General Assembly: GA Presentations: Presenter views and opinions do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the UUA.

A Report on Youth Ministry in Our Association

General Assembly 2006 Event 3008

Presenters: Beth Dana, Megan Dowdell, Jesse Jaeger, and Julian Sharp

Just under 100 people gathered to hear members of the task force overseeing the Consultation on Ministry to and with Youth report on the status of their research. Members of the task force who were presenting were:

  • Beth Dana, Youth Ministry Associate at the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA)
  • Megan Dowdell, appointed by the UUA Board to be a co-convener of the task force
  • Jesse Jaeger, Youth Programs Director at the UUA
  • Julian Sharp, Youth Trustee-at-large of the UUA's Board of Trustees

Sharp gave a short history of how the Consultation on Ministry to and with Youth came about. "This began when youth began to feel that they were not being served through the programs in their local congregation," said Sharp, "when DREs [Directors of Religious Education] were wondering how we are going to hold on to our youth after they leave Coming of Age [a program typically aimed at 11-14 year olds]."

The Youth Council of Young Religious Unitarian Universalists (YRUU) began talking about renewing youth ministry within Unitarian Universalism several years ago. Eventually, said Sharp, "in October, 2004, after the significant discussion at the YRUU Youth Council a few months before, the [UUA] Board of Trustees voted" to call on the Rev. William Sinkford, President of the UUA, to look into how to better serve UU youth.

A process was begun that identified five desired outcomes of a consultation into youth ministry. Then, said Sharp, a subcommittee designed a two-year process for the consultation. There are five phases in this process:

  • Phase one, a direct survey of UU youth, was a survey that has been completed. UUA staff is now analyzing the data generated from this survey.
  • Phase two, which will be completed in late September, 2006, is a series of guided "conversations" on youth ministry to take place in local congregations.
  • Phase three will be a series of district meetings.
  • Phase four will involve reaching out to eight key stakeholder groups, including the UU Ministers Association (UUMA), the Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA), and Diverse and Revolutionary UU Multicultural Ministries (DRUUM).
  • Phase five will be a "summit meeting" in July 2007, to make sense out of all the information gathered.

Dana reported on some of the preliminary findings of the survey (phase one). The UUA Youth Office has now issued a printed Youth Ministry Survey Summary Report (PDF).

Dana reported that with almost 1,400 responses, the average age of the youth responded was 15.2 years old. "One area that definitely jumped out at us," said Dana, is the extent to which congregations are spiritual homes for youth. Only 53% of youth reported that their congregations felt like their spiritual home; the same percentage reported that their youth group met their spiritual needs.

"Another area we looked at was how youth with different identities answered the questions," said Dana. Youth who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or questioning their sexual identity were relatively more active in youth programming, seemed to feel welcome, and held leadership positions. By contrast, transracially adopted youth, a small but significant percentage of youth who were all youth of color, rated their experience significantly lower than white youth did, and they filled fewer leadership positions than did white youth.

Dana also reported on discrepancies between how youth felt supported by various adult leaders in their congregations. 80% of youth felt excellent or very good support from their youth advisors youth, whereas only 50% of youth felt the same level of support from congregational board members. Interestingly, youth who were not members of youth groups felt more congregational support, whereas youth who were most involved in district youth programming felt less support from adults in their own congregations.

Dowdell reported that preliminary data from the congregational conversations seems to match the data from the youth survey very closely. Even though the data from only 13 congregational conversations has been analyzed, Dowdell said the correspondence is so close that the task force does not expect any surprising new data.

"We've had access to this data in the case of the survey for only about two months," said Jaeger, and the task force has only begun to analyze the data. "We've got a lot of learning to do," he said.

Sharp asked all those in the audience who were directly involved with youth programming or youth ministry to raise their hands. Nearly everyone there raised a hand in response. "You're already involved in youth programming, and a lot of the people who need to get involved are not here," Sharp pointed out. The process of congregational conversations now going on tries to draw in the people who are not otherwise involved.

"I just want to remind you that we are not talking about youth programming, we are talking about youth ministry," Sharp said in conclusion. "This is something that's really new and groundbreaking" for UU congregations. "This is not about something going on down in the basement, away from adults, this is something that affects the future of our entire congregation."

Reported by the Rev. Dan Harper; edited by Margy Levine Young.