Rural Church Does Outreach through Children’s Ministry

What’s your congregation’s focus and form of outreach? As a small congregation – average weekly attendance of around 95 – in a rural setting (“at the intersection of beans and corn”), Prince of Peace Lutheran Church of Hudson (Stroh), Indiana focuses its outreach efforts on the public elementary school in its community. Its form of outreach is KIDZ KLUB, a Tuesday after-school program for elementary-aged kids. In the fall 2016 session, Pastor Jim Elsner taught the fourth- and fifth-grade students about the life of Abraham. Through this lesson, the children learned about their identity with God, sex and abuse, and covenants.

Identity
In order to build a “team”, Elsner played a game with the kids. Each child took a turn to share his or her name and the hospital where he or she was born. To Elsner’s surprise, four of the eight kids did not know the name of the hospital, or even the community, where they were born. These same four kids live not with a parent but with another relative. It was a great opportunity to talk about Abram and how God knew him and called him to follow Him.

The second week, Elsner and the children read from Isaiah 43. Each child made a big poster, and the posters went up on the classroom wall. The message was this: “I have called you by name, [child’s name], and you are mine,” says the Lord.”

It was important for these kids to know that God knows them better than they know themselves. He knows where they were born. And He calls them to be His own dear child!

Sex and Abuse
If you read the story of Abraham in Genesis 12-22, you can’t escape talking about sex and abuse! The words were right there in the Bibles that the students used, and the kids caught it quickly. They realized that, even though God called Abraham and made him His own, Abraham and Sarah made bad choices in life.

Elsner introduced the kids to the “canyon” diagram. On one side is God and on the other is us (people). In the “canyon” between God and us are Sin, Faults, and Errors. How do we get over them and to God?

Genesis 15:6 says, “Abram believed God and He credited it to him as righteousness.” Faith, believing, and trust are the bridge across the canyon. Despite the bad choices we each make, God restores us and forgives us because we believe. Elsner added the cross of Jesus as the bridge, explaining that Abraham didn’t know Jesus and His work as we do and that we believe and trust in Jesus.

Reading about Abraham and Hagar (Genesis 16) brought an interesting story from one of the kids. He told us his cousin was going to a church but she became pregnant, even though she wasn’t married. Her pastor was angry and kicked her out of the church. He told her that her baby was a mistake!

It was a touching moment followed by a tough discussion. All the kids were very tuned in! Elsner spoke about sin and grace, about God’s love and forgiveness for our bad choices when we trust in God. He encouraged the student to tell his cousin about Abraham and God’s love. For this group of kids who didn’t know where they came into this world, it was important to reaffirm God’s words from Isaiah 43: “I have called you by name… you are mine.” That baby isn’t a mistake. That baby is known by God and loved by God, and God calls that baby to be His!

As the class finished its discussion that day and began moving to its next activity, one of the girls who was pretty quiet came to Elsner and said, “Pastor Jim, I was abused. When I was in foster care, I was abused. My grandparents got me out of there. And that’s why I live with them.” And the boy who told us about his cousin turned to her and said, “I was abused, too!”

Covenant
One of the more dramatic moments in the story of Abraham is the covenant ceremony of Genesis 15. It’s kind of bloody, but the kids really understood that God laid his life on the line for Abraham! He made a promise and commitment to Abraham – a very serious one – a “cross my heart and hope to die” kind of one.

When Isaac was eight days old, he entered into that covenant with God, too. Circumcision it was called. (That took some smooth talking on Elsner’s part!) The point for the kids is that God put Himself on the line for us in Jesus. God sacrificed His Son so we could be in a covenant commitment, too! And today, God asks us to be baptized. That’s His covenant for us.

The last session covered baptism. None of those kids are baptized. Elsner’s prayer is that everyone on the “Green Team” (the group’s name) is baptized the same day. The seed has been planted; Elsner looks forward to seeing how it sprouts and grows in the next 8-weeks of KIDZ KLUB.

Growth and Blessings
During the fall 2016 session of KIDZ KLUB, Prince of Peace saw a 50% increase in enrollment and attendance – from 25 kids to 37. Why the growth? Part of the reason is that KIDZ KLUB is not the church’s only involvement with the local elementary school. Other involvement includes:

  • A deaconess, who directs the Children’s Ministry and KIDZ KLUB, spends one to two hours each week as a volunteer recess and lunch supervisor at the school. The kids love to see her! And it gives the opening to talk about KIDZ KLUB and answer questions about life issues, church, and God.
  • Every year, the church provides lunch for the faculty and staff during one of their in-service days. It’s the church’s way of saying thanks for their care for the kids of the community!
  • Several Prince of Peace members volunteer at the school as mentors. They read to the kids, listen to kids read, or help them with other studies and lessons.
  • Church members try to be visible at school events such as concerts and plays.

