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hey are called the millennial generation, and as this generation enters our youth programs, youth leaders are finding themselves caught in the place where modern church programs collide with postmodern needs. Tensions exist between the needs of students and parents and the expectation of the church. Ideally, effective youth ministries will find ways to bridge the gap between the worlds through dialogue, education, and communication. However, society and religion have burned many of those bridges with the millennial generation, so how do churches shift to meet the demands of this new paradigm in youth ministry?

As we in youth ministry struggle to find a way to care for kids and families in a culture out of control, Sam Hestorff has given us a timely gift. YM2K is a great book – clear, real, to-thepoint, and theologically solid. —CHAP CLARK Associate Professor of Youth, Family, and Culture Fuller Theological Seminary

Sam Hestorff has put together an excellent resource helping us rethink youth ministry to this unique generation of students. Statisticians tell us that this generation of teenagers is the largest in US history since the Baby Boomers, some sixty million strong— and they think and act like no generation before them. YM2K can give your ministry, your leadership team and your parents practical tools to minister to this age group. —DAVID BURROUGHS President, Passport, Inc.

Sam Hestorff (D.min., Fuller Theological Seminary) has been involved in youth ministry for sixteen years in both full- and part-time capacities. He is the president of rethink ministry (www.rethinkministry.com) and has served as the Minister to Students at Bayshore Baptist Church in Tampa, Florida, for the past eleven years.

YM2K: YOUTH MINISTRY FOR THE MILLENNIAL GENERATION

YM2K: Youth Ministry for the Millennial Generation by noted youth minister and conference leader Sam Hestorff flows from a deep passion for youth ministry and a sense that in order to be significant to a postmodern generation of students, youth ministry has to be rethought and refocused. Through this honest and earnest discussion of the need for change to traditional youth ministries, you will find freedom and a renewed sense of creativity to bring the message of Jesus Christ to this unique and wonderful generation of teens.

HESTORFF

Youth Ministry


Introduction

They are called the millennial generation, born roughly between the years 1982 to 2000, and it seems that every expert has an opinion as to who they are and what defines them. The media portrays them as a lost generation, more interested in shooting each other than learning how to make the world a better place. Religious rally speakers talk about a next Great Awakening emerging from this generation. Just when you think that you know who they are, you meet another one who is completely different. They are as unique as the sand pebbles on a beach. Some are clean-cut, others have tattoos and piercings, some are seeking a deeper spiritual meaning to life, and still others live lifestyles that would seem outrageous. William Damon, a psychologist at Stanford University, tells us that “today’s teens may have less in common with each other than those in generations past.”1 However, despite all of their differences, some common identifiable trends are emerging from within this adolescent culture. As the first fully postmodern generation is entering our youth programs, youth leaders are finding themselves in a place where modern church programs and postmodern needs collide. Tension exists between the needs of the students and parents and the expectations of the church. Ideally, effective youth ministries will find ways to bridge the gap between the worlds through dialogue, education, and communication. However, society and religion have burned many of those bridges with adolescents, causing the task of youth ministry to shift. No longer do kids respond to the call of the church for its people to gather. Like the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine to find the one, the task of youth ministry is to take the risk of entering into what Chap Clark describes as the “world beneath,” a place where our kids have been left alone in search of an identity.2


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YM2K: YOUTH MINISTRY FOR THE MILLENNIAL GENERATION

The following pages will identify these generational trends and explain how they are affecting youth ministry. It will offer practical suggestions to address the very specific needs of this postmodern generation of teens. Admittedly, some of these trends will seem extreme and will not fit the bio of your youth ministry. However, the purpose of this book is not to label a generation but to help youth leaders begin the process of understanding the culture in which they have been called. Perhaps you are asking, “What makes this guy the expert?” I could attempt to impress you with credentials and references, but the reality is that these things are not what makes one an expert. I could brag about years in ministry and youth group size, but that would not paint the true picture of who I am. I, like you, am on a journey wrapped up in the call of God, a journey that we have termed “youth ministry.” I have done great things along the way but have also failed miserably. Most of my students could quickly share stories about how I let them down or how a program just did not work out. This book simply flows from a deep passion for youth ministry and a sense that in order to be significant to a postmodern generation of students, we have to rethink youth ministry. It is my hope that through the pages of this book and the stories of my journey with adolescents you will find freedom and a renewed sense of creativity to bring the message of Jesus Christ to this unique and wonderful generation of teens. NOTE 1 William Damon as quoted by Sharon Begley, “A World of Their Own,” Newsweek, May 8, 2000, 52. 2

Chap Clark, Hurt (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004), 54.


