Relevant Youth Activities: Two Impactful Stories

Date Posted: 12/8/2016

Youth groups at St. Luke’s UMC Houston and St. John’s UMC Richmond are ‘investing in the young’ in unique ways.
When it comes to facilitating a “Christ connection” with youth, church leaders and parents are usually curious to hear creative ideas that make the gospel relevant for young people.  Here are two such stories of lives impacted by their youth groups.
Success Story from St. Luke’s UMC Houston
Parent volunteer Stephanie Hamilton describes a power-packed guys Bible study as only a mom could – giving this play by play “diary” of what can happen when young men from three area churches gather with Whataburger breakfast items and Bibles for the “What-a-study.”
Shares Stephanie:
What can get done in 30 minutes?  A LOT!! We had a packed house of boys and four youth pastors from three churches here; St. Martins Episcopal, Second Baptist and St. Luke’s Methodist.
Here’s how it went:
6:50- 7:10 the Suburban stampede, 38 boys, 4 leaders, Giant boxes of Whataburger, 25 chairs, 2 trashcans, 3 moms, 1 dog to eat the bits on the floor, tons of drinks in one cooler, backpacks, football pads, sack lunches and purple duffles galore.
7:05 8th graders stake out the front of the room, 7th graders stake out the back door posse seating and 6th graders surround the table and overflow, 4 leaders spread out and discuss sports scores and all things middle school boys care about to get to know your boys better each week. The moms usually leave to go drink coffee but today I listen carefully.
7:15 Rob Dulaney, Director of Student Ministries at St. Luke’s, opens with a story about the time he was deep in a cave spelunking and bumped into a giant nest of daddy long legs and they were crawling all over him.  Boom - middle school boys are captivated immediately.
7:16 That story leads to the story of an ant bed in the way of a fire for a land burn and a man who steps on the bed and tells the ants to run for their lives. But since ants don’t understand English, they just go back to rebuilding their bed.  They read John 1: 1- 5.  They break that down and discuss that this is an echo of Genesis 1.  They then read John 1:14.  They discussed that just like the man trying to communicate with the ants, God sent his son in flesh to dwell among us.  
Rob explained how they would be reading and studying the book of John this year and how much God loves them.  He explained that when this truth really sinks in, it can’t help but change their response and outlook toward circumstances in their lives.  He encouraged them to read the book of John at home this year and really delve into it themselves.  Much more powerful discussion went on that I cannot even fully remember but it was meaty, educational and they were very interactive in their responses to questions--from the front to the back of the room.  
7:25  Rob prayed for them as a group and for the whole year; that God would give them full understanding on the deepest level of His truths.  (Note to parents: we can continue to pray this for all of them.)
7:30 High fives and smiles and handshakes and an occasional hug and they were out the door with all their gear….not one thing left behind.  Wow.  I was in awe of how God made it all happen in just 30 minutes.  It was not just light stuff.  It was thought provoking, intellectual, open, deep and they all looked so happy and relaxed and connected to each other when they left.  
7:35 High schoolers walk in and pull up chairs to the kitchen table with the leaders and get going too.  
8:05 they move on to school after a morning devotional set ideal for their age group.
In 2 weeks, they will be back ….same time and a step further into the book of John.  Don’t underestimate your incredible role in this, moms.  Love and obedience and serving the Lord sometimes looks so little but the impact collectively is HUGE.  Your support is not just for your child but also for their grade, class and group of friends.  
Meanwhile, at a youth group 15 miles a way….
Success Story: St. John’s UMC, Richmond
Youth leader William Murphree likes to organize activities around a theme that changes each semester. One semester, for example, the group focused on stories of our faith, he says, ”We included stories from Christian history or our own lives as a part of God’s story.” When he launched the “Come to the Table” theme this semester, the students responded to the idea of food and coffee and discussions as a way to grow from each other and learn together. “William has been doing a neat study series where he interviews – either live or via recorded sessions -- other youth workers and individuals,” explains Director of Youth/Young Adult Ministries, Eddie Erwin. “William asks what brought them to the table of faith, what scriptures were crucial to them in different stages of their lives and how they continue to make room for young people at the table of faith.”
Here’s how the session went when William invited Eddie to visit the group for a live interview. The live interviews naturally involve higher energy and live interaction as the students ask questions,” notes William, “but they enjoyed hearing Eddie’s perspective, having grown up in the church, since many of them have not.”
Here’s what high school junior Audrey Ryburn had to say about the study.
“Our fall semester theme Come to the Table introduced me to a lot of different perspectives on faith, and what it means to be a follower, and how to be a follower. And I was able to bear witness to many different stories of faith. This theme was orchestrated by our youth director William, who sought out various other youth pastors and/or inspiring individuals in the community. He subjected them to some lengthy questioning about themselves, their experiences, and their beliefs. All the people interviewed had interesting stories and theories about faith, and I found it very refreshing to see all the variations that faith can have. 
The whole thing about coming to the table is that you don’t come to the table to pick a fight. Mostly you gather around a table to eat or tell stories or just be interviewed. With the metaphorical table of Christianity, no two people give the same answer. I think it’s amazing that we are a faith so diverse yet so unified under Christ. At the Millennium Dance Complex in LA, big black letters above a set of mirrors spells out “UNITY IN DIVERSITY.” I love that phrase for so many reasons and one is that it accurately describes Christianity. We come from so many different histories and cultures yet we all believe in the power of the one true God. This interview series has been stimulating; there’s no better word for it. This semester, I’ve been thinking more about the nature of my faith than I ever have, and I’m discovering things about what I believe and how I’m supposed to show my faith to those who don’t believe. I don’t think that would’ve been possible without ‘Come to the Table.’