High schooler serves, grows alongside adult congregation

By Mary M. Rall
Community Covenant Church

Evangelical Covenant Church Congregational Vitality Director John Wenrich shares a moment with high schooler Nathaniel Swanberg

Evangelical Covenant Church Congregational Vitality Director John Wenrich shares a moment with high schooler Nathaniel Swanberg during a break at the One workshop April 11 at Community Covenant Church in Eagle River. Swanberg is the only teenager to ever attend all three local workshops in the nine years Covenant churches have been walking the path toward Congregational Vitality. (Photo by Mary M. Rall/Community Covenant Church)

EAGLE RIVER, Alaska — The volunteer needs of a church are many and varied, and high schooler Nathanial Swanberg can often be counted on to enthusiastically serve however he’s called to do so.

Although the 17 year old volunteers by doing everything from painting lines in the parking lot in the spring, to playing keyboard with the worship band and ushering during Sunday services, to serving on the high school Student Leadership Team, Swanberg recently stood out by serving as a member of the Vitality Communications Team and by being the first teenager to attend all three local Vitality workshops as a part of Community Covenant Church’s Congregational Vitality process.

“I love to serve people and to see them taking in Christ’s love, because He calls us to love one and other by serving each other,” Swanberg said as to why he seeks out opportunities to volunteer independently and alongside his family at CCC.

A significant part of understanding the church’s volunteer needs is remaining informed, he said, which is why Swanberg said he participated in the church Vitality process and attended the local workshops.

“It just gives me a little bit better of an understanding of what’s going on,” he said, explaining it’s also a way for him to demonstrate who Christ is to others. “We’re moving toward becoming more like Christ and His priorities and how He wants us to love others.”

High School and Young Adult Ministries Director Mike Alverts came on staff at CCC in September and said he saw the Vitality Pathway as an opportunity for high schoolers to grow alongside the adult congregation.

“The Vitality process has modeled adults as being willing to pursue becoming more healthy and missional, and this has normalized the idea that we all want to be and become a healthy, missional church,” Alverts said.

The high school youth group was in the midst of walking through the 10 Healthy Missional Markers the same weeks they were featured in the Sunday congregational services when Alverts started directing the program.

“I liked how the markers gave us a common language and ideas to think about and affirm,” he said. “The 10 Healthy Missional Markers are also easy to buy into, as most of us want to have these markers be true of us as individuals, and often we would want them to be true of our community.”

Swanberg said he appreciated having the markers incorporated into the high school programming, because many students who attend youth group don’t attend Sunday services with their families.

“It helped that the youth group and the church knew what was going on,” Swanberg said, explaining students can sometimes feel out of the loop on what’s happening within the church as a whole. “Somebody actually cared about the youth group enough to let them know what was happening in the ‘big church.’”

Alverts said the relational aspects of the Vitality process are integral to the identity he hopes CCC’s youth will realize as followers of Christ.

“I wanted the youth to look around the room and be able to say, ‘These are my people,’” he said. “Secondly, I want the youth to look around the church and say, ‘These are my people,’ and mean it. This is a vital step that’s still in need of happening for us to become more healthy and missional.”

Swanberg said he’s gained a lot from the experience and the manner in which information on Congregational Vitality has been shared by Alverts.

“His messages are just great, and they’re easy to listen to and understand,” he said, noting he would highly encourage other teens to get involved in the Vitality process at their church as well. “So many times, youth get left out of stuff and that way they would know what’s going on.”

Several of CCC’s high schoolers served on Vitality Teams, and Alverts said he’s enjoyed observing their walk along the Vitality Pathway.

“It’s been fun to see students like Nathaniel embrace the process,” Alverts said. “He has a significant sense of justice and has channeled that filter to speak up for missions and for wanting us to see us move toward health as a community.”

Now that the Vitally teams have concluded and the Strategic Ministry Planning Team is serving to discern what God’s next steps for CCC are, Alverts said it’s more important than ever to continue to invest in CCC’s youth and the congregation as a whole.

“We’re at a critical moment in that potential doesn’t match up to reality,” Alverts said, “and now is the time to see a renewal and revitalization of our church so we can keep in step with the Holy Spirit and His desires for Alaska, our nation and the world.”