CHAPTER ONE

All Alone Young people are often left to find their own way to adulthood. —DAVID ELKIND, TIES THAT STRESS

Adolescents are not a tribe apart because they left us, as most people assume. We left them. —PATRICIA HERSCH, A TRIBE APART

Contemporary American parents delegate many of their obligations to such institutions as high school, and they abdicate much of their influence to their children’s peers and the culture at large. —THOMAS HINE, THE RISE AND FALL OF THE AMERICAN TEENAGE

In a couple of years, I am going to turn my children over to you to shape and mold them. —DAVID NASSOR, ADDRESSING YOUTH LEADERS AT THE NATIONAL YOUTH WORKERS CONVENTION 2005

“I don’t understand why I feel so alone.” These haunting words were spoken by a fifteen-year-old student who seemingly had everything going for her. She was president of a school service club, deeply involved in two sports, an active member of youth group. She had a lot of friends, yet she still felt that she been left to navigate the journey of adolescence on her own. This student


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YM2K: YOUTH MINISTRY FOR THE MILLENNIAL GENERATION

may have felt alone in her world, but she is certainly not alone in her sentiments. Following the Columbine school shooting, a writer for Newsweek expressed that “in survey after survey, many kids—even those on the honor roll—say they feel increasingly alone and alienated.” Furthermore, according to Chap Clark, “Of all the issues that trouble adolescents, loneliness ranks at the top of the list.”1 But although students are verbally expressing their loneliness, professionals in the world of adolescent psychology and sociology continue to profess that students are “flourishing and resilient”2 and “are doing better than ever.”3 Many adults I have spoken to across the country feel that students today have nothing to complain about because they have everything they could possibly want. Still, the question remains: Why is there disconnect between what the experts are saying and what teenagers are feeling? Why do students feel alone when they have everything? The answer: Because Western culture has learned to equate being busy with happiness. We have learned to treat children like little adults, filling their schedules with endless opportunities. We have convinced ourselves that schedules and day-timers are the way to help kids grow up. After all, it is the way of the adult. The busier we are the more successful we must be. But the reality is that “adolescents need adults to become adults, and when adults are not present and involved in their lives, they are forced to figure out how to survive on their own.”4 Students may look mature on the outside, but they still need adult guidance to help them become healthy, mature adults. They may have lots to do, but millennial students still feel that no one is there for them. As Barbara Kantrowitz and Pat Wingert suggest, “Teenagers may claim they want privacy, [but] they also crave and need attention and they’re not getting it.”5 Of all the issues that postmodern adolescents struggle with, alienation and abandonment rank at the top. In 1998, the New York Times labeled this generation as the “Autonomous Generation,” suggesting that, as Kendra Creasy Dean describes, “today’s adolescents have few adults or institutions who are prepared to ‘be there’ for them until the end of the age, or until the end of high school for that matter.”6 Patricia Hersch, in her book A Tribe Apart, suggests that this generation has spent more time on their own than any other generation. In fact, a recent study by the Sloan Foundation reports that the average American teenager spends about three and half hours alone every day.7 A similar study, jointly conducted by Passport, Inc., and