God has blessed the Prince of Peace outreach to the kids of the community and their families. The last evening of KIDZ KLUB included a Family Supper event, which followed a short program with kids singing, doing a skit, and receiving awards. Over 80 people – KIDZ KLUB students and staff, family members, and congregation members – attended. Two new KIDZ KLUB students are participating in the Christmas pageant this year, and their parents are beginning to worship at the church.

Outreach is challenging for a small congregation in a rural setting, but the need for the Gospel is just as great here as anywhere else. The personal issues and family tragedies one associates with the city are in rural America, too. The challenge is to shine the light of Christ’s love to those around us. By God’s grace and Spirit, Prince of Peace is able to be “a safe place and a grace place” where the seed of His Word – the Gospel of Jesus Christ – is planted. Elsner and his congregation eagerly await the harvest!


Thanks to Terry Tieman for submitting this article, which was written by Pastor Jim Elsner.

Director Starts Choir for Three Teens

by Chuck Snyder

A regular contributor to Small Church Central, Chuck has been a staff member at The Presbyterian Church in Coshocton, Ohio for nearly 40 years. His assignments there have included music ministry, Christian Education, and youth ministry.

In the spring of 2008, the “Three Musketeers” had a conversation with me after a final Crusaders Choir (grades 4-8) rehearsal at our church. Then eighth graders, Emma Brems, Kayla Cowden, and Alex Lawrence posed the question: “What choir can we sing in next year?”

Without much thought, I answered “You’d be welcome to sing in the Chancel Choir. We’ve often had high school students sing with us.” Emma, often the most vocal of the three, fired back, “We don’t want to sing in the Chancel Choir. We want our own choir.”

A little flabbergasted by her direct approach, I said honestly, “I don’t think there are enough high school students here to make that possible.” There wasn’t much of a response, but I saw the disappointment in their eyes.

I thought about it for several weeks, and at Alex’s confirmation party I grabbed a napkin and began to jot down the names of possible singers in our church. When I finished I was surprised to count the names of 22 high school students with whom I’d crossed paths over the years.

That fall I penned a short, carefully-worded letter describing the idea, and announcing a first rehearsal. I printed it on bright yellow paper, bought some matching envelopes, and with the name “Celebration Singers” in my head, purchased some colorful stamps that said “Celebrate!” I asked Ann Leppla if she would help as an accompanist, and when she answered with an enthusiastic “of course!” looked for some appropriate music. While I planned and worked for a successful result, I was not all that hopeful.

The day arrived, and after Chancel Choir rehearsal I walked out into the hall to see if anyone had come. To my amazement there were 11 bright-eyed high schoolers waiting—six ladies and five gentlemen. We had a great first rehearsal, and a sixth gentleman joined us the following week. A picture that captures that first–year miracle is in our choir room.

In early September of the following year, Emma and Kayla asked if they could also sing in the Chancel Choir. They thought we could “use the help.” Of course Alex joined, too.

Fast forward to the present: Celebration Singers is beginning its ninth season. 50 young musicians have sung with the group, and others have joined them for specific occasions. As long as they were in high school, the Three Musketeers helped spearhead the recruiting efforts, often drawing in friends who were not involved in another church. Thankfully, other young church members have taken on the recruiter roles in the years since, inviting their friends from other schools, churches, and musical groups to be part of Celebration Singers.

Since Celebration Singers only sings one Sunday a month (and rehearses two Wednesdays before that), it’s not a huge commitment. Inviting others gives us the “critical mass” necessary to let our kids share their gifts in this way, and provides that opportunity to others whose churches do not have a musical opportunity for their young members, as well as others teens who are not yet connected to a church. Over these years, 16 of our young members have invited 35 friends to join them. Talk about friendship evangelism!

Celebration Singers rehearsals continue to be joyful times each month, and the joy they have in sharing their song is contagious – in rehearsal as well as in Sunday worship.

Churches Band Together to Reach Their Community for Christ

Once a vibrant part of a manufacturing corridor that extended from Pittsburgh to Detroit, the Warren-Youngstown area of northeast Ohio has been struggling economically since the steel mills and other manufacturing plants declined and closed a generation ago. Halfway between Warren and Youngstown is Girard, a town of fewer than 10,000 people. In early 2012, Pastor Rhonda Gallagher had to decide if she would agree to lead a tiny Lutheran church in Girard.

Gallagher, who grew up south of Akron and had raised a family a little further south in Massillon, was familiar with Ohio towns whose glory days were in the past. Before interviewing at the church in Girard, “I spent three years at a church in Canton,” she recalls. “Hoover, Timken, and other major employers in Canton aren’t doing as well as they once did.”

She was not familiar with Girard, and her first impression – as she took the Girard exit off the highway – was negative. “It looked very depressed,” she says. “There really wasn’t anything attractive to me about the Girard area. I thought to myself, ‘I can’t see myself living here.’”

