Today churches of all sizes try creative approaches to attract youth and their families to church. Many smaller congregations struggle with this goal of being a welcoming place for teenagers and their families.
During the last few years, Ohatchee United Methodist Church in the Cheaha District was one congregation that struggled with this issue. They could have let the congregations size, its history of a struggling youth group or the age of its pastor and members be an excuse not to rise to a youth ministry opportunity. Instead this congregation stepped out in faith and learned that one effective approach to reaching youth is through building relationships and inviting students and their families into the church, even when it gets uncomfortable.
Rev. Joe Jones, a retired minister serving as pastor of Ohatchee UMC, sees what has happened in the last year as an answer to prayer. He shares the congregations story below.
We had struggled with maintaining a Youth Group for a long time. We changed Youth Directors several times hoping to find the right fit only to find that the program would fall on its face. During this time we had five to ten youth all members of the church. Any outreach to bring youth into the church was not successful.
We prayed that God would show us what we were doing wrong and give us guidance on how to bring youth into the church. As I prayed, in my mind I saw mature Christian families with youth that would come to the church supplying the youth that we needed. Perhaps, as I prayed, I was telling God how I wanted him to answer my prayer.
God is full of surprises and He sure gave us one -- a real jolt!
A member of our church has a daughter with two children, one a teenager, and they were not going to church. This young woman, Krystena, was being what I call a "sports-mother." Her son is involved in sports and she is deeply involved with him and many other youth. She has a van and carries them from place to place. Krystena's father really wanted her and her family back in the church. So we talked with Krystena and ask if she would come to church, bring her immediate family and her sports family with her.
The first time she came, she brought 14 youth with her. That number began to grow and has reached a total of 26. All of these young people were un-churched. Now, not only have the youth come to church but three of the parents have visited the church a few times. However, the parents of the others remain uninvolved in any church. This is a wide-open ministry that has been presented to us.
On August 6, 2006, ten youth were received into the church by affirmation of faith and baptism, 2 by re-affirmation of faith, and Krystena was received into the membership of the church. Parents of some of the youth are still making excuses for not letting their children join the church. However, the real blessing is that we have them in church. God will lead us into the next step of the journey.
This has not been a easy ministry. These young people had no concept as how to conduct themselves in church. They had no idea how to find a given scripture in the Bible or a song in the hymnal. The first few gatherings in the fellowship hall were a riot. Some church members began to wonder if these youth were going to wreck the place. Some doubted my sanity for starting the program.
"All is well when God is in charge," I told them.
Now, when this group of youth walks into any part of the church they have a sense of reverence. They even remove their caps that seemed to be glued on their heads. They are being taught on Sunday and Wednesday evening and we have had tremendous progress. The entire congregation is now united in this ministry and has a vision of continued growth.
On Friday, October 27, we invited the Ohatchee High School Band to dine with us before the football game. There were 84 plus youth at the dinner - and some are not attending church. There is much more to this continuing story and all of it is good news.
I firmly believe that God answered my prayer by telling me to wake up. That what I was asking for was in my midst. I needed that wake-up call! I feel confident that there have been other times when I prayed and failed to wake-up and see his answer.
God has challenged us here at Ohatchee. Pray that we do not fail in our efforts to carry out this beautiful ministry that has been given to us.