First UMC Jacksonville Training Mini Methodists
A few years after Stacy Boyer began serving as Director of Education in her home church in the piney woods of East Texas, she realized children that attended on Sunday did not typically attend Wednesday’s afterschool group because they were not interested in being part of the children’s choir rehearsals. In order to reach more children, the staff began brain-storming, knowing that growth would require some new ideas. Notes Stacy, “We decided to expand our Mini-Methodists training program to include games, crafts, and Bible lessons – so, Wednesdays look a lot different now.” Each week church busses and vans head out to gather an average of 150 children from five local schools. Parents bring homeschoolers and children from surrounding areas as well. “Yes, the church fills with the beautiful sound of running feet, smiling faces, and lots of excited chatter,” she adds, noting that one thing has remained consistent throughout the years:
The Children’s Ministry of First United Methodist Church, Jacksonville, seeks to give children the opportunity to grow in their relationship with Christ through study of God’s word, and building relationships with peers and mentors.
Retired coach and church member John Alexander loves his volunteer role: driving the bus. “It is amazing when we start back after a holiday or summer break to see how excited the kids are when we pull up to get them,” he says. “Seeing this program grow from about 20 to 172 before Christmas is awesome. In fact it’s grown so much our members donated the money to get a used school bus and to paint it to say ‘Mini-Methodist Express’!” Shares Stacy, “For many of the kids this is the only church they experience. Our goal is for them to leave having heard God’s word and knowing God loves them.”
Other class options change each year depending on the number of kids in the program and particular passions of the volunteers. Over the years they have included ukulele, recorder, dance, sewing, Ga-Ga ball, inside games, crafts, and more. Two years ago a volunteer expressed an interest in offering an option emphasizing missions that grew into a hands-on missions project in the church food pantry. Stacy was excited to see that, “The option was so popular we could not accommodate all the children who wanted to participate. This high interest in helping others inspired us to create more mission-centered options. We now have children sewing book bags for UMCOR and children creating needlework items our staff takes to shut-ins and those in the hospital.”
The Wednesday ministry has experienced exponential growth in the past five years. With more children comes the need for more volunteers with a willingness to be flexible when it comes to the format and schedule. Adds Stacy, “Each week as parents pick up their children and the church becomes quiet again I acknowledge that we just experienced a miracle and I really mean it. It’s a miracle we all arrived safely and God provided all we needed to serve so many. I sit in awe at the seed of God’s word planted in their lives. I give thanks for all that springs forth from those seeds. I imagine our children passing those seeds on to parents… friends… siblings. God makes possible what we could never accomplish on our own – the Kingdom of God spreading throughout our homes, our community, maybe even our world.”
Children’s Ministry Continues to Grow
Other initiatives helping to grow the children’s ministry include:
- Children’s church: children have their own sermon lesson and a small music group
- Blog: fumckidsministry.blogspot.com serves as a source of information and devotionals for families while providing the acolyte schedule, activity registration forms and lessons for volunteers.
- Summer fun: First UMC Jacksonville hosts a 4-day mission themed VBS that focuses on the community (working in the park), nation (partnering with organizations needing assistance) and world (children prepared 10,000 meals for Stop Hunger Now). Additionally, they take an average of 70 youngsters to camp, many of whom are provided scholarships by generous members wanting to “Invest in the Young.”
No Advertising Needed: Children Inviting Parents
“If our visiting children have no church home, we work to build a relationship with that family, and have seen new families join the church as a result of this outreach,” Stacy explains. “For example, Terunda Montgomery is a single mother of two who I invited to the program several years ago and she has since joined the church and her daughters attend youth activities and Terunda volunteers in any many ways.” No advertising dollars are needed when the grapevine is at work. Adds Stacy, “The children are asking their friends and their families, which allows us to reach a different demographic, and allows this elementary group to feed into our youth group as they get older.”
Adds John, “We have children from all races and religions coming to learn about Jesus and enjoy learning in a safe environment. Dozens of parents tell us consistently that their children absolutely love coming to our church and that is a blessing in itself.”