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Operation Vote to launch Igniting Youth at Youth ?07

United Methodist teens dance to the music of Kirk Franklin during Youth '03 on the campus of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Youth 2007 will bring up to 10,000 United Methodist youth to Greensboro, N.C. UMNS photos by Mike DuBose.

By Linda Green*
June 8, 2007 | NASHVILLE, Tn. (UMNS)

United Methodist youth will use an old board game to try to set a new world record and, in the process, help launch a ministry to invite other teens into the church as they seek to explore their faith.

As part of Operation Vote, teens
attending Youth 2007 can try to
break the world record for the
fastest game of Operation.

When up to 10,000 teens gather for Youth 2007 on July 11-15 in Greensboro, N.C., they can try to play "Operation" in less than one minute and two seconds and earn a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as the fastest game of Operation ever played.

It's all part of Operation Vote, which will help launch a new denominational ministry called Igniting Youth, aimed at welcoming teen seekers into the life of the church.

Part of the initiative is a new interactive Web site filled with a library of advertising material for youth and youth groups to use for local community outreach and evangelism, including a handbook to help churches enhance their teen welcoming ministries.

Through Operation Vote, youths ages 14 to 17 can help select the Web site's name by voting from a ballot of five names submitted by teens from across the United Methodist connection.

Among today's Internet-savvy teens, an effective and interactive Web site is an important part of the new ministry, and all the resources will be teen-focused and teen-produced, according to Susan Crawford, director of Igniting Youth at United Methodist Communications.

"It is based on very real teen things such as ways to tell another about the youth group, ways to talk to the youth leader and ways to talk about the strange times in life when faith becomes important-like when you are upside down on that rollercoaster," Crawford said.

Every four years, The United Methodist Church hosts the largest gathering of youth from across the denomination and, together, they experience God through five days of ministerial, cultural and spiritual opportunities. Youth 2007 is the perfect place to roll out the new ministry because Igniting Youth is for, with and about youth, according to Crawford.

Can you operate on "Cavity Sam"?

Operation, the classic battery-powered board game created by Milton Bradley and in production since 1965, tests a player's hand-eye coordination as he or she uses wired tweezers to remove 13 plastic "ailments" from a patient named "Cavity Sam." If the tweezers touch the metal edge of the opening during the attempt, a buzzer sounds and the patient's nose lights up red.

It's not as easy as it looks.

To play Operation, youth at the 2007 assembly must participate in an interactive laptop computer experience about Igniting Youth, and then qualify for an attempt to break the board game's record.

Igniting Youth is the teen sibling of denomination's 7-year-old adult program called Igniting Ministry, an advertising and welcoming ministry that targets adults aged 25-54 through traditional media such television, posters, door hangers and billboards.

Both ministries are designed to raise awareness of The United Methodist Church and target "seekers," or those who have not been to a church worship service in six months and those not closely affiliated with a church. The two welcoming campaigns also highlight the church's tagline of "Open Minds. Open Hearts. Open Doors."

Church leaders say welcoming is a form of kindness, hospitality and acceptance shown to both guests and church members alike. "In a nation that's becoming more unchurched all the time, we need to ensure that teen seekers encounter in us a Christ that they want to know better," according to literature introducing Igniting Youth.

'Soul Searching'

Specifically, Igniting Youth is an evangelism tool to reach 14- to 18-year-olds. Research indicates that teens, like adults, are "soul searching" and using diverse means to connect with one another and to acquire knowledge.

"Igniting Youth was not designed to take the place of relationships, but to provide a portal for youth to connect to the bigger picture and to help answer questions along the way." –Jay Clark

"Teens need to feel they have valued voice with adults," said Crawford. "They need to feel that the questions and issues they have are valid and warrant the same thoughtful consideration and answers any adult posing the question would receive. They need to feel that there is a community where they can share their ideas and not be judged on their ideas."

One of the most critical issues facing The United Methodist Church is communicating with youth and young adults, according to the Rev. Larry Hollon, top executive at United Methodist Communications.

The Igniting Ministry Youth Initiative "has partnered with youth and young adults to learn about their concerns, joys and hopes in order to encourage connection between youth and young adults and the church," Hollon said. "The hope is that in this partnership we will find ways to encourage meaningful interaction that will lead all of us to growth and deeper faith."

This September, the denomination's annual Open House Month will focus on welcoming and inviting teens in local communities to church. A UMNS image by United Methodist Communications.

Although housed at United Methodist Communications, Igniting Youth's partners include the Division on Ministries with Young People; De'vozine, the church's teen magazine; ileadyouth.com at the United Methodist Publishing House; the Living Prayer Center at the Upper Room; and the youth worker movement.

Igniting Youth is just one more way the church can connect with teens, according to Jay Clark, director of Youth 2007 and a staff member of the Division of Ministry with Young People at the Board of Discipleship.

"Igniting Youth was not designed to take the place of relationships," he said, "but to provide a portal for youth to connect to the bigger picture and to help answer questions along the way."

As part of the effort, the denomination's annual Open House Month in September - when United Methodist churches host special events to welcome and invite people in the community to church - is this year being called Teen Open House Month, aimed at welcoming teens into the life of the church.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org .

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