How It Works: Youth 2015

By Stephanie Davis Smith, July 7, 2015

Youth2015_PeopleHow do you plan for teens when you aren’t one? United Methodist Church’s Director of Young People’s Ministries Development Chris Wilterdink and Event Manager Blake Thornell, both in their 30s, took Rejuvenate’s Stephanie Davis Smith behind the curtain of their planning efforts for Youth 2015. The quadrennial event occurs June 24-28 and will bring 4,500 attendees to Orlando.

Why Orlando?

BT: It’s a destination for sure, especially for our age group, which is 12- to 18-year-olds. Orlando is made for big groups, and it’s no problem for them to handle a lot of transportation and food. Of course, the Mouse, Harry Potter and all the theme parks are a bonus. Orlando World Center Marriott is great because they can house everyone and have a ballroom that seats up to 10,000. You can do everything under one roof, which is really appealing to us. Once you get there, you don’t have to leave.

“We don’t exist in a vacuum and then expect everyone to love the event. The team is a mixture of young adults and adults who work with youth, and it’s really diverse in terms of age and ethnicity.” 

—Chris Wilterdink, United Methodist Church

What security measures are you taking?

BT: UMY uses Safe Sanctuaries, which has a lot of baselines about risky situations during an event. For instance, we have two unrelated adults with the kids in session rooms at all times. Youth and adults are in separate sleeping rooms. People interacting with the kids have background checks, and we have on-site security and EMTs. We’re really careful with this age range. One of the funnier challenges with this hotel is the mini fridges in each room. They couldn’t be taken out, but we can lock them in every room.

CW: We designed this event for youth to travel with an adult from their home church. A lot of accountability is on that church leader.

How have things changed culturally from four years ago?

CW: This is the first year we’re developing an app. In 2011, a lot of people had access to tech and smartphones, but much more so now. We’re estimating 70 percent of attendees will have access to a smart device. Having interactive features during worship with the ability to scroll Instagram and Twitter feeds and official event hashtags is really different from 2011. The talent has changed a lot too.

BT: In 2011, we were in the ‘let’s get the best Christian rock group’ phase. But now Christian hip-hop has blown up. The first night of Youth 2015 is a big concert with Tedashii, KB and Propaganda. Our team toured 10 U.S. cities with Tedashii between September and November 2014, partnering with local churches. It was a preview of Youth 2015 to get people excited and registered.

You’re both in your 30s. Do you feel you have to channel your inner teenager for this job?

CW: One of the things that is really helpful is we have a design team of 25 folks who help with planning. We don’t exist in a vacuum and then expect everyone to love the event. The team is a mixture of young adults and adults who work with youth, and it’s really diverse in terms of age and ethnicity. We wanted to be represented by a wide breadth and depth of Methodists.

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