After serving at their ministry sites, families were given a map and $5 with instructions to visit a local ethnic grocery store and purchase food they would like to try. As families wandered through the grocery stores, they pondered whether to buy frogs, seafood, durian fruit, Asian jello cups or plantain chips. As families made their purchases and trickled back into the church for a late lunch, the energy changed as everyone shared their food items. Families also enjoyed homemade Kenyan bread—fried donut-like treats made by a friend of one of our pastors.

Said one parent, “Anytime you give families a shared experience where they can talk about this stuff, it’s a win. This was awesome.”

“I loved serving at ARC! I want to go back there next year,” said a second grader.

Families were sent home with a guidebook that included debriefing questions, additional service ideas and space for families to write their next step as they seek to live lives of service and generosity.

NWC-News-2015-MOVE-600x350On April 10-11, 217 students and youth workers from throughout the Northwest Conference converged on Minnehaha Academy’s south campus in Minneapolis, MN, for MOVE 2015—a weekend of teaching, worship, service and experiential learning.

This year’s theme was “Now What?” based on James 2:14-17. Students go to church, attend Bible studies, and head to camp where they’re learning what it means to become followers of Christ. But with all that input, the questions arise—“Now what? What do I do with all that I’ve learned? How do I put it into action in my community?” At MOVE, over 200 students and leaders considered what it means to take a holy risk of faith where they live.

The weekend kicked off with a worship service that featured Blue Oaks Covenant Church’s worship team, led by Nicoshia Wynn. This multi-generational group brought high-energy worship that had students on their feet. In the words of one ninth grade boy, “That was the best worship I’ve ever experienced in my life.”

Friday night’s message was brought by Cesar Castillejos, from Young Life. He challenged students to consider, “Now what? You get out of the boat, you’re here, now believe in the power and presence of Jesus and see where he calls you to go … then go.”

Before heading to bed Friday night, students spent time in Minnehaha’s hockey arena (sans ice) playing games led by the staff of Lake Beauty Bible Camp and students from Solid Rock Discipleship School. The massive space was filled with students playing Gagaball, Nine Square in the Air, and board games while chowing on pizza. Youth groups gathered to end the day to discuss what they learned and to prepare for the next day’s experiences.

On Saturday morning, youth groups fanned out to serve at 10 different organizations across the Twin Cities. They played with children at a domestic abuse shelter, cleared out insulation at a local community ministry, sorted donations at a thrift store, and cleaned several churches. This gritty servant work is deeply appreciated by the sites.

Students returned to Minnehaha that afternoon for the first-ever Shark Tank: MOVE edition. Each youth group identified a need in their community and developed a plan to deal with the challenge. Some groups dreamed about community gardens that would address the need for fresh vegetables in their communities, while others developed plans to connect with the local senior center through art.

The youth groups were coached by a “shark”—someone who was experienced in starting their own ministry or knew how to create a ministry based on community needs. For example, one shark was Dawn Anderson from Bloomington Covenant Church, who started Closet of Hope to help meet the clothing needs of that area. Another was Mike Hotz, who guides the process of awarding MicroMission Grants through Sanctuary Covenant Church.

The Evangelical Covenant Church of Bemidji won the $500 Shark Grant. Their idea: start an annual 5K “color run” to draw attention to drug dependency among adolescents in their area. The $250 People’s Choice Grant went to Crossroads Church in Woodbury, MN, for the idea of developing a peer-counseling network to address bullying and depression at their schools.

MOVE 2015 concluded with yet another powerful worship session and message from Hope Smith, Young Life leader and Sanctuary Covenant member. As Brooke Shannon from New Life Covenant Church said, “[It was] so cool for us to serve side-by-side, out of our comfort zone and for the Kingdom. For a small, rural church, what a gift to be part of the larger NWC church worshipping and serving together!”

Go-Serve-1-270Nearly 200 children and family members from throughout the Northwest Conference converged on Redeemer Covenant Church in Brooklyn Park, MN, on April 26 for NWC Family Go: Serve, a day of service and experiential learning for families.

