Small Church Launches Bold New Youth Outreach
When Faith UMC considered the “multitude” of needs in the Dickinson community, church members likely felt they only had five loaves and two fish to bring to the challenge. “Faith UMC is a small church with mostly seniors on modest fixed incomes,” admits Helen Childs, Youth Ministry Coordinator, “and, like most churches, only 20% are typically active participants.” Adds Helen, “Many doubted that we would be able to sustain expanded youth ministries, but obviously God's plans were different. With His blessing, our youth ministries have grown this year!”
She has been thrilled to witness her church, under the leadership of Rev. E. Lorraine Brown, take hold of the principles of discipleship and Jesus’ directive to care for my sheep. “Our expanded youth ministry is a response to the church's core value to minister to youth,” she adds. “Our pastors constantly call for discipleship and mission, including Jesus' commandment to Love one another, as I have loved you.”
FUMC’s youth ministry ignited with the addition of two new initiatives this year. For starters: the church’s 8-year Back-to-School Free Shopping Spree, now considered a community mainstay, added an additional shopping day during the spring. “Faith is known in the community as the church that has supplied new school clothes for an average of 300 Galveston County families in recent years. As the need to help more families increased, the church was led to grow this ministry with a additional day of shopping.”
The aging congregation of Faith UMC began to pray about the diminished numbers of youth in church. Soon members began witnessing the needs of community youth when the children played on the church grounds. Asks Helen, “How could we not heed His calling...when He made it pretty clear? “
Faith UMC did not stop there. Church volunteers started a new Youth Outreach Ministry named JAM Days. This ministry began with 20 participants and welcomed 50 children attending the last JAM Day event. Notes Helen, “After the church purchased two vacant lots next door, children from the community began to congregate to play – which we believe was God answering our prayer.” The church began its outreach effort by having a Spring Play Day, but by observing the community’s continued economic development problems, members knew that God was requiring they do more. According to Helen, the church received the South District Dunn grant that allowed Faith UMC to answer the needs for increased ministry. The JAM Day ministry began by offering God’s love and acceptance during three summer Fun Days at the church with basketball, kickball, art, praise dance and computer games. “These games were intentionally chosen to attract a diverse group of participants ages 2-16 and to help develop social skills that children in underprivileged areas often lack,” adds Helen. She believes these team games have proven to be fundamental tools in helping to develop conflict-resolution and fair-play skills, and provide all children an opportunity to be winners.
JAM Days also provide great opportunities to teach how to resolve problems without fighting and introduce the faith principle of love for one another. Since some of the children were unfamiliar with computers, they were given an opportunity to learn through games. Helen hopes this will be the first phase of becoming comfortable with computers, as the church ramps up to introduce computer-based tutorials. “We were blessed to have a professional praise dance instructor introduce a dozen young people to the concepts of praising God through dance, culminating with a performance during a Sunday service. The children’s interest in the program could be seen as they continued to return to each event and invite their friends.”
Faith UMC volunteers could also see a change in the children’s social and spiritual development as one of the young participants remarked, “I want to know how to join this church.” Volunteers are now smiling as they see youth are experiencing enough of God’s love to want to become a part of it. “What a blessing to know we are the sweet fragrance of God’s love in the world. I can only say that, as God has done throughout the ages, He spoke to the heart of an individual to 'begin a good work', and sent a few others to help. As Christians, we must do what we are scripturally directed to do... teach the faith to generations to come. We teach through our acts of love... for the greatest of these is Love."