This is certainly a buzzword in today’s culture. I grew up in the days when that word meant CBS, NBC, or ABC. Now it means connecting computers so that data and information can flow. Networking demands communication. It requires connections, and it involves structure. The very purpose of a network is to establish a structure that facilitates communication via interrelated connections.
That’s why the same word – network, is often used to describe a group of interconnected people. Dictionary.com defines it as, “an extended group of people with similar interests or concerns who interact and remain in informal contact for mutual assistance or support.”
Vision For Youth started in 1985 with the idea to network youth workers. In the past 30+ years, that vision has become a reality. Without much exaggeration, VFY is now exactly that – an extended group of youth workers who interact and remain in informal contact for mutual support. We state it this way in our organization’s mission statement: Vision For Youth exists to train and encourage youth workers & students for effective ministry.
The structure of our network is really quite simple. We host an annual youth workers’ training conference (National Youth Ministries Conference); we run inner-city student outreach events during the summer (New Hope for Chicago, New York City, and Philadelphia); we produce quality and relevant publications for youth workers and students; and we send out a regular e-mail newsletter.These initiatives are designed to connect and communicate with youth workers.
The VFY network is working – through structure, connections, and communication. That’s what we are all about.
In an attempt to fulfill that networking pledge to youth workers, here are some thoughts about what makes us tick. Please read through this article so that you know exactly what we are trying to do.
1. Our mission statement is our strategic focus.
Several years ago our board of directors sat down to hammer out what was to become our mission statement. Here’s what we came up with: Vision For Youth exists to train and encourage youth workers & students for effective ministry. That’s what we do. That’s all we do. More than anything else, our organization came into existence with a single focus – we wanted to network youth workers. So, we decided that the best way to do that was to offer training and encouragement for ministry. Everything we do somehow fits into that grand purpose. A few years later, the Lord put a burden on our hearts to expand that same idea to students – and our student ministry (New Hope) was conceived.
To be quite honest with you, we probably do “encouragement” more than we do training. Over the past several years of running the National Youth Ministries Conference, the number one benefit listed on our conference evaluations was the encouragement youth workers received by coming to our January conference. Let’s face it – youth workers sometimes need encouragement. We have found that we do that very well. So, we’ll keep doing it! In fact, please let us know if there is anything else we can do to encourage you in youth ministry.
We’re also, though, committed to training. If you’ve had a long-term relationship with VFY, you know that we’ve had some of the best communicators possible at our conferences. Our line-up of past speakers is a veritable “who’s who” of youth ministry experts: Doug Fields, Chap Clark, Wayne Rice, Walt Mueller, Dann Spader, Dave Rahn, Barry St. Clair, Ken Rudolph, Cheryl Fawcett, Mark Senter, Jim Burns, and more! We’ve also filled our workshops with experienced practitioners – people who do youth ministry and who can communicate it to others.
Our mission statement will guide us along. This is the focus (the strategic focus) of our entire ministry. We don’t want to lose sight of that ideal our mission will continue to be our focus: VFY exists to train and encourage youth workers & students for effective ministry!
2. Doctrinal integrity is our commitment.
Vision For Youth also began with a singular burden to network youth workers from what we refer to as the center of evangelical Christianity. We understand that there are youth ministry organizations out there with a vast variety of theological positions. To the left of us are the inter-denominational or even neo-evangelical organizations that do not emphasize doctrinal integrity. They publish books and feature conferences with a wide range of doctrinal perspectives from their authors and speakers. To the right of us are the ultra-conservative and ultra-separatists that make issues out of external and temporal values. These organizations are quite limited in their choice of writers and speakers due to their hard-line stand on ecclesiastical and personal separation issues. As most readers know, neither of those two extremes are a characteristic of VFY. We believe that our position is the main-stream of evangelical Christianity. We take a solid position on the fundamentals of the faith; such as salvation by grace, the inerrancy of Scripture; the deity of Christ, and the importance of the local church. We are non-Charismatic and we place a major emphasis on the clear communication of God’s Word in everything we do.
Doctrine is important to us. We believe that doctrinal integrity is critically important in today’s youth ministry. There are so many youth ministry publishers and organizations out there that do not take one doctrinal position or stance. In fact, many of these organizations actually allow speakers or writers who take a contrary position to what their own organization holds. We feel that inconsistent approach is contradictory and even troublesome.
When youth workers and students come to our events or read our publications – they know what they are getting with VFY. We are committed to doctrinal integrity. (By the way, the VFY doctrinal statement and articles of faith is available by contacting us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
3. Visionary leadership is our intention.
VFY started with a vision. In the summer of 1985, a strategic group of youth workers gathered around a lunchroom table in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania with a vision of what would become a national youth workers’ conference. In the early years of our conference, every promotional item we produced carried this tag line, “Come experience the vision.” After 30 years of running the National Youth Ministries Conferences, visionary leadership is still very important to us. In fact, all of us associated with VFY have dreams, visions, and specific goals of what can be accomplished for the glory of the Lord through this ministry. Who knows what God wants to do? We are praying specifically that He would enable this organization to fulfill these dreams and many more things for the cause of Christ and to impact the next generation all around the globe.