Go: Serve is a new Northwest Conference event, designed for families with children in PreK-upper elementary school. The day was an opportunity for families to learn and grow together, in a family-friendly, yet stretching environment suitable for younger children.

The event kicked off with a visit from “supernintendo” Mark Stromberg, and an opening session that framed the day for families. Each family was given a bag with supplies they would need that day—a magnifying glass to encourage them to look more closely at the world around them, a package of Gushers so they can burst forth with the love of Christ, and a rubber band to remind them that they will feel stretched.

After the morning session, families grabbed a snack to go, then drove their own family vehicles to four different ministry sites near the church.

Serving at the ministry sites showed that even families with young kids can make a difference. Families sorted 3,000 lbs. of clothing at ARC Value Village Thrift Store, packed meals to feed 63 kids for a year at Feed My Starving Children, prepared and packaged 600 sandwiches for the homeless and collected 310 pounds of food for the Brooklyn Park Area food shelf, serving homeless youth in the Brooklyn Park area.

“After I packed food for hungry people at Feed My Starving Children, it made me not really want to eat my lunch,” said Ben (age 8).

“Serving others made me feel good in my heart,” said Baevinn (age 5).

Food was a big part of the day. After serving at their ministry sites, families were given a map and $5, with instructions to visit a local ethnic market and purchase food they would like to try. As hungry families trickled back into the church for a late lunch, the energy changed as everyone shared their food items. All ages sampled quail eggs, papaya, dragon fruit, African bread, Asian jello cups, pickled rattan shoots and assorted wafers, cookies and treats.

Families were amazed at the range of ethnic markets in the northern suburb of Minneapolis.

“I had no idea Brooklyn Park was so diverse!” said one participant.

Everyone was encouraged to reflect on the role food plays in our lives, and what it feels like to be hungry. In addition to the food families bought at the markets, Jon Villa worked with a team of volunteers to create an amazing menu of Japanese noodle stir-fry, tortilla soup and Indian daal. Children and families were encouraged to try new food that was enjoyed by people from other cultures.

After lunch, children and families added their prayer requests to the prayer wall by tracing their hands and writing a prayer request in the space, then placing their hand over someone else’s request and praying for what was on someone else’s heart. Prayers ranged from “Hungry people” to “That my brother does not be mean to me!”

Families were sent home with a passport booklet that included processing questions, additional service ideas and space for families to write their next step as they seek to live lives of service and generosity.

MOVE-2014-2On April 4-5, 268 students and youth workers from throughout the Northwest Conference converged on First Covenant Church in Minneapolis, MN, for MOVE 2014—a weekend of teaching, worship, service and experiential learning.

This year’s theme was “Lose Yourself,” based on Matthew 16:24-25.

The weekend kicked off with a worship service that featured a performance by hip-hop artists Urban Jerusalem, praise music by Dan Rodriguez and his band and a challenging message from Tim King, chief strategy officer at Sojourners.

King shared about his experiences at North Park University, first spending a night on the street with homeless people in Chicago, and then going back, bringing food, home cooked meals and “hanging out and sharing stories.” He said that getting a chance to serve and get to know those being served began to challenge his assumptions about homeless people.

“It’s when you begin to get to know Jesus, and when you begin to lose your life, that you begin to find it again in some unexpected places,” King shared with students during the Friday night session. “What is it that is so hard, back in your town or back in your school, that Jesus might be calling you to do?”

Before heading to bed Friday night, students spent time with their youth groups preparing for the next day’s experiences and playing games facilitated by the staff of Lake Beauty Bible Camp.

On Saturday morning, youth groups fanned out to 12 different organizations and ministry sites across the Twin Cities for three hours of service, which included painting walls at churches, bundling up old clothes for thrift stores, cleaning storage spaces, and more. This unglamorous work is deeply appreciated by the sites. Many of them look forward to MOVE to get things done that they otherwise wouldn’t have the resources to accomplish.

After students painted a high profile wall at Crosstown Covenant in Minneapolis, Pastor John Jacobi said, “This was an incredible gift of the Holy Spirit at the right time. They did high quality work.”

