Early in ministry, Heather Kenison realized that was an exception in a male-dominated space: youth ministry in the Southern Baptist Church (SBC). She eventually left the SBC and now serves as the Director of Student Ministries at St. Luke’s UMC in Indianapolis.
After realizing that even youth ministry outside of the SBC struggled to include women, Heather started an organization, Women in Youth Ministry, to elevate the voices of women serving youth.
Women in Youth Ministry first launched as a Facebook group in 2014. Today, the Women in Youth Ministry Facebook group includes 3,300 people. It’s “for women who do ministry–whether as a pastor, director, coordinator, spouse, or volunteer leader,” and includes senior pastors, children’s directors, and those serving outside of specific youth ministry roles. “Many of our members are in those ‘AND’ roles,” says Heather, “like ‘Youth and Children’s Pastor.’”
“There are so many women in ministry who have much to offer, but they are without a platform. We are trying to get the voices of women out there to give women an opportunity to serve,” says Heather.
The Facebook group is a way for women to ask questions and glean resources. Most significantly, it provides a space for them to build community with like-minded ministry colleagues.
Women in Youth Ministry was uniquely poised to thrive during COVID-19 because they had already been developing community online. During the pandemic, they leaned in even more and started online book clubs that met over Zoom, which shifted relationships from colleagues to friends.
When a member shared that she was having a small, family-only wedding and wouldn’t have bridesmaids, the book club sprang into action. They surrounded her with support via Zoom—dressed to the nines as her virtual bridesmaids for her special day.
To this end, Women in Youth Ministry is more than a Facebook group. Since their launch nearly 8 years ago, they’ve started a blog and a podcast that amplify the voices and gifts of women. Most recently, on March 10-11, 2022, they hosted their first conference at St. Luke’s.
The Women in Youth Ministry team, now nine women including Heather, was particularly cognizant of the barriers that many women face in attending conferences.
The conference was equal parts retreat and education, with a heavy emphasis on being practical for ministry. The speakers were women who were “serving in the trenches” of youth ministry who could speak to the real and pressing challenges that the attendees were facing. The two-day event included a mix of fun events to further develop the community that had organically formed online. Perhaps most importantly, the conference was affordable, costing under $200.
Women were equipped by session topics such as work-life balance, mental health, and innovation, and they were spiritually–revitalized by worship. The conference allowed women the opportunity to meet the people behind the screen, the women who had been friends and confidants through ministry challenges and celebrations. For the woman who got married with virtual bridesmaids, they were able to recreate a bridesmaids photo in person.
Heather says, “Women in Youth Ministry exists to let women know that they’re not alone. Ministry is lonely. It’s difficult. For many women there is an extra social expectation on you as a woman that goes beyond denominational and church boundaries. Women need a space that’s all theirs so they can unpack that.”
If you are a woman in youth ministry looking to get connected, all links to the blog, podcast, and Facebook Community can be found at their website: https://womeninyouthministry.com/