By Anthony Livoti
“Connectional Churches” may be a redundant phrase. The Church is inherently connectional; Christ as head, and we as the body. But, an important question stems from that reality: to what extent is a single member of that body responsible for the Church as a whole?
When I graduated, I was very excited to work in youth ministry. Fortunately, I got a job quickly at a church in a very small town. I was given a part time job and was very excited to start the youth ministry at three different, small churches and the children’s ministry at one of them.
You may laugh, and I wish I could join you. The model was simple: find volunteers and do ministry with the three churches, then organize the children’s ministry. I didn’t have to DO it... but I had to make sure they all functioned.
Spoiler alert: they didn’t.
This was an unsustainable model of ministry coupled with an inexperienced and unorganized youth director. It was destined to fail from the beginning. Everyone had high hopes and those high hopes were dashed against the rocks. I burned out halfway through the first year and ceased to be helpful for the remainder of my tenure.
Connectionalism is important, but not at the cost of sustainability.
I said before that “connectional church” is redundant. Christ is the head and we are the body. So why is there often so little cooperation between churches?
A group of youth and children’s pastors in Illinois got together one day for a brainstorm: what happens when we join together to do something fun? We considered possibilities of worship, continuing education, games, and retreats... and what ended up happening was a bunch of those things at different times.
But before that happened, we learned what the different churches had strengths to do. Not everyone was a hand extending welcome to the youth. Not everyone could lead the game. Not everyone could supply the food. We divided up our talents and resources and pushed each other toward our goal.
It was this connectionalism that made an impact. Even though the youth groups had between ten and fifteen teenagers, when nine churches came together we had ninety students... and along with it, critical mass. The students were excited to participate in a large group and the ministry leaders didn’t have to do any extraordinary work. In fact, we enjoyed it so much better. After Gaga ball, a continuing education experience and a confirmation retreat, the students started to recognize each other, and the youth pastors started volunteering to host connectional events.
This was sustainable. The onus wasn’t on one person to do it all. We were able to connect and share each one’s gift.
And we couldn’t do that without taking the time to get to know each other. In order to do connectional ministry, you had to connect with your local youth pastors. Treat them like teammates and you’ll create good relationships that lead to fruitful, connectional experiences.
Anthony is serving as the Youth Ministry Director at Chapelwood United Methodist Church in Lake Jackson, Texas. He lives with his wife and two girls, and when he’s not with them or doing youth ministry he moonlights as a game master. See more about his passion for youth ministry and board games on his blog Board Youth Workers.