When one of the Crosstown parishioners asked, “Why did they do this for us?” Jacobi responded, “This is one of the many advantages of being part of a larger church body.”

Saturday afternoon students and leaders came back to First Covenant for three different learning experiences. One experience concentrated on identifying issues in students’ home communities and helping them learn how to advocate for change. Another was a video that focused on what it means to live on minimum wage for 30 days. And the third was an interactive worship experience designed by worship curator Lilly Lewin.

MOVE 2014 concluded with yet another powerful worship session and message from King, who challenged students to serve even if they were never noticed for doing so.

Daybreak-ImageThe next Daybreak Human Trafficking Awareness Forum, which will feature a student focus on identifying dating violence, alertness to trafficking risks, and making safe choices, will take place Feb. 22 from 1 to 3 p.m. at Bloomington Covenant Church.

“It is a student-focused event, so we are encouraging youth groups as well as individual students to attend,” said Bethany Abramson. “The event is not limited to students though, and like our other events we will offer CEUs for educators, nurses and social workers.”

The forum will feature experts from Cornerstone and The Dwelling Place.

The event is free for students, and there is a suggested Donation of $10 per others. To pre-register for the event, email or call 952.831.8339.

Download the event flyer

VIVE-NewsSome were bleary eyed and quiet, others who had been to VIVE before, arrived bouncing with anticipation for the day. A mix of students and parents and adult leaders milled around Crosstown Covenant Church in Minneapolis with massive donuts and orange juice in hand, talking to several college representatives as they waited for the day to kick off.

This was the day where students moved closer to their dream of going to college. There were seniors who were making their final college selections, all the way to 5th and 6th graders who were starting early to plan for their futures. It was a day filled with hearing from expert college-prep coaches, inspirational speakers, recent college grads and current college students.

Students were challenged and led by former Denver Broncos player Steve Fitzhugh, as well as Richard Harris, college guidance counselor at Minnehaha Academy. Parents and leaders learned the ins and outs of preparing for college from Marcio Thompson, a financial aid counselor at University of Minnesota, and Meshia Jones, an admissions and outreach associate at North Park University. One of the highlights of the day was hearing stories about former VIVE students who were now succeeding in college and passing on their wisdom to younger students.

MOVE-webOn April 12-13, almost 300 students and youth workers from throughout the Northwest Conference converged on First Covenant Church in Minneapolis, MN, for MOVE 2013—a weekend of teaching, worship, service and experiential learning. This year’s theme was “Invisible: Who are you not seeing?”

The weekend kicked off with a worship service that featured a performance by hip-hop artist Stephone, praise music and a challenging message from Amy Williams, an 18-year youth ministry veteran who ministers to teens involved in gangs, youth on probation or parole, and those lost in the juvenile justice system. As a certified Gang Intervention Specialist, she heard God’s call to move into a Latino gang neighborhood in Chicago’s Humboldt Park community to be a “Hope Dealer” doing street outreach.

“Your perception of someone determines your reaction toward them, but perception is not reality. There’s more to a story,” Williams said. “People are invisible because of the way you see them. The responsibility is on you to make sure they are not invisible.”

Williams challenged students to take a “helicopter view” of those around them—to try to see people as God sees them.

Before heading to bed Friday night, students spent time with their youth groups preparing for the next day’s experiences and enjoying games facilitated by the staff of Lake Beauty Bible Camp.

On Saturday morning, youth groups fanned out to 13 different agencies and ministry sites across the Twin Cities for three hours of service, which ranged from preparing meals for homeless, to organizing storage rooms and cleaning stained glass windows along with other cleanup projects, to playing with shelter kids, to the restocking of supply shelves at thrift centers and distribution warehouses.

Steve Moen of Living Hope Ministries expressed how grateful he was for the MOVE help. The groups moved massive storage shelves, cut insulation, tested computers and more. One of the leaders brought out his tool belt and pitched in with carpentry needs.

“They did the things that I don’t have the time to do [with a busy ministry schedule],” Moen said.

