CYMT Innovation Laboratory

The Center for Youth Ministry Training is excited to announce receiving a $1.1 million grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc. for the Innovation Laboratory for Youth Ministry. This grant will empower CYMT to create a research-based incubator for innovation in youth ministry during the next 3 years.



The Need for Innovation




The modern youth ministry movement has generated various models for ministry to young people, but nearly all of these models reduce youth ministry to a peer-based youth group. The modern formula assumes that youth ministry requires (a) a peer-based group (b) that meets together regularly face-to-face (c) with other like-minded peers (d) under the guidance of designated Christian adults (e) primarily for the purpose of personal spiritual enrichment or education in the faith (f) using age-based curriculum that is deemed developmentally appropriate (g) with the goal of seeing youth matriculate into adult Christian activities. While elements of this modern formula can be identified in the Christian formation eff orts of the church across two millennia, the manner in which the church has been beholden to this staid formula for youth ministry over the past 100 years is stifling.

Meanwhile, despite signifi cant investment by denominations and para-church organizations, the groundswell of concern in mainline denominations about youth ministry has become impossible to ignore. A quick survey of the landscape of youth ministry in mainline churches across the country reveals one consistent fact: Youth ministry in the mainline church is undeniably in trouble, and yet we continue to

turn to the modern formula with its emphasis on peer-based groups for personal spiritual enrichment as a dominant, if not sole, form of youth ministry.

Traditional youth group is not the only way to accomplish youth ministry. It’s our contention that a lack of viable and tested models constrains the imagination of church leaders and keeps the church in a cycle of imitation rather than innovation, even as youth group dies on the vine. As a grant proposal under the Innovative Models for Youth Ministry Project, the Innovation Laboratory for Youth Ministry seeks to spur congregations to design and support innovative models of youth ministry that are effective practically, grounded theologically, and widely replicable.

We believe the key to breaking out of the mold is to help a select group of congregations design and test innovative models of youth ministry that are theologically rich, practically effective, and report widely about these new models, while the laboratory provides other congregations the resources and tools to adopt and modify the innovative models as their own.



Laboratory Activities




CYMT staff will search for new innovative models already in process across the country and develop the process for innovation.



CYMT will hold a brain trust to further investigate and learn about the challenges facing youth ministry in today’s culture, while seeking insights into what opportunities exist for new models of youth ministry.



CYMT will send RFP’s to our alumni and their churches to submit proposals to be part of the Innovation Laboratory for Youth Ministry.



CYMT will hold a laboratory training for Lead Innovators (youth ministers) and their innovation teams (pastor, volunteer leader, parents, and key youth) to learn, process, brainstorm, challenge, and plan. We will have an additional 1-day event to allow innovators and church teams to refi ne their models and receive encouragement.



Each lead innovator and church team will receive a coach who will come alongside the innovation process and help the church navigate the ecological change necessary to implement new models.


New models of ministry will need diff erent resources. Our Lab Technician will work closely with churches to make sure they have the resources they need.



Through data analysis of the experience of our partner congregations, we seek to answer the question, “What factors contribute to a congregation’s ability to innovate in youth ministry?”



For a decade, CYMT has been committed to training and educating well-equipped, called, and theologically informed youth ministers to lead the next generation of youth ministry. Alongside our partner seminaries, Memphis Theological Seminary and Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, we seek to develop pastoral creativity in our graduate residents because we are convinced that creative and innovative youth ministers who are educated as practical theologians are key for the future of youth ministry. We see our CYMT alumni as potential catalysts for change in their congregations and the wider youth ministry world — if only they are provided with the necessary time, resources, permission, and guidance.

Expected Results


During the three-year research and development phase, the Innovation Laboratory for Youth Ministry will learn and develop systems for helping local congregations innovate new models, as well as learn the keys to successful implementation in the local church. Ten innovators and partner churches will have the opportunity to develop new models for youth ministry in their context.

Our failures will instruct our eff orts as we learn and lean toward new models for youth ministry that will provide rich discipleship for youth and a tested innovation process capable of leading other congregations through innovation in youth ministry.