As he visits Christian Reformed churches and regional classis meetings, Ron deVries often meets adults who are struggling with the painful truth that the faith of young people in their congregations is languishing.
In some cases, said deVries, the young people have stopped going to church altogether.
“Inevitably, pastors, parents, friends come forward and ask me how they can do better to reach the young people in their church or those who have walked away,” said deVries, who has recently been appointed to serve as the Christian Reformed Church’s first-ever denomination-wide youth ministry catalyzer, meaning he will focus his work on teens and young adults.
“People hurt deeply when the church seems to be failing young people,” said deVries. “It not only touches a nerve; it touches their hearts.
“They want something practical to help them navigate through what they are dealing with and to help them find ways to embrace their covenant children.”
In his new role, deVries will be working as part of Faith Formation Ministries (FFM) to help classes, congregations, and church members find ways to reach young people.
He and others will do this in a variety of ways — especially, said deVries, by “creating a gracious space for and in youth ministry within the CRC, where ministry leaders can experiment, be recognized, be encouraged, and be supported in their work in youth ministry.”
FFM has the goal, said deVries, of raising up and supporting youth ministers and volunteers who can connect with teens and young adults by using approaches that matter to youth and bring them more intimately into the life of the church.
DeVries, who began his career as a businessman, has been involved in youth ministry work with the CRC for more than 20 years. Most recently, he served in Classis Alberta as a youth ministry consultant.
Part of his new position is being supported by Youth Unlimited, a ministry recommended for support by the CRC and focused on the needs and interests of young people.
With Youth Unlimited, said deVries, he will be working with SERVE in Canada. SERVE is a program that offers young people volunteer opportunities to work at various sites during the summer.
“This an important development,” said deVries of his appointment. “The CRC has never really had anyone serving the needs of youth ministry in this way before. In addition, this is the first time we’ve had a shared position with Youth Unlimited.”
Last year, deVries and Syd Hielema, team leader for Faith Formation Ministries, helped to launch a project to equip youth leaders at churches in Canada with tools to do their work in more meaningful ways.
Now this project is expanding to include churches in the U.S. as well.
“We will be using blogs, Facebook postings, various events and retreats, gatherings at classes, and other means to share resources and best practices with churches,” said deVries.
DeVries said they will also continue to make listening a priority. For example, FFM is holding a meeting of some 50 youth leaders from across the U.S. who will gather next week in Chicago to discuss issues they face and ways in which they can receive assistance from FFM.
“We want to hear what the churches are saying,” said deVries. “We want to learn about what churches are doing and what is working in their context. Above all, we want them to know how we can be of support.”
Looking at the state of youth ministry in the CRC, there are churches that have no youth ministers, many that have volunteers serving in the role, and a handful that have paid youth ministers on staff.
While these volunteers and youth ministers do a good job, they can be helped by getting tied into a larger network that can offer them coaching assistance, resources geared to their circumstances, and an office such as FFM that can advocate for the needs of youth ministry in a range of settings, said deVries.
“We will be exploring what we’ve already done in Canada, which is to equip and train youth ministry ‘champions’ to be the voice and conscience for youth ministry in every classis in the U.S.,” he said.
Along with the champions, they want to develop other young leaders in order to “pass on the keys of our faith to those who are the future of the church.”
Overall, said deVries, “our prayer is that where youth ministry is currently at and where we’ve been on this journey, God is springing up new things — new life, new energy, new focus, and a new commitment that will bring praise and glory to his name.”