Reaching out to youth through Elevate

It all started with a yearning. Isn’t that how it often starts with God? Jesus’ words kept emerging, “Let the little children come to me.” We know Jesus has a big heart for children—for “to these belong the Kingdom of God” (Luke 18:16). It is clear from our Lord that we are not to hinder but are to help children come to him!

In an age when more and more families do not attend church regularly—or at all—what if we provided a new way for children to come? I thought, “We have a church van!” Other than camps and retreats a few times a year, it just sits in the garage. What if we went out into the community and drove youth to our church? I had a feeling that if we provided the transportation, that many parents would allow their children to come to church, even if they did not come themselves.

Quick side note: Over the course of my ministry, I was always in awe of children or teens that would come to church by themselves, while their families stayed home. In generations gone by, when most lived a “stone’s throw” away from the church, I heard how some children would simply walk to church on their own. This always touched my heart. Many kids live further away now, and we want them to be as safe as possible. I thought it would be great to pick them up for a youth night and then bring them back home.

This idea kept circulating in my mind. The yearning was there…the holy “nudges” were there… and finally a member of our church encouraged me, “Let’s not wait any longer, let’s do it!” (Thank you Jennifer Wiwi!) This was a catalyst to get this new ministry going!

Soon it got a name, a day, a time, a general structure, and some key volunteers! We decided to hold “Elevate” on the first Sunday of each month, from 6:00-7:30 p.m., and every youth night we have the elements of Faith, Food and Fun. As good Moravians, we would say these are our “Elevate Essentials”!

Our basic structure starts with vibrant worship-with camp songs, prayer and a simple faith message, followed by a hot meal and play time in the church gym.

While most of the kids love to run loose in the gym, playing 9-Square and basketball, we noticed early on that there were kids that would prefer another outlet. We added a “craft time” in another room for those that enjoyed art as well as a quieter atmosphere. Overall, the reception we’ve gotten in the community has been wonderful. The reality has been that many parents have brought their kids. That said, we have been able to pick up about 8-10 kids with the church van that do not have any church affiliation. I do not want to give the impression that our “pick-up” ministry is easy. It is not. I am seeing how it will take continued time and effort to establish relationships of trust with the families of the community that do not attend church.

As we have all learned through Covid, we need to be able to flex, change and pivot in new ways to reach out effectively. Elevate is one attempt to do just that and it is one of the most exciting ministries we’ve done in recent years.

Lastly, I would like to say “Thank You” to our church volunteers that have made Elevate a reality in these first 6 months: Evan Watkins, Lisa Garrison, Linda Foote, Natalie and Norah Berkenstock, David and Jennifer Wiwi, Ed Hendershot, Pat Walters, Karen Kilps, Mike Crull, Sally Scrogham, Ken and Michele Seim, Eric Lux, and Austin Bogue.

The Rev. Andy Kilps is pastor of Hope Moravian Church in Hope, Indiana. Photos of Elevate events courtesy of Hope Moravian.