Better Together

The genesis of a community youth group


“Why not?”

I heard the words spoken into the phone, but it took a moment for my mind to register that I’m the one who said them. In a small church like Hambden Alliance (Chardon, Ohio), every hand counts—and I had just given one of my best to another church.

The “hand” in question was my youth leader, Nanci. She had been hanging out with her teenage son and his friends for about a year, trying to spark some interest in God. Most of the group had never been to our church before . . . or any church for that matter. That is, until the local Assemblies of God (AG) church opened its doors and its Xboxes to all the local teens.

About 20 kids, including Nanci’s son and his friends, were going every week to eat pizza, play video games and listen to a Bible study. But the AG church didn’t have enough adults able to lead the group, so the pastor asked Nanci. She was a natural fit; after all, she already knew most of the teens. The problem, of course, was that she didn’t attend the AG church—she attended mine.

That’s when my phone rang. It was April 2009. I don’t know about you, but I don’t normally enjoy listening to one of my leaders tell me that she feels called to pour all of her time into another church’s ministry. And so when she ended her story by asking, “What do you think?” I had a dozen cautionary comments that were just bursting to come out; but the only words that made it were: “Why not?”

A few weeks later, Nanci called again. She wanted me to help her lead a youth group meeting. “You want an Alliance pastor to help lead an AG youth group!? . . . Why not?”

The news quickly reached the ears of the local Youth for Christ worker. He was stunned. What I didn’t know at the time was that he had been praying with another local pastor for more than 10 years that God would unite the Chardon churches to reach the youth.

Most of the Christian teenagers in our area go to the same junior high and high school but then break up into numerous, very small youth groups in their individual churches. As leaders from a few of those churches talked together, we began to envision a community youth group, a place where our teens could worship God and grow in a relationship with Him together.

A few months and many meetings later, Crave631 (see Psalm 63:1) was launched. It’s a community youth group supported and led by seven churches of various denominations. Each church takes turns providing food for the weekly meetings. Worship is led by an all-youth praise band, and a rotation of speakers combine Bible teaching with games, movie clips, dramas and visual illustrations. During most meetings, we break up into numerous small groups to discuss the message. None of our churches alone could have provided the consistent excellence we enjoy in each part of our meetings. We are continually in awe of what God can do through us as we work together.

When we launched in September 2009, we hoped that 40 teens would show up at the first Wednesday night meeting. Forty-four came. The next week there were 70, and the week after that, 80. On the fourth Wednesday, 95 teens walked through the doors. Throughout the 2009–2010 school year, 198 teenagers visited our ministry, most of them unbelievers with no church home.

One of those teens was Mandy, a 16-year-old high school student. She and her sister fought constantly, refusing their dad’s invitations to church because they thought it would be boring. Although she always claimed a belief in God, she never had a spiritual relationship with Him. Mandy came to one of our meetings, and her life changed forever.

“The only reason I went was for food and friends, but I ended up staying the entire time because I loved it so much,” Mandy says. “Some people were painting a mural of Jesus when my friend, Mariah, wanted to pray for me. As we were praying, [a Crave leader] started to pray for me, too. As we were doing so, I started crying, and I ended up accepting Christ right then and there.”

Mandy is committed to grow in her knowledge of the Word and to be discipled by other Christians. “I go to Crave every Wednesday. I try to go to church every Sunday, and afterwards my sister, [some Crave leaders] and I have a Bible study. My sister and I rarely fight now that we both have put God first in our lives.” Mandy was baptized a few months ago in her home church.

Mandy’s story is just one among many from our first year of ministry. Teenagers like her remind us of why we, as a group, continually fight for our unity. Nanci, my youth leader, commented: “It is so fulfilling to see the Lord’s work in all of this—seeing so many teens come each week to hear His Word.” One of the other pastors expressed a sentiment we all share: “It is such a tremendous joy to sit around a table with a group of people that love teens and enjoy working together.”

And we have discovered that we really do enjoy working together. Our Tuesday morning leadership meetings have become one of my favorite times of the week. We plan together, play together and pray together. We realized from the very beginning that we had to choose to trust each other, that what was at stake was more important than our individual churches. Dean Carlo, the local Youth for Christ worker, summed it up when he exclaimed that we were “better together.” Through his involvement and leadership, he feels like he has transitioned from para-church to “part-of-church.” And through my involvement, I feel like I’ve transitioned from part-of-church to The Church.

People are talking. Conversations about Crave have been overheard in a dentist’s office, a supermarket and other places around the community. People are amazed that churches have moved from competing to cooperating. The community is seeing what we should have known and practiced all along: we are the Church and we should act like it . . . together.

We’re a group of small churches. It’s crazy that our youth meetings draw more people than our individual services on Sunday mornings. But we have a crazy, big God. And I’m just glad to be along for the ride. Some people are skeptical, thinking that our unity won’t last. But I just keep thinking, “Why not?”

Renovate an Emerging Leader Training Center in West Java

Indonesia, with a population of more than 240 million, is the fourth most populous nation; half of its people are 25 years and younger. The task of reaching and discipling these young people is great. To address this need, the Indonesia field has established an Emerging Leader Training Center at which Indonesian youth leaders will be equipped to reach and disciple their peers in relevant ways. The center has been established in the provincial capital of the largest least-reached people group of West Java. Funding is needed to renovate existing facilities into dorm-style rooms.

Amount Needed: $10,000

To make a donation to the project listed above, visit The Alliance Gift Catalog page or contact: Mr. Doug Wicks, (719) 265-2006, [email protected] for further information.

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