The vision of the North Alabama Conference is “Every church challenged and equipped to grow more disciples of Jesus Christ by taking risks and changing lives.” The First United Methodist Church of Montevallo is making great strides to fill that vision with a youth program that has, in its two-year life, grown from a single contact on the basketball court to some 90 young people from all over that small town.
The son of the pastor, Bill Brown, was shooting baskets one afternoon as he was approached by a neighborhood youth whom he invited to play and then to church. Word spread and the church responded. Every Sunday and Wednesday nights an average of 45 young people congregate for games, bible devotionals, food, fellowship and worship services.
These young people, Caucasians, African-Americans and Hispanics, are from varied backgrounds; many have never had the opportunity of learning about Christ and have no idea how to behave in church. Some walk as much as three miles to participate in the program. The church has opened its arms to these children and made them feel that this is a place where they are accepted and loved. By example and with sensitive suggestions the youth are not only learning about Jesus, but how to respect God’s house.
The Wednesday night program is called Cornerstone for Youth and begins with some free activities such as basketball, pool, video games, etc. Then there is a short time dedicated to teaching the students about the Bible, how to use and become familiar with it. After supper (most often pizza), the students attend POWERPOINT; a contemporary worship service that is open to everyone; including parents.
On Sunday afternoon, the youth program consists of Bible study, games, snacks and fellowship
During one particular service a 13 year old boy was observed rearranging the ribbon place-holders in one of the church Bibles. After the service he came up and asked the pastor if he might borrow that Bible because he did not have one and there wasn’t a Bible at his home. He said. “I’ve heard that it’s a good book and that there’s some good stuff in it. I need to read it.” He was instructed to take the Bible home with him.
On investigation it was discovered that many of these students didn’t have Bibles, hence the project of the orange Bibles. Cases were purchased and today nearly 100 have been placed in the hands of the children. Each Bible was inscribed in calligraphy with the owner’s name. Not all, but many, of the students bring their bibles to church with them.
Alexis (not her real name) lives with her father and her brother, who is handicapped. She says the youth group is very important to her, as it's the only "church" she knows. Recently when a family health crisis arose, Alexis, in tears (and in front of her peers), rushed up to one of the youth counselors and asked if anyone could pray for her family. "People here care about me, and pray with me,” she exclaimed, “and even for my family when things happen to them. It's really good to be able to come here.”
In addition to the regularly scheduled programs, day trips and overnight trips are taken as the opportunities present themselves. The young people have been to Mountain T.O.P. (in Tennessee) on mission trips and have several times been to “The Basement” in Center Point for enthusiastic contemporary services designed especially for young people with the music they love. Sometimes there are as many as 4-5,000 youths at these services.
The youth program leads the congregation in worship several times a year. The congregation is encouraged to come and see how God is reaching the youth. Earplugs are encouraged.
The Friday evening after-football-game program, 5th Quarter, has been overwhelming in its success. There are “blow-ups,” games and snacks. The students descend on the church in large numbers and hyped up over the game they have just seen, so there are many chaperones required.
Cornerstone for Youth has, of course, had its challenges. Early in the program two of the participants engaged in some theft, both in the church and in the community. They were not abandoned, but were visited in jail and assured that they still had Christ’s love. One of the young men, after serving his jail time, came back to the program and a volunteer counselor discovered him playing the piano in the fellowship hall. She explained that he played by ear beautifully and had a wonderful innate musical ability that had evidently not been recognized – a welcome challenge for the church to nurture that God-given talent while creating a disciple for Jesus Christ.
The challenges have presented an opportunities to continually look at the structure of the program itself and changes ensued. Andy & Elizabeth Haynie who are the youth directors, encouraged more volunteer counselors to join them of this unique ministry.
The program will change as opportunities present themselves. On the drawing board currently are plans for a drama club and a praise band.