1:00 P.M. EST June 28, 2010
In this July 2008 photograph, young United Methodist volunteers help expand
the Methodist Church in Guanabacoa, Cuba. The newly formed Epworth League
will sponsor many such mission trips for young adults. A UMNS photo by
View in Photo Gallery
Ken Rheingans, a lay leader at a small church in Wisconsin, has taken
a page from the past to resurrect a worldwide association for United
Methodist young adults.
As a father of two 20-somethings, and with years of experience
working with young adults, Rheingans knows something is missing in The
United Methodist Church.
“Ninety-nine percent of the young adults I talk to say their churches have no young adult programs,” he said.
In 2003, Rheingans and his wife started a Vacation Bible School camp
for children with disabilities and their families associated with
Pleasant Valley (Wis.) United Methodist Church. The summer camp became
bigger than the church in budget and people participating. Last year,
the camp had more than 250 mostly young adult volunteers.
Clearly there were young adults in the community who wanted to be
involved in missions and the church, Rheingans said. That started his
search for resources or programs specifically designed for 18- to
His research led him to Epworth League, a young adult organization
associated with the Methodist Church that had been successful in the
late 1800s to mid-1900s. Named for the birthplace in England of John
and Charles Wesley, Epworth League had thousands of young adult chapters
around the world before it disappeared in 1939.
Rheingans found many of the concepts of that era were still relevant to young adults today.
“If you look at the church, you will see a huge hole where young
adults should be,” said Owen Cooper, United Methodist campus minister,
University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. “The same old way of doing things
will not work for young adults. They need an opportunity to learn and
grow and be challenged, and I believe the Epworth League is such an
“One of the things that strikes me about
the Epworth League is how relevant this historic movement is for
today’s generation. It’s a bold effort that will only succeed with
Cooper is one of a team of mentors Rheingans is starting to
assemble. A handbook with rules for starting a chapter has been drafted
and a few mission trips are in the works.
The Epworth League central office is located at Rheingans’ “little
country church” about 35 miles west of Milwaukee. Almost 1,000 people
have signed up to be part of the movement since its Facebook page
launched in May.
“So nice to join this beautiful community—a lot of wishes to you all
… from Sanciai United Methodist Church in Lithuania,” writes Edgaras
Arkauskas on the Epworth League Facebook page. The page also includes
greetings from United Methodist young adults from Ghana, Finland and
the Philippines as well as other countries and many states in the U.S.
“It's amazing to see how much the Epworth League has grown in such a
short time and to see all who support it! God bless all who support
this ministry! I am looking forward to seeing where God takes this!”
writes Samantha Ruehi from Milwaukee.
“The response has been overwhelming,” Rheingans said.
“We are excited to have this growing out of the North Central
Jurisdiction,” said the Rev. Carl Gladestone, an ordained deacon
working with the Detroit Annual (regional) Conference and the United
Methodist Division on Ministries with Young People.
“My great-grandfather was deeply involved in the Epworth League. We
have a lot of old books with titles like, ‘How to be a successful
church leader working with young people,’ written in the 1920s.”
Central to the community
The chapters will be focused on service, mission and community
outreach – topics young adults are drawn to, Rheingans said. Two of the
first programs chapters will offer will be tips on employment and
The leagues will be geared to the needs of communities.
“Its kinda hard for a person to find Christ when they don’t have
food or can’t pay bills for the family. It is a little difficult to
talk to them about Jesus when they are hungry or homeless,” Rheingans
The Epworth League central office will be working with Tentmakers, a
Christian organization that has been training young adults for
leadership for the past 30 years, to design a training program for
college seniors. The seniors will be trained to start Epworth League
“Many young adults, especially in their early 20s, were involved in
some kind of campus ministry program, Crusade for Christ, etc. Once
they graduate there are not a lot of options,” Rheingans added.
This is not just a United Methodist problem; all churches are having difficulty attracting young adults to church, he said.
“The problem is overwhelming, it’s so huge. But look back at our
roots. At one time we had a million young adults in programs at 10,000
churches around the world.”
*Gilbert is a multimedia writer for United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.