Driving back to the Iron Range from the annual Speed the Light Dream Session in the Twin Cities last year, Youth Pastors Jon Scally from Grand Rapids AG and Jeff Lanfranchi from Abundant Life Church in Hibbing started talking about ways to collaborate in Youth Ministry. They saw how churches with multiple campuses were able to pool resources and partner together as leaders and wondered what it might be like if they combined youth groups.
Weeks later, Covid exploded and youth ministry changed. At first it seemed like the idea would be put on hold, but months into the pandemic they recognized the moment as a unique opportunity to move forward. When District Summer Camps were cancelled, they organized an alternative combined experience for their youth groups. Each church connected in a way that, when it was over, students were hoping to meet again. Any hesitancy about student acceptance of the vision faded away.
When Wednesday nights resumed in the fall of 2020, they decided to give it a shot and kicked off with a combined in-person service. By then, distance learning had somewhat paved the way for alternating live-streams of sermons in the weeks that followed. Jon would preach from Grand Rapids AG while Abundant Life watched from Hibbing and vice versa the next week. At the beginning of each month, they would come together again. Soon they set combined Speed the Light goals, attended District events together, and hope to go on a shared mission trip.
The lead pastors of each church have been supportive throughout the process. They invested in the dream and helped provide solutions to some of the logistics like transportation (the cities are 30 minutes apart) and streaming (updated equipment).
Collaboration hasn’t been without challenges. Both youth pastors admit it takes a lot of work, time, and flexibility, but they realize the many benefits of their effort. They recognize their differences and play into each other’s strengths. Jeff recently used his media skills to put together a promo video while Jon, who serves on a Youth Camp rec team, helped organize Wednesday night games in the summer. Alternating messages each week allows more prep time while having an “iron sharpens iron” effect on each leader. As Jon puts it, “There’s humility in inviting people into your world and letting them see that you don’t have it all together.”
Grand Rapids AG and Abundant Life Church just held their 2021 fall kickoff together last month and in nearly every aspect they operate as one student ministry. They share the same look, the same name (United Youth), and even the same Instagram account (@unitedyouth.mn). Beyond the pragmatic advantages of working together, Jeff believes collaboration is something that is important in our culture today. He notes, “It’s showing that people are united in Jesus to see his kingdom grow… to BE the body of Christ.” In that same spirit, United Youth is more than a name — it’s a conviction and a symbol of how we are all meant to live.