Youth ministry and hiking don’t often go together, but that is exactly how USMB Youth chair Kyle Goings describes Ascent, the brand new USMB Youth senior high camp.
The goal of Ascent is in its name. Goings says that the metaphor of ascending to a peak and looking back on the journey is what Ascent is all about.
“It’s that ascent, it’s that top part,” he says. “Once you get up there, you get a new view point. You see the world maybe bigger or differently than you did before. That’s what we want every year for Ascent. The students come, and they get a new perspective. They see that they are a part of something bigger than themselves.”
Ascent will take place June 16-20, 2021, at Glorieta Adventure Camps in Glorieta, New Mexico. The cost will be $350 for students who have completed grades 9-12 and $175 for adult leaders. The early bird sign-up deadline is April 30. After this date, the price will increase by $50 for both students and leaders.
Declining attendance prompts change
USMB national youth events date back to the 1970s and were held every four years. The most recent national events in that history include Named in 2015 and YouthCon in 2019.
The USMB Youth National Planning Team, led by Goings, coordinated these two most recent events. This team consists of representatives from different USMB districts, Tabor College, Fresno Pacific University and Multiply. Goings has served on the planning team since 2008 and has been chair since 2012.
Goings and the planning team noticed that attendance was steadily declining at the national youth events but also realized the importance of community across the denomination. They found that this dwindling was occurring for several reasons.
First, the National Youth Conference was only every four years. Although this made people want to take advantage of their one chance to go, this also did not allow the youth workers to become familiar with the event.
Goings says that the second reason for decreased attendance is the national youth worker turnover rate. It is around 18 months nationally, and the MB average is roughly three years. The fact that Ascent will happen every year will help youth workers and churches stay motivated to seek the community that it brings.
“If the youth worker comes and goes, at least the church is connected,” Goings says.
Third, the team also noticed that it was hard for students to miss school days. Holding a national event in the summer would address this issue. This went hand-in-hand with holding the event in a camp setting and bringing the cost down significantly.
All of these factors have contributed to a high level of anticipation for Ascent. Goings expects to have around 20 churches represented at Ascent, and says that he expects this number will grow in the future once the pandemic passes.
What to expect at Ascent
The theme for camp week will be “Home—Remain in Christ.” This theme is timely, with many youth and their families in quarantine, doing online school or working from home in the past year. Inspiration for this theme comes from John 15 where Jesus asks his followers to remain or abide in him.
The planning team designed this theme hoping to tap into the hearts of campers and give them the opportunity to grow outside of Ascent.
“We feel that when someone is close to Jesus, everything else comes forth from that,” Goings says. “Evangelism, encouragement, loving, grace and justice all come from a relationship with Jesus.”
The planning team has selected John Leonard to teach and explore the theme as the camp speaker. Leonard is the youth pastor at Mountain View Church in Fresno, Calif., and he is also part of the USMB national youth worker network.
“We wanted someone who speaks to youth on a regular basis, prioritizing youth ministry, and we also wanted someone who absolutely loves Jesus and equipping students to love Jesus,” Goings says.
Leonard will give one session on each night of camp—Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Goings hopes that Leonard will encourage the students to go deeper and seek out what God is calling them to do.
“A lot of our messages are geared toward more active faith involvement—basically, how can teenagers activate their faith in a deeper level or bigger way,” Goings says.
Stephen Humber of Multiply will join Leonard in ministry as the spiritual formation helper, connecting the worship times with Leonard’s messages. He will also provide and oversee an always-open prayer room for students to receive personalized spiritual care, including prayer, encouragement and open ears.
Presence Worship out of Wichita, Kansas, will be leading the worship sessions during the week. Presence led worship for YouthCon 2019, and Goings says he is excited for them to usher the Holy Spirit into the worship spaces and lesson times.
Topical workshops will give students another chance to grow spiritually during camp week, and they will take place on two days. Workshop topics include sports ministry, prayer and worship, evangelism training, missions and more.
“These are workshops where students will be able to interact,” Goings says. “This isn’t like another lesson; it’s challenging and discussion-based. We really like that because then students can choose based on the topics that fit their needs.”
Along with lessons, worship, workshops and prayer times, the students will also have free time to enjoy any of the 36 activities available for free at Glorieta. These include numerous waterfront activities, ziplining, mini golf, four different ropes courses, aero-tag, drift trikes and many more. Whitewater rafting will also be available, but at an additional cost of $65 per person.
The planning team is working hard to develop a safe and sensible plan for dealing with COVID-19. However, they are waiting until Ascent is closer so they can better gauge what the protocols will be. They are hoping that there will be very limited restrictions on the number of people allowed to meet in groups, but these protocols can change rapidly.
“Our goal is to provide a safe environment, but at the same time still adhere to any mandates,” says Goings.
The planning team will give updates on Ascent COVID-19 policies through social media and through the USMB Youth monthly email newsletter.
Students and leaders can register for Ascent and find more information by visiting the USMB Youth website.
Toby Penner is from Elbing, Kansas and is a junior at Tabor College majoring in communications and English. In addition to serving as an intern at the Christian Leader for the spring 2021 semester, Penner is a member of the college track team and is the editor of the Tabor View , the student publication.