Pastor Shows Passion for Reaching Teens

From a Business Career to Full-Time Ministry

It all started with a dream. No, honestly, the passion for pastoring a church of his own appeared to Pastor Jason Moore in the form of a dream. At 16, he had a vision of standing in front of a beautiful church. But his father deterred him from a job in ministry, claiming Moore would have difficulty earning a living. “There’s some truth to that,” Moore chuckles goodheartedly. He has an infectious smile and likes to talk with his hands.

[Church Information]

Church’s Name Passion Community Church
City, State Rootstown, OH
Denomination None
Year Founded 2006
Average Sunday Attendance 100
Lead Pastor/Minister’s Name Pastor Jason Moore
First Year at Church 2006

Rather than becoming a pastor, Moore pursued a degree, and a career, in business. That career started with a job as an e-commerce director at Little Tikes. After Moore had spent four years there, God reminded him of the dream, and this time Moore heeded the call. In 2006, he started Passion Community Church.

At first, Moore was a bivocational pastor, continuing to work full-time at Little Tikes. Seeking more control over his schedule, he left Little Tikes and started his own consulting business. He then was hired by TTI Inc. (Hoover and Dirt Devil vacuums), with the agreement that he would have flexible hours. It was difficult to balance two jobs, but Moore believes that pastors who want to do the same should “not leave their work. We need to train people how to be ministers within their workplace,” he says.

While Moore worked at TTI, Passion began to grow slowly. After four years, Passion had gotten too large for a pastor in part-time ministry, so Moore made the difficult decision to leave the business world for good and devote himself full-time to the ministry.

Putting the “Fun” in Dysfunctional

Passion, a nondenominational church, draws from an area with a 20-mile radius of the church’s meeting place, which until recently was the Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED) in Rootstown, Ohio. The wide area includes rural areas and suburbs of Cleveland, Akron, and Youngstown. The church has grown because of a focus on building relationships.

Moore beams a good-natured smile when he was asked to describe his church. “We put the ‘fun’ in dysfunctional,” he says, his roan eyes twinkling. “Our main focus is we are taking the church to the people instead of having people come to the church.”

Part of Moore’s strategy for taking the church to the people is to partner with others, including other churches in the area. The first Sunday of each month, the Passion youth group joins forces with 12-15 other area youth groups for Ignite, a unity service with worship, games, fellowship, and discipleship. Moore also is on the board of directors for the All Schools Assembly Program (ASAP), part of HarvestNet Ministries, which seeks to work through churches to transform northeast Ohio.

Reaching Out to the Schools

A key part of every community in northeast Ohio is the school system. Moore graduated from Southeast High School, which is about eight miles from NEOMED. Rootstown High School is even closer to NEOMED. Much closer. In fact, it’s right across State Route 44.

Shortly after starting Passion, Moore approached the superintendent of the Rootstown schools and said that Passion would be happy to help the school district in any way. The superintendent didn’t respond to the first request. Or the second. Or the third.

Finally, the superintendent said that Passion could help with a memorial garden at the Rootstown Middle School garden, which was in a state of disrepair after a long period of neglect. A small team from Passion went above and beyond the call and transformed the garden. The superintendent was impressed. It was the start of a relationship that eventually would bear much fruit, starting with an event at Rootstown and Southeast High Schools four years ago.

The Cornerback Makes Two Touchdowns

Moore met Ray McElroy, former NFL cornerback and chaplain for the Chicago Bears, when McElroy spoke at an ASAP event at a school in Cleveland. As a recent retiree from the NFL, McElroy had a vivacious vibe that enthralled his young audiences. He could deliver the Gospel message as well as he could tackle. Seeing how McElroy connected with youth, Moore secured McElroy to speak at ASAP events at Rootstown and Southeast High Schools.

For six months leading up to the event, the people of Passion prayed for the events and the schools. They also prayed for the $6,000 needed to finance the events, which Passion didn’t have. God, of course, heard the prayers and provided the support, through a meeting between Moore and a local business owner.

“The business owner called me into his office,” recounts Moore. “He had heard about the events, but he wanted details. What are you doing? And what is the cost. I told him. He wrote a check for the full amount. And he told me that, if we needed any more, then just let him know.”

