The Center for Youth Ministry Training is excited to announce receiving a $1.1 million grant from the Lilly Endowment for the Innovation Laboratory for Youth Ministry. This grant will empower CYMT to create a research-based incubator for innovation in youth ministry over 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 efforts 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 significant 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
Investigation: CYMT staff will search for new innovative models already in process across the country and develop the process for innovation.
Brain Trust: 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.
Invitation: CYMT will send RFP’s to our alumni and their churches to submit proposals to be part of the Innovation Laboratory for Youth Ministry.
Laboratory Training: 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 refine their models and receive encouragement.
Innovation Coaching: 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.
Resources: New models of ministry will need different resources. Our Lab Technician will work closely with churches to make sure they have the resources they need.
Discovery of Innovation Qualities: 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?”
CYMT & Innovation Oversight
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 years of the 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 efforts 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.
Innovation Laboratory Team
Andrew Zirschky, Academic Director + Chief Strategist for Innovation Grant: Andrew holds a Master of Divinity and a Ph.D. in Practical Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary. He oversees the development of CYMT’s academic program and also teaches many of the youth ministry courses offered through Memphis Theological Seminary. He has 20 years of ministry experience as a youth and college minister at churches in Idaho, Pennsylvania, andNew Jersey. He has also been named a Timothy Scholar by the United Methodist Foundation for Evangelism based upon his research emphasis in youth and young adult ministry. 

Katie Unruh, Laboratory Director: Kate Unruh holds a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in Youth Ministry from Princeton Theological Seminary, where she is also a Doctoral Candidate in Practical Theology.  Kate co-directs the Innovation Grant and teaches education and formation at Memphis Theological Seminary. Her research interests include youth ministry, confirmation, and the intersection of youth, faith, and culture.

Mark Taylor, Research and Resource Coordinator: Mark holds a Master of Arts in Religion with an emphasis in Youth Ministry from Memphis Theological Seminary and a bachelor’s degree in English Literature and Spanish from Calvin College.  Mark is a graduate of the CYMT Graduate Residency.  He has over a decade of experience working with youth in the church both as a volunteer and a youth minister.
Lindsay Brooks, Event Operations Manager: Lindsay holds a Master of Arts in Religion with a focus in Youth Ministry from Memphis Theological Seminary, and a Bachelor of Arts in Secondary Education with a focus in Economics and Political Science from Clemson University.  Lindsay is a graduate of the CYMT Graduate Residency.  She served in student ministry for 12 years, 9 years at Brentwood UMC in Tennessee, and 3 years at Northbrook UMC in Georgia.