Saturday afternoon students and leaders were given $1 each and were challenged to go out into the neighborhood to find lunch. Some creatively pooled their resources and figured out how to create a lunch for their group. Others chose to fast and donate the money to other people looking for food. Later that afternoon, students had the opportunity to hear stories of invisibility arising from their own group. These stories highlighted the personal sense of invisibility that can come from family struggles, physical limitations and the awkwardness of feeling left out.

“This year’s MOVE experience was valuable for our group because it opened our eyes to the hard work being undertaken by urban ministries to meet the needs of often invisible populations, and helped us come to grips of issues of invisibility in our own communities and selves,” said Ben Pease, youth pastor at Salem Covenant Church in New Brighton, MN.

MOVE 2013 concluded with another powerful worship session and message from Williams, who shared her insights on spreading hope to those around us.

“It doesn’t sound like much, but boy, hope is a powerful thing,” Williams said. “As Christians, hope is an assured thing for us. We know that there’s hope—it’s not a ‘maybe,’ it not an ‘if.’ … Hope is being a light in someone’s darkness.”

Visit the Children, Youth and Family media page to see a video and photo gallery from the event.

AIL-2012-NewsCan high schoolers lead? Sure they can lead their peers, but can they lead the church? The Northwest Conference is banking on it.

Developing strong Christian leaders is a core value woven throughout the NWC’s priorities. For over 20 years, they’ve fostered this value with high school student leaders via Adventures in Leadership, an experiential leadership challenge in the north woods of Minnesota.

This annual leadership development experience took place June 16-23. Twenty-one high school students and a group of youth pastors and wilderness guides joined together at Adventurous Christians in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) where they learned what it means to be a Christian leader.

“Participants were challenged in conversations, teaching times and time out on the trail, to discover what gifts and talents God has given them for leadership and how they need to steward those gifts in ministry and in their communities,” said Ginny Olson, NWC director of youth ministry. “They discovered how their personality impacts their leadership, how to collaborate together under difficult circumstances, how to cultivate a disciplined spiritual life, and how to serve sacrificially when that’s the last thing you want to do.”

This year, the group experienced over five inches of rain while on their 4-day canoe trip in the BWCA. Being a servant leader took on new meaning for the students as they slogged through soggy and sometimes overgrown portages, carrying packs and canoes, while soaked to the core.

“They learned how to make difficult decisions for the team and to consider the needs of others before their own,” said Jon Kramka, NWC director of congregational vitality, and a key planner and facilitator of the event.

Upon their return to base camp, common themes voiced by the students were: the importance of relying on God as they discovered their own leadership abilities in relation to the leadership role, a realization that they actually could lead others, and a deeper appreciation for their teammates—and for dry socks.

As youth pastors around the country wrestle with how to develop strong leaders among their students, Adventures in Leadership is becoming recognized by others as a strong and effective way to raise up young leaders. In late July, youth pastors from several other conferences will head to Adventurous Christians to experience this leadership adventure with some of their students.

View photos from AIL 2012 on our site

View/Download photos from AIL 2012 on Flickr

MOVE-home-page-newsOn March 30-31, 250 students and youth workers from throughout the Northwest Conference converged on First Covenant Church in Minneapolis, MN, for M.O.V.E. 2012—a weekend of teaching, worship, service and experiential learning. This year’s theme was “TRU: Faith. Justice. Love.”

The weekend kicked off with a worship service that featured praise music and a challenging message from Chris Brooks, vice president of GoodCities and organizational leadership expert. Brooks asked students to consider their responsibility to others, and to think about who the orphans and widows of today are.

“Once you have yourself figured out, and love yourself, Jesus is always going to push us to overflow,” Brooks said.

Before heading to bed Friday night, students spent time with their youth groups preparing for the next day’s experiences and enjoying games facilitated by the staff of Lake Beauty Bible Camp.

On Saturday morning, youth groups fanned out to 17 different agencies and ministry sites across the Twin Cities for three hours of service, which ranged from preparing meals for homeless, to lawn care and clean-up projects, to playing with shelter kids, to the restocking of supply shelves at thrift centers and distribution warehouses.