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Professional Ministry Consultants, Inc., found that on the average, students have nine hours a week with “nothing to do.”8 In trying to identify the sources of abandonment, two have emerged: parental and institutional. This chapter intends to take a closer look at each of these sources of abandonment and help youth leaders find ways to address this emerging trend with their students. Warning Before You Read On The following section is not intended to offend but rather to educate. It may at times seem to cross the line into the controversial. However, it is written to help open the eyes of an adult world that has gradually pushed students away to navigate their own way to adulthood. It is written to remind youth leaders that we are working with a generation of students who describe their teenage experience as lonely and that, at times, we are guilty of contributing to this sense of loneliness. Although my words may come across as harsh and accusatory, it is my desire that those reading them will be able to lower their defenses and search their own hearts so that students of the millennial generation will discover that there are adults who care for them. Parental Abandonment “‘Will you be there for me?’ is the cry of an era,”9 suggests Kenda Creasy Dean in her book Practicing Passion. It is a cry that began with Gen Xers, who were first introduced to surrogate parenting through after-school programming, the emergence of “latchkey,” and full-time youth ministry in the 1970s. It is a cry that has grown louder with this emerging generation of students whose lives have become so busy with after-school activities and little parental involvement. As parents have become busier—with two-income families, jobs with bigger expectations, and other out-of-office responsibilities and priorities— it has become a necessity for parents to shuffle off their children to after-school programming (ironically, this has increased the busyness and stress of parents, rather than alleviating it). In some instances, rather than over-scheduling their children with activities, parents are simply leaving their children at home alone with “nothing to do” and no boundaries. David Elkind suggests, “Our new family styles make it next to impossible for the majority of parents to provide the kind of childrearing that goes along with the image of children as in need of parental nurture.”10 As a result,


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YM2K: YOUTH MINISTRY FOR THE MILLENNIAL GENERATION

postmodern students are growing up all alone without the “full helping of security, protection, firm limits, and clear values. . . . As a consequence, postmodern young people are often left without the social envelope of security and protection that shielded earlier generations.”11 Michelle, a seventeen-year-old student being raised by her mother, never ceased to amaze me with the stories she would share with me. She told me things that I would never confess to anyone, let alone my youth minister. Most of our conversations left me speechless. She was able to speak openly and honestly about her life story, the struggles she was facing, and the poor choices she continued to make. She told me how she felt alone in a dark world. After many sessions with Michelle, I asked her where she thought the root of her problems could be found. She looked me straight in the eye and exclaimed, “My mother does not give me boundaries.” With tears welling up in her eyes, she continued, “I just wish she was more interested in being my mother and not my friend and had given me boundaries.” To me it was a simple problem with a simple solution. The three of us needed to sit down and create some boundaries. When I shared my idea with Michelle the tears in her eyes dried up and she boldly said, “It’s too late for her to be a parent now.” Michelle’s story is just one example of how parents can contribute to the sense of abandonment that students are feeling. However, many parents are unable to recognize their contribution to this emerging trend of abandonment. They are quick to give a list of the ways they are present for their children: • “I go to all of his football games” • “I drive all of my children to every practice” • “I have never missed a concert or recital” • “I have sacrificed my time to be a chauffer” Although many parents have made room in their busy schedules to provide a taxi service for their children, that does not replace the nurturing, love, and boundaries that adolescents need. Cheering on your child— whether from the sidelines or the chairs of the recital hall—does not provide the sense of safety that an adolescent desires. Unfortunately, the postmodern home has become a railway station, with parents and children pulling in and


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out as they go about their busy lives. This is not what families are supposed to provide. The family is designed to be a place of protection for children. It is a place to help children on their journey toward becoming healthy adults. It is supposed to be a place of support and guidance. Ultimately, it should be a place to help students discover their identity. However, as we have seen, for this emerging generation of students there has been a shift in culture which has affected family priorities. As Chap Clark has written, “the culture itself is no longer as attentive to the needs of children and adolescents as it once was, and therefore, the young work hard at finding out how to make it on their own.”12 David Elkind, professor of child study at Tufts University, suggests, “In the modern nuclear family these binding sentiments were largely childcentered in the sense that they gave preference to the well-being of children and required self-sacrifice of parents. In the postmodern permeable family, however, the sentimental ties have been transformed and are now more likely to be adult-centered to the extent that they favor the well being of parents and adults and require self-sacrifice from the young.”13 Today, the home is no longer a haven or place of protection. The family has “evolved to the point where we believe driving is support, being active is love, and providing any and every opportunity is selfless nurture. We are a culture that has forgotten how to be together.”14 It is, as suggested, a railway station, and the people suffering the most are children whose needs have been set aside in order to meet the needs of their parents. The parental agenda has overshadowed adolescent needs, leaving kids with a sense of abandonment and little direction. This sense of abandonment was best articulated by author Michael Thompson, who researched adolescent boys. He heard clearly the number-one complaint of almost every early adolescent: “My parents do not give me enough freedom.” His comment did not surprise me; we have all complained at one point that our parents did not give us enough freedom. However, he found that, unlike previous generations, the number-one complaint of a college freshman was, “My parents were not there for me.” I do not think that parents are intentionally abandoning their children. In fact, I believe that most parents feel they are doing what is best for their students. They have been affirmed by their peers for keeping their students busy and involving them in the best programs. Additionally, they have been