Of course, all of these ideas will require funding. We serve, however, a God of incredible resources. After all, He owns the cattle on a thousand hills! We encourage all youth workers to pray specifically with us for the future of this ministry. We know that He can provide. The history of VFY is just one visual aid that demonstrates that truth. We started as a total volunteer organization that had to borrow funds from churches to run our conferences. Now we have a full-time executive director and are looking to continue our outreach emphasis with students that will enable us to accomplish our mission in an even greater way. Please pray with us that God will continue to supply the resources needed for these commitments.
If your church is open to having Tim or me come to present VFY, please let us know. We are always looking for ways to increase our prayer and financial support from churches. God may have also blessed you (or people you know) with the financial resources to support us. If He puts a burden on your heart to do this, please let us know that as well. We only want to take this ministry as far as God allows us.
4. Marketing to our niche is our practice.
The word “niche” can be defined, “A situation or activity specially suited to a person’s interests, abilities, or nature; (or) a special area of demand for a product or service.” This describes the very nature of Vision For Youth. We know that our ministries are not designed for everyone. We realize that some youth workers, for a variety of reasons, would not fit what we do. We are never going to be successful at mass-marketing. Over the years we have tried to buy church mailing lists and then blitz them through direct mail of brochures and flyers. We found out that this approach was not very successful for us. Instead, we are looking to impact our “niche” – or special area of interest.
A quick look through the pages of an Almanac reveals close to 70,000 Bible-believing churches in the United States. We have a large, God-given opportunity to impact a significant number of church youth workers. I know that many of the churches represented in this list do not have full-time, vocational youth workers, but all of them should be doing youth ministry – and therefore, need training and encouragement. Yes, our niche is huge.
If you know of someone (youth workers, youth pastors, churches, etc.) in your area that would benefit from what we do, please let us know. We’d be happy to add their name to our e-mail newsletter or mailing list for future magazines and mailings.
5. Training for ministry is our priority.
I know that this sounds very redundant. This article quotes the mission statement of VFY so often that readers could probably quote it in their sleep. But, take a closer look at what I am trying to emphasize here. VFY started with one event – the National Youth Ministries Conference. In our years of existence, over 5,000 youth workers and students have attended our conferences. Since our beginning, (that year back in January 1986, where about 50 of us rattled around in the auditorium of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Toledo, Ohio) the National Youth Ministries Conference has been the center-piece of our organization. What we are saying here is that this event will continue to be the main focus of what we do. In all the years since that first conference in cold, snowy Toledo (is it any wonder that Jeeps are made there?) – the NYMC remains our top priority. We love youth workers – and we are absolutely committed to youth workers.
As we are now seriously considering new programs to fulfill our mission, our heart remains the same. Training youth workers, encouraging youth workers, and networking youth workers is what we do. We are now launching an international aspect to that priority. Our world is a big place – with a burgeoning youth population and youth culture. It is our belief that youth workers all over the world need training and encouragement. We’ll do whatever we can to accomplish our mission here and around the world.
The National Youth Ministries Conference, however, will still be the center-piece or flag-ship event. You will soon notice that we are renewing our efforts to pour creative energy into this annual event. We are always looking for fresh ideas to make this even more creative and relevant. Send us any thoughts you might have that will help us ratchet this up some. Also, let us know if you could help. We need tons of volunteer help to pull off an event like this.
6. Communication with excellence is our passion.
Communicating is very important to us. Tim and I both work very hard to be the best communicators possible. That definitely doesn’t mean that we are the best communicators out there – it’s just that we want to be the best that we can be. God has given us an important message. It’s a message of grace and of victory. It’s the message of Good News. VFY wants to raise the bar of Christ-honoring communication. We encourage all youth workers to be as creative as possible, but please be clear, consistent, and passionate communicators of God’s Word.
We also hope you’ve noticed that all of our events and products are characterized by quality communication. We select main speakers at the National Youth Ministries Conference who can teach us about contemporary youth ministry and we recruit workshop speakers who are experienced practitioners of what they are teaching. We also bring in quality communicators who can preach the Word of God in a way that will touch the hearts and lives of today’s youth workers and students. We also utilize VFY board members to handle a few of our main sessions so that the attendees will hear our heart and our passion for God’s Word and youth ministry.
We are also just beginning to publish youth ministry products that reflect a growing quality (in other words, you’ll see that the quality of our products will get better and better as we go along), a true relevancy for today’s youth ministry, and a commitment to fulfill our mission.
7. Cultural relevance is our objective.
We’ve taken some heat for this one, but we want everything we do to be a reflection of cultural relevancy. As you know, youth ministry began as a need-based idea. Churches and para-churches noticed a growing youth culture and decided to do something specific to reach kids for Christ. Soon youth ministry became an entire movement. Of course, there is a clear Bible mandate to impact the next generation. I believe that this is one of the most important priorities for any church or any church movement. We have a God-given responsibility to impact the coming generation.
The VFY inner-city outreach ministry for students is one example of being sensitive to culture. Our trips to Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York City, give students practical exposure to the inner-city culture. These outreach experiences sure stretch all of us to get outside of our own comfort zones, but the lessons learned in the cities can lead to a greater confidence to share the Gospel with others when we get back home. Also, who knows, maybe the Lord will call someone from your church to inner-city ministry as a result of their being involved in New Hope. We’ve already seen it happen.
These are the 7 basic characteristics of Vision For Youth. It’s what makes us tick. These distinctives are who we are. Thanks for reading.