“The Dassel and First Covenant Minneapolis teams that came to Hospitality House Youth Development were amazing: hard working, responsive, great teens and leaders! We so enjoyed them and appreciate all their help,” said Deb McCullough of Hospitality House.

Saturday afternoon M.O.V.E. participants embarked on a Light Rail Tour of Minneapolis. Students and leaders were divided into eight groups and boarded the train near the Metrodome. At each of five stops between downtown and the Mall of America, groups got off the train and heard presentations about issues facing that part of the city, including: Immigrant Issues, Urban Development and Gentrification, The Historical Treatment of Native Americans, Human Trafficking and Homelessness.

“Our group had a great time, and they’re not always easy to please with this event,” said Mark Hakanson, youth pastor at Community Covenant Church in Minneapolis. “Thanks for all the hard work piecing together the light rail experience. It was a highlight.”

M.O.V.E. 2012 concluded with another powerful worship session and message from Brooks, who challenged students to “live the life” of a true Christian.

“There should be something about us as Christians that makes us different,” Brooks said. “Do you have a passion for the lost? Do you have a passion for those people you come into contact with every single day?”

Visit the Children, Youth and Family media page to see a video and photo gallery from the event.

MUUUCE-2011MUUUCE 2011 marked 25 years of gathering junior high students from across the Northwest Conference for a weekend of high-energy activity, worship and learning Aug. 18-20. Featuring a pirate theme, the Most Unbelievable Ultimate Urban Camping Experience was a “grand, splendid, extraordinary time full of fun and deep spiritual growth,” according to Adel Irwin, student leadership coordinator at Faith Covenant Church in Burnsville, MN.

Groups of students packed out two roller rinks, and enjoyed rides at Valleyfair and waterslides at Cascade Bay. Back at Faith Covenant Church, students participated in C.H.A.O.S. (Crazy Humans Attempting Outrageous Stuff).

“They started out with a rockin’ dance off, then bobbed for treasure, completed a peg-leg relay, had a spaghetti-eating contest, and enjoyed seeing their youth leaders shove their faces into whip cream pies,” Irwin said.

The weekend also offered many opportunities for students to connect with God through worship activities. When asked if she liked the worship band, one junior high girl responded, “Did I like the worship? No … I loved it!”

Speaker Kara Stromberg encouraged students to place their treasure in Christ. Highlighting the passages Matthew 6:19-21 and Matthew 13, Stromberg helped students learn how the treasure they find in Christ is so exciting that nothing else matters in comparison.

At the end of the weekend Stromberg shared jolly ranchers with each student. As they rode home enjoying the sweet taste of candy, they were reminded to not keep their treasure to themselves but to share it freely with others.

Junior high students at MUUUCE gave $1,765 in offering, which will be donated to Alaska Christian College to help the school buy desks for classrooms in its new building. Alaska Christian College is geared toward bringing a Christ-centered education to Alaska’s native population.

To see photos from MUUUCE 2011 visit NWC Youth Ministry Photos page.

MOVE-11-thumbOn April 1-2, 320 students and youth workers from throughout the Northwest Conference converged on First Covenant Church in Minneapolis, MN, for M.O.V.E. 2011—a weekend of teaching, worship, service and experiential learning. This year’s theme was “The Price of Justice.”

The weekend kicked off with a worship service that featured praise music and a challenging message from Eugene Cho, pastor of Quest Church in Seattle, WA, and founder of One Day’s Wages. ODW promotes awareness, invites simple giving (one day’s wages), and supports sustainable relief through partnerships, especially with smaller organizations in developing regions.

“We have to act upon our convictions. We have to act upon our faith in Jesus Christ. Everyone loves the idea of justice until it involves a personal cost or sacrifice,” Cho told the students. “We do justice not only because it matters to God, but because in that process we will be changed.”

Before heading to bed Friday night, students spent time with their youth groups preparing for the next day’s experiences.

On Saturday morning, youth groups fanned out to 18 different agencies and ministry sites across the Twin Cities for three hours of service, which ranged from preparing meals for homeless, to lawn care and clean-up projects, to playing with shelter kids, to the restocking of supply shelves at thrift centers and distribution warehouses, to packaging books for Africa.

