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Nine Youth Leaders Attend First CRM Affinity Group

Emma Ruby Zannis

As the Project on Rural Ministry transitioned into becoming the Center for Rural Ministry, affinity groups became part of the vision for the Center. Cultivated to deepen the CRM’s ability to equip and encourage pastors and congregational leaders in their ministries, the first of the groups are being launched over the duration of this year. On the evening of Tuesday, January 30th, nine youth leaders, several CRM team members, and Dr. Duffy Robbins gathered to launch the Center for Rural Ministry’s first ever affinity group.  Those in the room hailed from varying denominations, ages, life seasons, types of ministries, and callings but they were gathered with the same hope and vision—to be better equipped to disciple the next generation of the Church.

How Did You Get Here?

Dr. Robbins started the evening off with a question: “How did you get here?”

The group spent a time during the first night simply getting to know each other over snacks and coffee.

One couple shared a glimpse of their journey in discipling youth since 2005 and are now serving the youth at their church in Oil City, Pennsylvania. Another story came from a young pastor who recently began shepherding a youth ministry that has multiplied from six to sixty kids in a short span of time. He shared that he comes to the group “still learning and still preparing... in the midst of extremely messy ministry” while also asking the question of his local community “who isn’t being ministered to” and how do we welcome them in? Also in the room was a young youth pastor who stepped into vocational Church ministry four months ago and came to this group seeking to learn how to build on to what he has already established in his ministry and how to continue to build it well.

Pastor Kyle Eisenhuth chats with CRM Finance Director Michelle McFeaters during a break.

Among the nine were two pastors fixed upon the immense importance of discipling all members of all ages within their congregations.  One of them looks out into his congregation and sees a growing number of young children who will soon reach ages that qualify for participation in a youth group. Spying the future need and seeing the present lack of ready resources, he joined this affinity group to be equipped to step into the shoes of youth pastor when it is needed.  Another member of this affinity group has long been a faithful minister in Kane, Pennsylvania and has frequently also undertaken the role of youth pastor.  Remarking that “we have good things happening with our young people,” he is seeking to learn how to develop sustainable leadership for the youth in his community.

Another two of the affinity group members followed the Lord’s call into camp ministry. One came out of a background working as a software salesman and has now been on the field of youth ministry for the past six months as executive director at Wesley Woods.  Another grew up going to camp at Seneca Hills Bible Camp and hated every moment of it for several years. But as he grew up, his disillusionment with his summers at camp slowly flourished into a love for camp.  As of two years ago, he has been working fulltime at Seneca Hills as the program manager. Both come to the group hoping to become even more equipped in training up future generations to serve the Kingdom of God.

Where Do We Go From Here?

After weaving a tapestry of stories through collective sharing and listening, this affinity group was asked the question, “What would have to happen in a year’s time for you to see incredible change within your ministry?” Their responses colored in a desire to see relationships deepening and souls increase in their hunger for God. They shared that they would hope that their youth would be “connected to God, to mentors, to peers, and to churches,” that they would “find Jesus and cultivate their faith,” and more broadly that there would be “engagement that would lead to growth.”

One of several books that members of the affinity group will be working through this year.

Following these ideas full of vision and hope, Dr. Robbins set the tone of the path ahead. Remarking that “adolescence is a perilous journey,” Robbins laid out practical means by which these youth leaders can help their youth to “put away childish notions about God” and “become like Jesus.”  Robbins shared data that reveals that the “best predictor of a youth staying a Christian is long term participation in a local church” and from this flowed an encouraging promise to discuss and learn together, over the course of the next year, how the leaders of the Church might equip the saints of tomorrow through the ministry of multiplication.

Looking Ahead to a Year of Learning and Conversation

Over the course of 2024, this affinity group will meet several more times with Dr. Robbins and CRM executive director Dr. Charles Cotherman and continue to build a network of support, fellowship, mutual encouragement, and collaborative learning. The door to joining a community like the one above is wide open.  If you are interested in joining this group or an upcoming affinity group you can click here for more information and to sign up. Two affinity groups for small-church pastors are set to launch in 2024, and more affinity group options are on the way in 2025.


Emma Ruby, raised in central PA, is a writing intern for the PRM and a senior studying English, Christian Ministries, and Redemptive Entrepreneurship with the hope of spending a lifetime doing vocational ministry.