SarahBixlerPhotoJuly2014Sarah Bixler is an MDiv student at Princeton Theological Seminary. She is working with the convention planning team this year as the coordinator for the children and junior youth programs. 

Thousands of teenagers raising their arms and voices in worship. Delegates discerning matters of faith and practice around tables. Children singing and playing in their own nurturing space. These are the memorable scenes that come to mind for many Mennonite Church USA convention attendees.

There is, however, another important group of participants engaged in convention. Unfortunately, middle school youth are often overlooked and poorly understood by our society and sometimes even our churches. But not so with the Mennonite Church USA convention. We “get” junior youth. And we know they benefit from – and contribute to – the convention experience just as much as everyone else.

At Kansas City 2015, junior youth having completed grades 6-8 will gather for engaging worship, learn from relevant speakers, be mentored by oR4NubmDpVr7iCNatn_5mn2uMOcoruxHppuBG3hPxtoadult leaders, and have fun being with one another. They will enter into the Luke 24 passage and the convention theme On the Way in ways that connect with their experience of God and life. Junior youth programming strives to help junior youth develop a sense of common Mennonite identity, grow in faith alongside peers and mentors, and listen for Christ’s call in their lives. Events, speakers and Bible studies are tailored specifically to junior youth, and curriculum is written exclusively for them. This means that junior youth will experience the church meeting them where they are, and recognize that they are an integral part of something bigger than themselves – a broader community of faith.

Around 100-150 junior youth typically attend convention. This group is both big enough to give junior youth a sense of excitement in connecting with lots of peers, and small enough to form an intimate community throughout the week. On-site worship, Bible study, speakers, small group times, recreation and much more are being planned. The junior youth will attend at least one joint event with other convention participants. Most days, the junior youth will also travel off-site to experience a servant project, the Worlds of Fun water park, and museums like Science City.

Convention comes at a pivotal moment in the faith development of junior youth. Studies by the Barna Group show that one’s spiritual beliefs are formed by age 13, and most adults maintain these same beliefs throughout life. In striving to form our young people in the way of Christ, the church has a golden opportunity to disciple and guide junior youth. Mennonite Church USA recognizes this, and offers the convention experience as one place to intentionally focus on the faith formation of junior youth from an Anabaptist-Mennonite perspective. For junior youth, coming to convention could literally be life-changing.

We on the convention planning team are getting ready for the junior youth in a special way. Will your youth be there?