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YM2K: YOUTH MINISTRY FOR THE MILLENNIAL GENERATION

convinced that if their child is not actively involved in many programs as well as a well-rounded student, they will not get into college. Youth ministry has also contributed to parental abandonment. Chap Clark notes that a well-respected youth ministry expert suggests, “When children reach adolescence, they want to make their own choices and commitments, to be set free.” Although his thoughts in one sense are correct, Clark contends, they have been “greatly exaggerated, misunderstood, and misused in the name of youth ministry.”15 We have encouraged parents to simply drop their children off to our youth programs and promised that we would nurture and guide them into spiritual maturity. However, there is nothing further from the truth. Healthy spiritual formation can only take place when there is a balance between what is taught in the home and practiced in youth ministry. To take parents out of the picture forces adolescents to navigate their spiritual journey on their own. As a result, students simply drop out of church when they are on their own because they were never given the foundation needed to make informed spiritual decisions. Although they may have had fun in youth group, many were left alone to make foundational decisions on faith and spirituality. If adolescents are feeling alone and abandoned, it is time for parents to slow down their hectic lives and ask themselves, “Is this what is best for my child?” Parents must begin to set boundaries for children. This can only begin by setting boundaries for themselves by clearing their own schedules in order to make time for their children. They must understand that they need to say “no” to the many activities provided for students because quality family time is far better than any program a student can get involved in. Parents must relearn the art of being together, rather than trying to fill time with structured activities or simply leaving their children alone. Until this happens, adolescents will continue to cry the haunting words, “I feel all alone.” Institutional Abandonment Adolescence, the term coined by psychologists and sociologists to describe the short time period between childhood and adulthood, is a concept that was developed in the early twentieth century. By the 1920s, adolescence had become an accepted subculture of society. Youth programs with a common purpose, “to nurture emerging adolescents by providing systems, structures, and activities to help them grow into adulthood by means of the smoothest, most productive transition possible,”16 began to emerge. One such organiza-


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tion was the school system. According to Thomas Hine, “The purpose of high school was largely to indoctrinate youth with middle-class standards.”17 High schools were designed to help students smoothly transition into the adult world by teaching the social and academic skills needed to survive. Teachers were mentors, and homework, rarely a burden for students, was assigned to “encourage students to spend time assimilating the information they had received in class.”18 As adolescence became recognized as a process more than an event, new opportunities arose for students both within the school structure and out: dance, sports, music, and drama, to name a few. During this same time period, youth ministry began to emerge within the church structure and without. All of these organizations began with the students’ best interest in mind, though there has been a subtle shift over time. Chap Clark suggests, “Organizations, structures, and institutions that were originally concerned with children’s care, welfare, and development have become less interested in individual nurture and developmental concern and more interested in institutional perpetuation.”19 One such example of the “perpetuation of the institution” was the development of standardized testing. Although standardized tests were first developed for the purpose of offering equal learning opportunities, they have become the backbone of institutional abandonment in the school system. With this system in place, everything that is done in school is directed at getting students to pass a test. A grade is given to each school based on the percentage of students who pass this test. If a school does not have a certain percentage of students pass, the school receives a bad grade. When a bad grade is given, schools do not receive the funding they so desperately need in order to nurture students in the overcrowded school system. Teachers, therefore, are no longer able to mentor students because they are concerned that if students do not pass, their jobs will be eliminated. Homework is no longer assigned to help students assimilate the information; rather, it has become a burdensome extension of an already over-scheduled day. I have yet to meet a teacher who thinks that this is a good system, yet the officials who evaluate this process continue to think that this is a good idea. As a result, students have simply become a means to get funding and to perpetuate a system that has subtly abandoned them. Many students have said to me, “I certainly hope that high school is not the best years of my life, as my parents told me.” They are afraid that if this is the best the world has to offer, they certainly do not want to become