 

At each school, the McElroy event would actually be two events. At an assembly during the school day, McElroy would deliver a “neutral message” and would invite the students to come back that evening for another message. At the evening event, McElroy would preach a Gospel message. According to Moore, at a successful ASAP event, about 10% of students come back for the evening event, and about 2% of students give or rededicate their lives to Christ after the Gospel presentation.

The results at Rootstown and Southeast redefined success for an ASAP event. Out of the 400 students at Rootstown, 175 returned for the evening event, and 110 gave their lives to Christ. The event brought in 43% of the student body, and 28% of Rootstown High School became Christians.

At Southeast, 400 out of the 650 students attended the second event, and 226 gave their lives to Christ. This event brought 62% of the Southeast High School population, and 35% dedicated themselves to Christ.

The numbers staggered Moore, and the events transformed the communities. The principal of Rootstown High School declared, “There has been a marked difference in the school.” Students began expressing their newfound faith in youth groups at Passion and other area churches. Typical attendance at Ignite went from 100 to 400. Today, four years later, Ignite attendance still is over 200.

The Rootstown event also strengthened the relationship between Moore and the school superintendent. The two began meeting once a month. That relationship would prove critical when tragedy struck Rootstown High School on Valentine’s Day of 2015.

Helping a School Deal with Tragedy

On February 14, 2015, “Sarah Johnson”[1] – a sweet, well-liked junior at Rootstown High School – lost control of her Chevrolet Cavalier on icy South Main Street in Akron and crashed into a tree. The man who had been driving behind her held her hand as she passed.

The day of the tragic accident was a Saturday, and the following Monday was President’s Day, a school holiday. The Rootstown school district organized a session of mourning on that Monday, and the superintendent asked Moore to attend. Over 1,000 people attended. There were no microphones; everyone gathered on the basketball floor, joined in small groups, and discussed Sarah’s life. Moore and other ministers went from group to group. Moore prayed and spoke with many.

Recognizing that the school did not have enough counselors to handle all of the grief-stricken students, the superintendent asked Moore and several other pastors to speak with the students at Rootstown High School the next day, when classes were back in session. There was a long line of students seeking counseling. Because of IGNITE, many of those students were familiar with Moore and other pastors, and the students preferred to speak with pastors instead of counselors.

“The teachers asked me to speak in the classes that Sarah would have attended,” recounts Moore. Moore knew that, in a public school, he could not volunteer information about his faith, but he was allowed to answer questions from students. Armed with encouragement from the superintendent – “I trust you” – Moore spoke to five classes.

“The first question a student asked was, ‘Is Sarah in heaven?’ I had to answer honestly,” says Moore. “I didn’t know much about Sarah’s faith, so I said, ‘We don’t know.’ I then explained what I as a Christian believe about how we get to heaven.

“I stayed at the school for the rest of the week,” Moore continues. “I lost track of how many students I spoke with. It was hundreds. I spoke with teachers, too.”

All About Relationships

Shortly after that week, the superintendent asked Moore to lunch, where he posed the question, “How can I get you here all the time?” Would Moore be willing to move Passion from NEOMED to Rootstown High School? Moore didn’t hesitate; he said “yes” immediately. It took six months to make the transition, but today Passion meets at Rootstown High School.

The church does more than hold Sunday worship services at the high school. Moore organized a weekend food backpack program for 86 students on reduced lunch programs. A food pantry is in the works, as are clothing donations for students who need them.

When asked what advice he has for other small churches, Moore leans forward with his hands clasped and simply states, “It all starts with a relationship.”

Even with the successes that Passion has had, Moore admits that it is easy as a small-church pastor to become burned out. Pastors often focus on numbers, but he maintains that “you have to think about the impact you’ll make. Those little steps make such a big difference in those relationships. It allows us to do big things like ASAP and being there when a student dies.”

From maintaining a middle school garden to bringing over 330 students to Christ at a youth event, Moore pours his heart into the community one small step at a time. Even though some days drain him, Moore continues to live out his dream in every waking moment.

[1] The name of the girl has been changed.

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