The landscape of youth ministry is changing.

Anyone who’s been in youth ministry awhile shares some ongoing frustrations: Families are busy. Programs are not attended like they once were. It’s not clear that programs even work. What you have observed at your church is backed up by cross-denominational research: programs don’t build faith. Relationships build faith. For a long time we thought that relationships would form naturally through the programs. We see that it doesn’t happen often enough. Meanwhile, families slip away.
What if we worked together to go beyond programs as the vessel for relationships to a place where young people are connected through deep, sustainable, faith-nurturing relationships like never before?

Apply for KNOWN


Oh Lord, you have searched me and known me.

Psalm 139:1

The Youth Ministry Change Project gathers veteran youth workers  into a Networked Learning Community. Using a proven process that has lead to transformational, system-wide change in areas such as health care and public education, we’ll spend a full year together exploring one vexing issue from all angles. We’ll design solutions that meet the needs of our local congregations. We’ll measure our results, refine our ideas, and try again. We’ll learn from one another and will pool our learning into an ebook. We’ll look at developmental relationships research as our framework. We know the types of relationships that kids really need. How do we really, truly do youth ministry that is built on developmental relationships instead of programs? How do youth know that they are KNOWN?

Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” – John 17:24-26

Throughout scripture, Jesus invites us into a relationship where we are known and loved in spite of the messiness of our lives. As ministry leaders, we are called to invite others into that relationship. Join us to discover new pathways for ministry.

Trying things alone hasn’t worked. Trying things together and learning from one another bears great fruit.

If you’ve been in youth ministry more than five years and you are ready to make systemic changes in your ministry and for the sake of the larger church, consider joining us. We’ll begin with a two day Summit and then spend a year in communication as we research, implement, refine, and share. To ensure that we have a cross section of congregations, we’re carefully screening applicants.

Not sure if you want to participate for a whole year?

Come to the two day Summit only for $200 and receive all the teachings and processes. While we believe that coaching is often necessary for transformation to occur, we realize that you may have limited funds. We just want you there because we are very excited about this process!


What is the goal of this project?


In order to assist Youth Ministry in churches to live the mission of God in the 21st century, KNOWN: The Youth Ministry Change Project seeks to research, resource, support, equip, and sustain youth ministry leaders in:

1.     Moving their communities to be known through deep, intentional, faith-nurturing relationality.

2.     Learning and absorbing the developmental relationship framework.

3.     Creating an innovative learning community of twelve congregations and organizations eager to work together to create, tend, and nurture processes. We will test a variety of prototype processes for deep, sustainable relationships and use findings to create ministry plans.

4.     Researching new forms and expressions of youth ministry focused on faith nurturing developmental relationships that reflect the changing context in America, a new ecosystem, and the needs of 21st century people. This involves developing new adaptive and innovative ministries and projects, as well as reshaping existing ministries and programs.

5.     Reimagining the role of the youth minister.


Why a learning community?


This learning community model is a way to both dive deep in learning together, honing skills, and learning new tools and ideas. It is also a way to put immediately into practice the things we explore together by testing and experimenting, then sharing what we learn with the group. Next we make new iterations, and then try again. This small community will become a network of people to support and learn with for years to come.

None of us has all the answers, but together we do. Harnessing that reality is the power of a networked learning community.

How will this be valuable to me as a leader?

As a leader, you’ll gain a network of peers speaking the same language and experiencing similar things. You won’t be alone. You will learn new ideas and skills to help you create space for faith forming relationships. You will learn about and practically implement findings from the latest research on youth faith development.

What value will this bring my faith community?

Your congregation will benefit as you systematically test effective youth ministry ideas. Your families will benefit from a greater emphasis on how to create developmental relationships. The larger church will benefit from the aggregate findings of our Networked Learning Community.

We anticipate that in the process of this experiment in reinventing youth ministry your congregation will experience:


You will move beyond events and focus on the maturing faith of young people.


You will make real strides in empowering parents to nurture their child’s faith development.


You will involve the entire congregation in ministry with young people.


You will see a shift in the job description of the youth minister.