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YM2K: YOUTH MINISTRY FOR THE MILLENNIAL GENERATION

adults. Ironically, the school system was designed to provide the smoothest transition into the adult world. Instead, t is creating fears of further abandonment and rejection. Youth Ministry Abandonment It is easy to point the finger at other institutions for abandoning millennial students, but youth ministry is just as guilty. The church growth movement, which began in the 1970s, has convinced us that churches that do not have large numbers are not in favor with God. Although most churches will not admit it, numbers have become the evaluation tool for effective youth ministry. Therefore, to suggest that our numbers are low puts our jobs at risk. Evangelism, then, has become a way to increase our organizational numbers rather than the kingdom of God. Frankie was a sophomore in high school who was dealing with typical parent/child issues and just wanted a place to talk about it. He felt that his youth minister was the best person to talk to. When he tried to schedule an appointment, his youth leader told him, “When you find time to show up to my Bible study on Friday nights, I will find time to meet with you.” How many students have learned through our ministries that you only matter when you increase our attendance? I am certain that God did not intend for church to be more concerned about perpetuating themselves, yet this is the system we have put in place for the millennial generation. Another way that youth ministry has contributed to adolescent abandonment is the youth leader’s non-commitment to longevity. The average tenure of a youth leader is two and a half years. Although this is better than the eighteen-month myth, it still means that most students will experience approximately three youth ministers during their time in the youth department. Because churches tend to not put as much effort and energy into finding a good match for the mission and vision of their church, they settle for youth leaders who simply “love kids.” When the honeymoon period ends, some youth leaders respond by simply dropping out and leaving the students behind, leaving them with a resentment about faith and church: “The truth is, despite the gospel’s claim that Jesus will be with us always, young people usually assume—correctly—that the church will not be.”20 Yes, youth ministry has abandoned God’s children.


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ALL ALONE

Youth Ministry Response to Abandonment In her book Practicing Passion, Kenda Creasy Dean shares the story of Eugene Rivers, a Boston pastor who reclaimed a Boston neighborhood tyrannized by drug dealers. She describes how Rivers and his colleagues were “evangelized” by crack cocaine dealers who “reached out to Christians,” inviting them into crack houses and introducing them to drug dealers, guns, and the drug game. One young heroin dealer told Rivers, “I’m going to explain to you Christians, who are such good preachers, why you are losing an entire generation. Listen. This is really all about being there.” “What do you mean?” Rivers demanded. The heroin dealer coolly replied, “When Johnny goes to school in the morning, I’m there, you’re not. When Johnny comes home from school in the afternoon, I’m there, you’re not. When Johnny goes out for a loaf of bread for grandma for dinner, I’m there, you’re not. I win, you lose.”21 There is only one suggestion I have for youth leaders; do not forget the teachings and example of Jesus. He taught us the importance of leaving the many in order to find the one. He exemplified the importance of “being present” with people. To make just one student feel loved, cared for, and nurtured is greater than any massive youth event we could ever create. Until we begin to see students as unique and wonderful creations of God who deserve our individual attention, they will continue to feel abandoned by the church. NOTES 1 Barbara Kantrowitz and Pat Wingert, “How Well Do You Know Your Kid?,” Newsweek , May 10, 1999, 38. 2 See William Damon, Deanna Kuhn, and Roberts S. Siegler, eds., Cognition, Perception, and Language, vol. 2 of Handbook of Child Psychology, 5th ed. (New York: Wiley, 1998); Rune J. Siomeonsson, ed., Risk, Resilience, and Prevention: Promoting the Well-Being of All Children (Baltimore: Brookes, 1994). 3 Chap Clark, “Entering Their World: A Qualitative Look at the Changing Face of Contemporary Adolescences,” http://ayme.gospelcom.net/jym_article_php?article_id=21. (Accessed April 19, 2006.) 4 Chap

Clark, Hurt (Grand Rapids: Baker Books), 42.

