The National Youth Conference of US Mennonite Brethren Churches (YouthCon) has been happening since 1975. YouthCon has been an incredible experience for thousands of youth over its 44-year history. We know at least 48 youth have accepted Jesus at YouthCon since 2003, as far back as we’ve found records. Countless pastors, missionaries, and church and community leaders can share life-changing moments, and God callings that happened when they themselves attended a YouthCon during their high school years. The USMB Youth’s leadership, past and present, has dedicated many hours to provide opportunities for youth to experience God, be equipped for service, and be inspired to live a life with and for God. Hundreds of volunteers have served through the years. Many churches, parents, leaders, staff, speakers, etc. have sacrificed to make 12 of these events a reality.
YouthCon has a long and rich history. While we celebrate that history, the past 12 years we are seeing a sharp decline in attendance and the decision has been made to discontinue the national youth conference as we have come to know it. This decision follows many hours of prayer, discussion, and data analysis. As a denomination, we cannot continue to support an “every-four-years” youth conference.
Here are the eight (of the many) of the reasons we have discovered:
- The frequency of YouthCon – we lose promotional momentum and in today’s “everything now” culture and news cycle it’s hard to get people excited about it. Every time we do one it’s all-new students which are difficult to explain and the draw of a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience is no longer what it used to be.
- The short tenure of youth workers – when the average youth worker stays 2 years at a church it’s difficult to keep that connection to the church.
- Fewer churches are hiring youth workers who have “MB historical ties.” Which compounds explaining what YouthCon is to someone who has never experienced it.
- The lack of value of being together denominationally by many churches – a growing number of churches and zero church plants- has not participated in the past 4 Youthcons.
- The hurdle of missing school has become a bigger hurdle than it was in years past.
- Competition with other non-denominational events and camps
- Shrinking of the size of youth ministries from all across the nation and throughout all denominations. (We had the same number churches in 2019 as we did in 2015 but over 150 people less).
- The ever-rising travel and event expenses. It’s become more difficult to put on a high production event with rising costs of almost everything and still make it affordable for youth ministries.
You can read more in the Christian Leader Magazine by clicking here.
The Bottom Line:
There are many more reasons but the bottom line is the numbers just aren’t supporting it. Declining attendance + rising costs of hosting conferences like this + having it only once every-four-years which means we start from scratch every time = not worth the cost. We must be good stewards of the time, money, and resources that God has given to each of us and USMB Youth believes more effective ministry opportunities are available with a higher return on investment.
The loss of a national youth conference is difficult to swallow. So many people have experienced life change and have very deep ties to our national youth conference. We didn’t just want to end YouthCon without at least offering something different. With God’s guidance, a new opportunity presented itself. YouthCon is finished, as sad as that maybe, but something new is coming and it’s called ASCENT.
The idea of ascent is a very simple one. In terms of camping adventures, the idea suggests a climb or walk of some sort to the summit of a mountain or hill. Have you ever hiked up a mountain? Usually, it’s a struggle. There are many obstacles that come into play that make the journey difficult. Yet, at the top of the ascent, there is always some kind of payout. At the peak, you will find a view or a treasure that made the whole journey worthwhile. We see camp through a similar lens. Many variables come into play to make the journey to camp a tough one. Our desire is that a couple of things make the ascent valuable. First, gathering together as a family of believers is and always will be a special aspect of the camp experience. Second, and most importantly, we hope the ascent to camp leads to a very special place of intimacy with Jesus. We hope teenagers from all over the nation experience a deep place of peace and rest found in Christ that makes the journey meaningful. We believe the pinnacle of the camp experience is worshiping our creator together in community, while personally stepping into deeper places of God’s unique callings, plans, and purposes for our lives. We believe gathering together and leaning into the presence of God to enjoy a special place of rest make the various struggles to camp especially beneficial.
How It Works:
Ascent is an annual national camp experience for High School Youth. USMB Youth has partnered with the Southern District Youth Commission to replace their annual high school camp. It will be held at Glorieta, NM (the same place as YouthCon 2019, 1987, and 1975), and all USMB churches are invited!
Is ASCENT held annually?
Yes! It will be held in mid-June each year. All churches are invited every year. The beauty of this new annual format is you can decide on your own if every year, every other year, or every four years works best for your ministry. An open invitation will be available every year.
Is this only for the Southern District?
No, it is a national camp. Open to all churches and all districts. Whether you attend on the national level (like YouthCon), the district level like a summer camp, or never participated this camp is open to you and your youth ministry. The Southern District has graciously agreed to partner with USMB Youth to host a national camp.
What will the cost be?
The price has not been finalized yet, but early estimates suggest it will be cheaper than YouthCon! We hope to make this event as affordable as possible.
What can we expect for ASCENT 2021?
The same big and exciting atmosphere as a YouthCon but with a more laid back summer camp feel. There will be challenging messages, engaging worship, and custom workshops plus tons of activities. And since it will be warmer weather all 55+ activities (including water ones) will be available and most with no extra cost!
What will be the exact dates?
It will be June 16-20 (Wednesday – Sunday), 2021. Registration will open in January 2021.
We will release more information this fall. Stay tuned!