Virtual options allow Perkins School of Youth Ministry to serve a broader audience

Most of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been negative. But for the Perkins School of Youth Ministry (PSYM), a few silver linings have emerged.

Thanks to the growing acceptance and availability of virtual options, the program’s Foundations training is reaching more youth leaders in a wider geographic area.  In May, the California-Pacific (Cal-Pac) Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church contracted Perkins to provide virtual Foundations training for its intern program; other virtual trainings are underway at other annual conferences.

“The past 18 months has really opened the door for opportunities,” said Bart Patton, Director of the Office of External Programs. (Until Sept. 1, Patton served as Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry Education.)

Foundations is the program’s “basic training” for new or early career youth workers and volunteers, offering an extensive course on primary material for ministry including: professionalism, management, volunteers, safety, relationships, programming, trips and events, leadership, adolescent development, budgeting, teaching, communication, self-care, resources, and more. Students receive a Certificate of Completion for Foundations in Youth Ministry Training.

“Foundations offers a little of everything to get new youth leaders started,” said Patton.

For the past 35 years, the annual Perkins School of Youth Ministry has taken place in-person in Dallas, with the exception of 2021, which was held virtually.  That weeklong program offers the Foundations training as well as more advanced workshops. (Foundations is a preset track of workshops, separate from the “Workshops” track, which provides advanced and specialized training for more experienced youth leaders.)

Four years ago, the PSYM team added an “on-the-go” option for its Foundations program, where Patton and other program leaders traveled to other locations in the U.S. to provide training at local annual conferences, typically in retreat settings.

“Through that on-the-go program, we’ve been able to forge a lot of partnerships, as close as Houston, with the Texas Annual Conference, and as far away as Western Pennsylvania, where we’ve done trainings in Erie, Pa., and Susquehanna, Pa.,” said Patton.

Going Virtual

When COVID hit, the January program in Dallas went virtual in 2021, as did the on-the-go Foundations training. Now team leaders plan to continue offering Foundations virtually, even after the pandemic, to make it more accessible and affordable to a broader pool of youth leaders.

Cal-Pac adopted the virtual option as the basic training for its intern program, which prepares and mentors young adults and then assigns them to ministry positions in churches, camping and retreat ministries.

“Many of our annual conferences find themselves with churches spread out so far geographically that, even if we were to send a team to the conference, it would be difficult to find a central, easily accessible location to hold the training,” said Patton. “Adding a virtual option makes our program accessible to youth leaders that might not otherwise be able to attend.”

Patton added that many youth leaders in small or rural churches juggle their ministry part-time, in addition to full-time jobs, and for them, traveling to Dallas for a week is often not feasible.

Currently, team leaders plan is to offer the January PSYM in person in Dallas. The team also plans to continue to offer the virtual Foundations training at the request of annual conferences, even after the pandemic subsides, as well as the in-person on-the-go option. Churches and annual conferences may still choose to send youth leaders to the in-person event in Dallas, but the virtual training is considerably less expensive and eliminates the cost of travel and accommodations.

Registration for the next PSYM in Dallas, January 10-13, 2022, opens September 22. The theme for this 35th annual gathering is “Finding Forward.” For more information, visit http://www.perkinsyouth.com.