5 Kantrowitz 6 Ann

and Wingert, 38.

Powers, “Who Are These People, Anyway?” New York Times, April 29, 1998.

7 Cited

by Barbara Schneider and David Stevenson, The Ambitious Generation: America’s Teenagers, Motivated but Directionless (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 191-94.


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YM2K: YOUTH MINISTRY FOR THE MILLENNIAL GENERATION

8 Unpublished

survey conducted Summer 2005 by Professional Ministry Consultants, Inc. and Passport Youth Camps. 9 Kenda Creasy Dean, Practicing Passion (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), 77. 10 David

Elkind, The Hurried Child, 3rd ed. (Cambridge MA: Da Capo Press, 2001),

11 David

Elkind, Ties That Stress (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1995), 8.

12 Clark,

Hurt, 42.

xvi.

13 Elkind, 14 Clark,

Ties That Stress, 38.

Hurt, 46.

15 Wayne

Rice, Junior High Ministry: A Guide to Early Adolescence for Youth Workers, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 86, as qtd. by Chap Clark, “The Changing Face of Adolescence: A Theological View of Human Development,” in Starting Right: Thinking Theologically About Youth Ministry, ed. Kenda Creasy Dean, Chap Clark, and David Rahn (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 53. 16 Clark,

Hurt, 45.

17 Thomas

Hine, The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager (New York: Avon Books,

1999), 243. 18 Clark, 19

Hurt, 45.

Ibid., 49.

20 Dean, 21 Ibid.,

Practicing Passion, 74.

74. This story was reprinted in Eugene Rivers, “New Wineskins, New Models and Visions for a New Century,” in An Unexpected Prophet: What the 21st Century Church Can Learn from Youth Ministry—The 1999 Princeton Lectures on Youth, Church and Culture (Princeton: Princeton Theological Seminary, 2000), 87.


T

hey are called the millennial generation, and as this generation enters our youth programs, youth leaders are finding themselves caught in the place where modern church programs collide with postmodern needs. Tensions exist between the needs of students and parents and the expectation of the church. Ideally, effective youth ministries will find ways to bridge the gap between the worlds through dialogue, education, and communication. However, society and religion have burned many of those bridges with the millennial generation, so how do churches shift to meet the demands of this new paradigm in youth ministry?

As we in youth ministry struggle to find a way to care for kids and families in a culture out of control, Sam Hestorff has given us a timely gift. YM2K is a great book – clear, real, to-thepoint, and theologically solid. —CHAP CLARK Associate Professor of Youth, Family, and Culture Fuller Theological Seminary

Sam Hestorff has put together an excellent resource helping us rethink youth ministry to this unique generation of students. Statisticians tell us that this generation of teenagers is the largest in US history since the Baby Boomers, some sixty million strong— and they think and act like no generation before them. YM2K can give your ministry, your leadership team and your parents practical tools to minister to this age group. —DAVID BURROUGHS President, Passport, Inc.

Sam Hestorff (D.min., Fuller Theological Seminary) has been involved in youth ministry for sixteen years in both full- and part-time capacities. He is the president of rethink ministry (www.rethinkministry.com) and has served as the Minister to Students at Bayshore Baptist Church in Tampa, Florida, for the past eleven years.

YM2K: YOUTH MINISTRY FOR THE MILLENNIAL GENERATION

YM2K: Youth Ministry for the Millennial Generation by noted youth minister and conference leader Sam Hestorff flows from a deep passion for youth ministry and a sense that in order to be significant to a postmodern generation of students, youth ministry has to be rethought and refocused. Through this honest and earnest discussion of the need for change to traditional youth ministries, you will find freedom and a renewed sense of creativity to bring the message of Jesus Christ to this unique and wonderful generation of teens.

HESTORFF

Youth Ministry


YM2K