You will discover the relational assets you already have and put in place systems and ministries to strengthen them.


You will learn new ways to facilitate change in your church based on our discoveries, which in turn change your ministry with youth and families.


You will become part of a community of curious leaders seeking to innovate and energize ministry in the 21st Century.

Who should apply?

We seek participants who

  • have served at least five years in youth ministry
  • are enthusiastic about systematic change in youth ministry strategy and models
  • are called to a congregation or organization that is enthusiastic about engaging in the process of working together for systemic change, particularly in relationality.
What goes in to participating, and what will come out?

The research year runs from 12 months and includes:

  • Two face-to-face summits in a major metropolitan area
  • Monthly phone calls with your learning community
  • Quarterly webinars to deepen research and learning
  • Active research in your congregation through deep listening
  • Three research projects to test and refine at your congregation
  • Gathering your findings with others in order to leverage results for the good of the larger church
  • A 3-5 year ministry plan for imbedding the learning into your own congregational life
  • A published ebook to share with the broader field of youth ministry professionalsd


KNOWN Summit and Cohort

A KNOWN Cohort can start any time of the year. It begins with a 2 day face-to-face gathering (Summit) and continues with 12 months of meeting with a small group(cohort) to work on innovations. Contact Tom Schwolert if you want to start a cohort in your area.

Contract with us for a Summit

$3000 + travel

This is for the two day summit only for up to 30 people. This can be contracted with a church, group of churches, a synod, diocese or judicatory. If participants decide to continue as part of a cohort it is $1100 more per person for the rest of the year (or $100/month). Contact our Partner for CYF Ministry Tom Schwolert for details.


  • Interested leaders apply to be part of the research team.
  • A team member from Vibrant Faith will meet via web call with your church council to ensure full support of your participation in this important work.
  • Once the congregations are identified, you will be grouped with other youth ministry leaders for your cohort
  • Opportunities to assess and listen to your church and community
  • Congregations will be asked to put a prayer team in place. These three to five people will accompany you through the research process to pray, support, and talk through the process and learnings with youth and pastoral leadership.
Summit 1
  • A two day face to face experience
  • Assess our current ministry realities
  • Learn about the current landscape of youth ministry.
  • Share and immerse ourselves in current research on developmental relationships
  • Create the framework for our theological learning and for our learning communities
  • Connect church leaders who will be working this process together by intentionally developing relationships with one another that will provide for an environment of deep change.

Additional reading, online learning, and conversations out of the summit

  • Active research in the congregation
  • Listen to community, youth, parents
  • Do relational assessment
  • Monthly calls with your learning community
  • One webinar with all twelve congregations involved in the research
Retooling and Refining
  • Examine research findings
  • Develop prototypes
  • Develop strategy for completing prototypes
  • Monthly calls with your learning community
  • One webinar with all congregations involved in the research
Developing a Plan
  • Examine results of prototype
  • Hone in on new processes of doing ministry
  • Develop 3-5 year ministry plan for your congregation based on the findings of the action research
  • Participate in an individual coaching calls with a Vibrant Faith coach
Present Plans
Summit II
  • A two day face to face experience
  • Share findings
  • Discover themes
  • Write e-book
Begin Implementation

Meet the Facilitator

Tom joined the Vibrant Faith team after years of youth and family ministry in churches. Tom brings real passion to his coaching and training as he assists leaders to help others learn to be faith builders in their everyday lives.

Tom successfully helped the four churches he served shift from being program-based to being intergenerationally and relationally focused. He has the ability to assess and move churches from current realities to using the power of family for the movement of the Spirit in people of all ages.

Tom is a real Texan, and is married with two daughters. The Schwolert family was also blessed with a son, who died from a virus at seventeen. Accompanying families who are also walking that road currently captures Tom’s ministry heart.

Tom Schwolert

Tom Schwolert

Partner for First Third Ministry

Will you take a year to change youth ministry forever?

Fill out the application. Our team will be back in touch soon if you are chosen, and with the rest of the details. We’re with you. We’re excited to connect with you. Join us. APPLYContact Tom with Questions

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