Saturday afternoon M.O.V.E. participants experienced “Face the facts: Understanding Urban Poverty,” a simulation exercise created by Urban Immersion Service Retreats and the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches to help people step into the shoes of a family struggling with their finances. During the experience, participants were broken into families of five and given a scenario based on current statistics for people living at the poverty level here in the Twin Cities.

While “playing” the game, students found themselves having to navigate systems and make difficult decisions to secure housing, employment and transportation, among other basic needs. By keeping a ledger of their finances and reflecting on both the positive and negative consequences of their decisions and situations, participants became more acutely aware of the realities of the working poor in our society.

M.O.V.E. 2011 concluded with another powerful worship session and message from Pastor Cho. Cho reminded everyone that justice requires faith, compassion, collaboration, perseverance and creativity. As a statement of support to Cho and the efforts of One Days Wages an offering of $850 was collected to support ODW’s rebuilding efforts in Haiti.

M.O.V.E. 2011 once again lived up to our expectation of expanding the worldviews of the participants and reinforcing how every individual motivated by God’s spirit can make a profound difference in the world.

Visit the Children, Youth and Family media page to see videos and a photo gallery from the event.

Eugene Cho: One Days WagesThe Northwest Conference is happy to announce that Eugene Cho has agreed to be the speaker at M.O.V.E. 2011. Cho is the founder and Lead Pastor of Quest Church, an urban, multicultural, and multi-generational Covenant church in Seattle, WA, and the founder and Executive Director of Q Cafe—an innovative nonprofit community cafe and music venue.

Cho and his wife, Minhee, are also the founders of One Day’s Wages, “a new movement of people, stories and actions to alleviate extreme global poverty.”

The strategy of ODW is to create a collaborative movement via integrating Human Relationships, Social Media/Technology, and the Power of Story.

ODW promotes awareness, invites simple giving (one day’s wages), and supports sustainable relief through partnerships, especially with smaller organizations in developing regions.

M.O.V.E. is “Mission Outreach Venture and Experience,” an opportunity for senior high students (9th-12th grade) and youth leaders to have a “hands on” mission experience in an urban setting. In addition to Cho, John Lee and the Church of All Nations praise team will be leading in worship. Look for more details coming soon!

On April 9-10, 350 students and youth workers from throughout the Northwest Conference converged on First Covenant Church in Minneapolis, MN, for M.O.V.E. 2010-a weekend of teaching, worship, service and experiential learning. This year’s theme was taken from Micah 6:8:”Act Justly…Walk Humbly…Love Mercy.”

The weekend kicked off with a worship service that featured praise music, spoken word, and a challenging message from Efrem Smith, pastor of The Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis. Before bedding down in sleeping bags throughout the church building, the students spent time with their youth groups preparing for the next day’s experiences.

On Saturday morning, youth groups fanned out to 22 different agencies and ministry sites across the Twin Cities for three hours of service, which ranged from lawn care and clean-up projects, to playing with kids, to the  restocking of thrift centers and distribution warehouse supply shelves, to spending time serving at homeless shelters.

Upon returning to the church, the students participated in a Global Lunch Experience, which was designed to illustrate the disparities of wealth and food across the globe. A small fraction of the students received a full-service, multi-course meal with fine linen and table service. Another portion of the students were served a more basic, but still filling meal at tables. The bulk of the students received a small portion of beans and rice, warm water, and were all seated in mass on the floor.

Following lunch, youth groups participated in an Issues Tour where groups rotated through three presentations entitled, “The Immigrant Journey: The story and choices of a Somali refugee,” “The Culture of Poverty From a Local Perspective” and “Sankofa: Looking Back, Looking Forward at Cultural Patterns of Discrimination.” M.O.V.E. 2010 concluded with another powerful worship session and message from Pastor Efrem.

M.O.V.E. 2010 once again lived up to our expectation that participants would have their worldview expanded, be inspired as God’s Kingdom workforce in the world, and to have opportunity to extend the hope and love of Christ with those experiencing unmet needs.

Visit the Children, Youth and Family media page to see a video and photo gallery from the event.