Youth Unlimited's Canadian Marketing Problem

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Youth Unlimited, the Grand Rapids-based parachurch organization that includes GEMS, Cadets, and young people, has a serious marketing problem right across Canada.

If you Google Youth Unlimited, you immediately notice two quite separate organizations: the American body connected to the Christian Reformed Church in North America, and Youth for Christ.

Youth for Christ bought marketing rights for the Youth Unlimited name in Canada so that they could do some serious fundraising and promotion.

A number of Christian Reformed Churches have held offerings and supported events for Youth for Christ under the guise of Youth Unlimited. Most churches and major donors aren't aware of that.

The result? Funds for the 'real' U.S.-based Youth Unlimited have dried up and their Canadian leadership development and donor relations staffs have been let go. Canadian youth have lost precious support, encouragement, and training.

Perhaps it's too late for Youth Unlimited — the real one — to reclaim its support base in Canada. That can only be done through a concerted marketing effort among Christian Reformed Churches and donors ... many of whom live under the illusion that they are already supporting Youth Unlimited (ie Youth for Christ).

That begs the question: Is it time for Canadian churches to establish an independent, made-in-Canada youth ministry support system with our own team of leadership developers?

Youth Unlimited — the American one — is not accountable to any denomination. It is simply a provider of services to CRC congregations, and when funds dry up, they cut the staff. By making Youth Ministry a vibrant denominational ministry, it at least has the benefit of Ministry Shares so that staff and activities can be maintained.

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Keith,

As YUs newest "Leadership Consultant" for the GTA, the news of the layoffs was a huge blow, not only to those who were layed-off, but also to every youth worker with connections to YU.  This was obviously not an easy decision for the leadership at YU and it is very unfortunate that this has to happen.

Yes, part of the problem could be chalked up to a marketing problem (when I tell my non-CRC colleagues about my role at Youth Unlimited, they are confused to hear that there is another YU).  And economics certainly does play a part in this.

But I think the larger issue has to do with denominational support of highschool youth ministry on all levels (congregational, classis, denomination).  

Certainly at a congregational level, support for youth ministry is obvious in many CRCs (to be clear, support for youth minsitry has nothing to do with having a paid youth worker on staff.  I'm blessed to work with many churches whose youth ministries are tirelessly run by the blood, sweat, and tears of volunteers.  All I can say to them is "wow and thank-you!".  But in my experience, too often youth ministries are run as spaces to let youth "do their own thing" without interfering with the rest of the church (the idea of the youth service is a case in point - give the youth a Sunday night once and a while to make all the nosie they want but don't let them do this on a Sunday morning and definitely don't invite them to become equal and activie pariticipants in planning and leading worship alongside the adults lest they upset the applecart).

Even at the Classis level, many CRCs have taken steps to become more intentional about focusing on youth ministry - this can range from acknowledging that such a thing as youth ministry exists to having a classis invite its youth leaders and pastors to give a presentation on the state of youth ministry in their area (Classis Toronto invited its youth leaders and pastors to present at their May 2012 meeting).

At the denominational level, advances such as young adult delegates to Synod and the creation of YALT are great steps in the direction of acknowleding and including youth/young adults in the life of the CRC.

But is this enough to sustain youth ministry and does it underline youth ministry as a prioriy for our denomination, the awesome work of YU notwithstanding?

This is why the question you raise about creating a "made-in-Canada youth minsitry support system" is very provocative indeed as is your suggestion to find ways for the denomination to financially support youth ministry.  What would this look like?  Who knows, but I think the time is right to start having these discussions.

It is unfortunate that this had to happen.  I (personally, and our youth ministry) have strongly benefittied from YU consultant, and have helped turn our ministry into a more healthy and sustainable one.

Keith (and Jason), I share your frustration.  What is most unfortunate is that those of us who are in "frontline" youth ministry, both paid and volunteer, directly feel the effects when youth ministry support staff are removed from the picture.  There isi no doubt in my mind that our youth leaders need training and support, and it is frustrating to  continue moving forward when the rug keeps getting pulled from under us.

Keith, you raise some excellent questions. What are we doing as a denomination to assist those "in the trenches?"

Officially, I would argue, not much.  YU (under Dynamic Youth Ministries) is not officially affiliated with the CRC.  And while the CRC almost exclusively use their resources, we are not financially responsible to ensure those resources continue to be in place for us.

I agree that we need to pick up the ball, somehow.  Our youth leaders desparately need the support. But I'm not sure that reinventing the wheel, either at a denominational level, or Canadian level, would be beneficial.  There are other elements that YU has brought to the Canadian table, namely, SERVE projects, that simply cannot be tossed out and replaced with a CRC-funded equivalent.  SERVE has taken on a life of its own within CRC youth circles.  And I for one would be disappointed if YU loses this corner of their ministry and drops out of the CRC youth ministry support staff map through the loss of this position.

That being said, we ought to be working at many levels to ensure that those doing ministry at a local level get the information, encouragement, and advocacy that is needed for them to do the best possible work they can.  I know in our classis, we are making progress to redevelop this, and it is always at the forefront of the Ontario Youth Ministry Team.   

Hopefully this will help us ask some important questions as a denoomination, and especially north of the border.  Are we providing the best support for our children's program volunteers and staff?  Do we get them on board and leave them in their corner (as Jason suggests) without full integration into the life of the church?  How can we best ensure that they are given the best resources and support that we can offer to continue in their calling to children's ministry?  Is outsourcing a good option?

I can't even belive this... Come on GR... come on Burlington... Get your head in the game.

Youth Pastors are crying out for accoutability and connectivity to our demomination.

I'm sorry YU is in this place where this is the decision they had to make.

It's time to make the CRC - YU connection a working partnership rather than simply a "Communication Agreement".

Or as Kieth suggests for CRC Canada to step out on its own and offer a Canadian CRC Support System...

kb

It's time to have our own Canadian denomination. Let's begin the process. Our friends below the 49th will never get it. They don't even try.