By Lucas Pruett
Youth Pastor, Fort Payne First UMC
The story of our Wednesday Night Worship service is one of God’s vision and also God’s provision.
I arrived at Fort Payne First UMC in February of last year. Wednesday night has always been youth worship night ever since an old mentor of mine, Lane Gilbert, was the youth minister here. There was a worship space on the third floor along with the youth small group rooms and other youth areas; however, the worship space was just another small group room in itself. In the room, there were eight pews that could sit up to eight students each. The front wall of the room was designed in a means that could promote a worship filled environment. Upon my arrival, we played worship music in downloaded music videos through a projector and speakers and then had a message. I immediately upgraded that space because my simple vision was to use that space for worship for the foreseeable future. We put flat screen TV’s on the wall and upgraded our speakers. We thought we had established a spacious area that would meet our needs for a youth worship space for a while.
God had different plans.
As the semester progressed our numbers climbed from 35-40 students to approximately 60 students and the room had become an extremely tight fit. When the semester finished, I immediately began to tackle the issue of our worship space as well as other areas to house aspects that now factored in. We had an extremely talented group of 9th and 10th grade musicians who now wanted to form a youth praise band. There is no way they would have been able to fit in our small space upstairs. Furthermore, I was beginning to notice that our worship service was a hindrance to bringing guests. In order to join us for worship, a student had to come to our church and then come up three floors into a dim old Sunday school space. It was not the most easily approachable environment to bring in guest!
As I pondered these things, I looked into the spaces available at our church and there were two -- the old fellowship hall or the worship space in the CLC (Christian Life Center). The old fellowship hall was an immediate “no” because it would require some major upgrades and also changing a lot of our other strategic programs. The space in the CLC also did not fit our needs because it is where we have our meal on Wednesday nights and would have been too big for our current service. It seats upward of 300 people and I was looking for somewhere for our group of 75. This is where everything collided. I was in a position of honest confusion in what we could do.
Then an idea struck within me.
In Fort Payne, there is an old theatre downtown named the Dekalb Theatre. It is a brilliant structure with tons of history and also a great set up. Furthermore, it is also only a block away from our church. I began approaching them about the possibility of doing our Wednesday Night Services in their space. My selling points were that they are constantly on the lookout for way to bring younger audiences into their space and we could bring a crew of the younger generation every Wednesday Night. The match was perfect! We quickly came to an agreement on rent and other factors. After the agreement was struck, things quickly began to fall into place. The youth praise band was formed and we began to brainstorm on how we could effectively use the space that was presented to us. We kicked off the service at the beginning of September and it has been a huge foundational piece to our youth ministry.
Our current youth ministry structure is that we have three elements -- worship, small groups, and service opportunities. Worship is our number one focal point and is also our easiest entry point. This Wednesday Night Worship service at the theatre has been perfect for that purpose. There is no block to cause a student not to attend. On any given Wednesday there is food, live music, games, and a biblical challenge. We have noticed that our students are extremely open to bringing their unchurched friends due to the fact there is no awkwardness. Many of the students who don’t regularly attend church still have a loose association with some church somewhere. They went to “so and so” church once when they were 6 years old and now that is still the church to which they feel associated. If they step foot in another church building then they feel they are “cheating” on their church. The theatre is awesome because it is not a church building and no youth feel bad for attending. Many of the new attendees have church homes on Sunday mornings that are not able to provide youth activities for their small number of students. The theatre gives them an opportunity to attend a “community” style worship service. This has been one of the biggest positives of this growing ministry. There are no blocks for people. It is helping us truly create a community of students who love Jesus here in Fort Payne, Alabama.
This ministry continues to grow. We now have approximately 100 attendees. We are continuing to upgrade the quality of the service through the band improving and learning new music; including more students in the service; trying new food that could be a draw; and implementing new ways for fun to be shared in fellowship pre-service through games and activities.
We are so excited to see how God does his will through this ministry in the form of presenting students in Fort Payne a place that has no blocks. They all are free to just come as they are and enjoy the warm embrace of their Savior. Furthermore, this service is a continuation of our belief that reaching the lost is not something that is just nice to do, but it is something that we have to do as followers of Jesus.
We will continue to use this service and opportunity as a way to allow Christ to transform these students. Then we can work them through the rest of our ministry process beginning with joining one of our small groups.