Josh Hiben Interview

Ken Oliver recently interviewed Josh Hiben, Executive Director of Covenant Youth Coalition.  CYC and Chicago Bible Society have partnered to bring Bible reading to High School and Junior High students on Chicago’s north side.


Josh, tell us about Covenant Youth Collision?  How did it get started, and how did it get its unusual name?

Covenant Youth Collision is a network of churches on the North Side of Chicago that comes together to do youth ministry. We believe in collaborative youth ministry, because we have found that not every church has the tools and resources necessary to carry out their own youth ministry programs. Our heart is to bring churches together to better serve and build up Youth in Christ.

Covenant Youth Collision began in 2008 when 3 churches on the North Side of Chicago began meeting to do monthly youth ministry events together because each had no paid youth pastor and only a few students. The concept of this collaborative model of ministry caught on in 2010 when 5 other churches joined on to these monthly events, and soon weekly gatherings.

The unusual name comes from a student’s misinterpretation of our original idea in 2008, forming a youth “Coalition.” One of our female junior high students asked in excitement when she mistakenly asked when the next Youth “Collision” event was going to happen.  After a couple laughs, the name ended up sticking, and years later it is still with us.

How many kids are you working with now?  Tell us a little about who they are and where they are coming from.

We currently partner with 15 churches who each bring unique and diverse students together.  These 15 churches bring 80 High Schoolers and 80 junior high students together every month, and we have 20 student leaders every week.  Because each church is different, the personalities and backgrounds are also diverse.

This past summer, our network of churches comes together to put on a Summer Day camp called “Kids College.” This outreach ministry for the North Side neighborhoods reached 200 students over 4 weeks of camp.

Covenant Youth Collision believes in walking “hand in hand” even when we don’t see “eye to eye” on theology or current events of our day. Whether church leadership, or the wide range of diverse students, we all share the desire to love God and love others by becoming like Christ every day. 

Tell us a little bit about you.  What are you passionate about?  What experience or person has made a big impact on you?  What drove you to get involved with inner city youth work?

I was born and raised in a south suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota.  I found this love of Jesus and the Church through being invited in High School to youth group, and being cared for by the church every week.   From that point, God has continued to nurture and build me up to lead others into a life that loves God and loves others.

All of the experiences that shaped my life today usually are embodied by a group of people coming together to consider what life is all about? What our purpose is, etc.? These times have always led to a God that loves the world and myself, and is embodied in Jesus, who calls us to live a radical life for others.  Whether it has been living in Christian community, biking across the U.S. or Sweden, retreats, worship, mission trips, etc.  I am passionate about creating and inviting others into these spaces for all people to encounter the love of Jesus.  Whether that means being a youth pastor, coaching Ultimate Frisbee, being a part of endurance athlete clubs, or volunteering at Church or humanitarian organizations, I hope that people see Jesus through demonstrated and proclaiming his love.

What drove me to work with kids in the city is the simple fact that there are not enough people doing it, because it church youth ministry is systematically not a reality on the North Side of Chicago.  What I mean is, the amount of church youth programs in the city of Chicago are so low due to the lack of resources, and the amount of small congregations, that millions of kids are not being invited into a space to encounter this love of Jesus through people and experiences. The concept of “collaborative” youth ministry is an alternative system for churches to come together to demonstrate and proclaim this love of Jesus.  As a kid that was invited into God’s story when I was a high schooler, I believe everyone deserves the opportunity to experience such a space.

What is the goal of Covenant Youth Collision?   In other words, what do you look to see happen in the lives of the kids you work with?            

Our goal is for kids to encounter the love of Jesus, and live in a new way with Christ.  This encounter and new way of living occurs all year long when churches share their resources and their leadership to create a strong ministry for all of our students.

How do you takes the kids from where they are and help them to become Christ followers?

Between our 15 churches, we program weekly and monthly events for our students. Every week, high school students join one of our student leadership programs to develop leadership in ministry, experience discipleship alongside a Christian mentor, or serve their local community. We also program two larger events each month - one junior high and one senior high. Our students are hosted by one of our partnering churches to experience large group fellowship with other believers their own age through food, games, and worship. This model of collaborative youth ministry allows for students to experience a greater depth and insight of Christian fellowship and formation, and it allows church leaders to be better connected and in relationship with one another.

What role does the Bible play in your work with the kids?  How have you used the CBS Bibles?

Biblical application is fundamental to our ministry. We believe in the power and authority of scripture and desire to establish that presence with our students. Whether it is in our weekly programs with our student leadership or the large group gatherings, we commit to diving into scripture and having intentional worship together.

We received a donation of bibles from CBS this summer for our 200 students going through our Kids College Summer Camp.  Many of these students opened their first bible because of CBS’ donation, and many kids took home these bibles after hearing about the love of Jesus for the first time!

There are plenty of kids in our Summer and annual programs who have never owned their own bible, and the bibles CBS has given us has been fundamental to sharing the Word of God with kids.