- I can only imagine the number of people who discovered their sense of call while serving on a Youth Encounter team.
- Hundreds of thousands of young people have participated in Youth Encounter Congresses, Quakes, Spoke Folk and other events.
- YE Teams have traveled the globe for decades, sharing the Gospel and building relationships in the name of Jesus Christ.
- The musicians who came out of the Youth Encounter world, or who received significant stage time at Youth Encounter events helped shape worship with young people literally for generations. Think of bands like Sojourn, Echelon, Lost and Found, Peder Eide, Celia Whitler, Tangled Blue and many more.
- At its peak, Youth Encounter was on the front end of creativity and innovation in doing large events. And the rest of the church learned from Youth Encounter. Their fingerprints are all over synod youth gatherings.
- Youth Encounter was one of the Network’s partner organizations, and we appreciated their ongoing friendship and support.
I was never a part of a Youth Encounter Team, or worked for YE. And while I’d brought young people to their events in the past, really my connection with them has diminished over the last 15 years. But I had many good friends who did serve with them, and I am very aware of the positive impact on the faith of those who were connected with them.
I was not surprised, however, to hear the news. Youth Encounter has been going through significant leadership transition recently and the number of programs, ministry teams and events has been decreasing every year. Even their recent attempts at added new elements to their events, like service elements, were already being done elsewhere.
There has already been speculation as to why Youth Encounter closed. Some speculate that the root cause goes back to when Youth Encounter dropped “Lutheran” from its name. (To be clear, they always remained a Lutheran organization, their constitution and bylaws always pointed to the Lutheran confessions as their theological plumb line.) Others point to the general decline in event ministry. Still others think that the shift Youth Encounter made to the theological right in the last decade was a part of the problem.
While “Monday Morning Quarterbacking” may be instructive as other ministries look to the future, I’m not sure that it’s helpful. Rather, I think there is still at least one more thing that Youth Encounter can teach us: How to end well.
The church is great at beginning things. We are pretty terrible at ending things. In congregations and other settings, we tend to let programs or ministries continue, long after their effectiveness has faded. We don’t know how to end things.
Youth Encounter is ending well. Their leadership was able to look at the facts (facts are our friends!), pray, discern the future, pray more, and make the determination that it was time for an organization with a great history to come to a close. They are closing on their terms, they are paying their bills and fulfilling their immediate contracts. And, they are celebrating. They are bringing together an amazing roster of people who have shared in their ministry for a celebration event on March 31 in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. (More information here)
There will be worship, celebration, memories and I’d assume, lots of laughter and tears.
Whatever your perspective of Youth Encounter’s ministry, there is no question that God’s Holy Spirit has worked through this organization. Jesus has been proclaimed and lives have been changed. The church has learned from Youth Encounter and is stronger today because of it.
Thanks be to God for the ministry of Lutheran Youth Encounter. (I’m reinserting the word Lutheran, because that is their history, and because I want to be able to ‘claim them’ as one of our own.) and thanks be to God for the integrity and meaning with which they are closing out their ministry.