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What do PG-13 movies and some church youth programs have in common?

Answer: some of the content may not be suitable for children. The former, because they may generate too much excitement; the latter, because it may not generate enough, which is why many youth programs are struggling to keep kids interested in their well-intended, but poorly-attended church events.

Blair United Methodist was no exception. Less than two years ago, its youth program was, in the words of church member Pam Wilhelm, “in a sorry state.” Trusty (but perhaps rusty) programs like MYF were showing their age, and fewer than 20 youth were regularly showing up for events.

“Youth Ministry is hard work,” says Blair Pastor Rebecca Hjelle, “and it’s always changing. The church use to be the centerpiece of community life and now it is competing for attention. They (the kids) are busy with school activities and sports teams and dance practice and homework and youth group is sometimes the last priority.”

Church members and parents made a decision. They wanted to compete and they believed that the church was up to the challenge; it just needed an infusion of energy. The church hired Jamie Folkers, who was ready to step back into the workplace after a few years as a stay-at-home mom. Jamie believes that kids actually want to know more about the Bible; it just has to be relevant to them and what they experience in their everyday lives.

“Take almost any Scripture,” the former elementary school teacher says “and relate it to a teenager and they will be interested. They want to know how to live their lives and how to find happiness and they know the Bible has the answers, but they, like all of us, need help finding them.”

Jamie presents a mixed bag of ministry to the Blair Youth. Lectures and mini-sermons have been swapped out for silly games and Bible lessons. The youth also now have an annual trip to look forward to, which will involve time for both mission work and building relationships. This year, the group went to Camp Norwesca in Chadron, where they took on projects like rebuilding the water slide and organizing the craft room. But there was also time for fun and sharing.

So far, the new approach has shown good results. After just two years on the job, Jamie said 50 youth, grades 6th-12th, are now attending on a regular basis. They sense the newfound enthusiasm in the church, an attribute that Hjelle believes is largely responsible for the recent surge.

“My sense is that Jamie’s energy and creativity as a youth director has played a big part in this transformation," Hjelle said. "She brought a fresh perspective and some new ideas to the ministry and it has made things come alive again!”

Note: We are looking for more good news stories of how God is at work in the lives of the people in your United Methodist Church! Has a good idea evolved into a great program, helping to attract and nurture disciples of Jesus? Do you know someone who faith has grown as a result of his/her involvement with your church? Let us know! You can contact us at: kwitte@umcneb.org or taylorpro@windstream.net. We can’t produce a video about every good news story, but we still want to know how your church is making disciples for the transformation of the world!