She was considering a call to Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, which had not had a pastor for nine-and-a-half years. The synod, or denominational governing body, wasn’t sure what to do with Trinity and suggested that the church merge with another ELCA church in a neighboring community.

“The synod actually offered me a three-year contract,” says Gallagher. “I didn’t know what to make of that. No one ever gets a three-year contract. We serve until we are called to another church. When I asked about it, the response I got was that the synod didn’t think that the church would survive much longer. If the church didn’t make it during my three years there, then it wouldn’t be charged against me.”

Gallagher had experience with a dying church. While she served at a church in Canton, that church closed. A building worth $900,000 was sold for just $150,000 to an organization that promised to protect the building from vandalism. That wasn’t enough money to remove the ornate stained glass windows that had graced the building for decades.

“It was heartbreaking,” says Gallagher.

Should she take a job at another dying church in another depressed area? She was reluctant, until the interview at the church.

“When I interviewed, they were so excited about their church and the possibilities that they saw,” she recalls. “They had a desire for growth. An excitement for Christ. They wanted to take back their city for Christ. They persuaded me not only to take the position but to move to the community.”

And Girard is just that: a community. Don’t tell residents that they live in a suburb of Warren or Youngstown, or you’ll get a lecture.

“The roots go deep here,” says Gallagher. “We may be surrounded by Warren and Youngstown, but we see Girard as a place of our own. Many families have lived here for generations. They love Girard. And they want to go to church in their own community.”

There are no megachurches in that community. The largest church is the Catholic church, St. Rose. All of the Protestant churches are small and, when Gallagher arrived, all were struggling. Today, they are doing much better, primarily because they work together.

When Gallagher arrived in town, the ministerial association was relatively inactive. Today, that ministerial association is the epicenter of Christianity in the community. Gallagher has been the driving force behind that change.

“I don’t have the title, but I’m in charge,” she says with a chuckle. “We have learned to cooperate out of necessity. We work together on a lot of things.” She then goes on to list a dozen or more events and initiatives – including vacation Bible school (VBS), National Day of Prayer, united week of prayer, praying for businesses, community Thanksgiving service, community Easter service, and local missions work – in about 10 seconds. “My mom says that I missed my calling as an auctioneer,” she jokes.

Every summer, St. Rose and a half-dozen Protestant churches collaborate on a community-wide VBS that attracts 150 to 200 children. Each year, a different church building is the site of the VBS, and non-host churches take turns leading the week-long event.

“We don’t worry about which church gets more visibility or ends up attracting more people,” explains Gallagher. “We think of ourselves collectively as ‘the church’. We see good in each other’s denominations and individual churches.”

The churches in the Girard ministerial association do pulpit exchanges, usually toward the end of April or in early May. They do Thanksgiving, Good Friday, and Easter sunrise services together. During these cooperative service, a pastor never preaches at his or her own church.

The churches also work together to support the Emmanuel Center, which serves the needy in the community. “We cook at the rescue mission once a month for 150 people,” says Gallagher. “We collect clothing items such as socks and underwear. We collect and distribute school supplies in August.”

Some pastors initially were reluctant to cooperate so frequently with churches in other denominations, but they have been won over by the ministerial association’s consistent focus on reaching people for Christ and serving the community together. “It is common to have a fear of losing your people to another church,” says Gallagher. “My fear is that someone will stop going to any church.

“We have to be unified for Christ,” she continues. “We are made in Christ’s image, not a Lutheran image. We pastors have to lead by example. People watch us everywhere, not just on Sunday mornings.

“By working together, the churches of Girard are tearing down walls and building trust. We still have a long way to go, but we’ve come a long way in just a few years.”

Methodist Church Grows by Reaching Men

The following is a set of excerpts from a fall 2014 interview with David Murrow. The complete interview is available in Today’s Vital Church, Volume 1.

David Murrow is an author and speaker who focuses on the gender gap in most of today’s Christian churches. Dave has written four books, including Why Men Hate Going to Church, which was published first in 2005 and then revised and republished in 2011. That book has sold over 125,000 copies and has been published in 10 languages. Dave has spoken on network news segments and at conferences and seminars all over the world. Dave lives just outside Anchorage, Alaska with his wife of over 30 years, Gina.

A Key to Church Growth: Attracting Men

Murrow: A few years ago, I was doing pastor training in Illinois. I always start off with a junk question. I ask, “How many of you have more active men than women in your church?” Nobody ever raises his hand. This particular time, one little hand in the back raised up and, to my surprise, the hand had nail polish on it. This was a female pastor.

I said to her, “What is your name?”

She said, “My name is Jennifer Wilson.”

I said, “You’re a pastor?”

She said, “Yes, I am, I’m the pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in LaSalle, Illinois.”

I said, “Jennifer, you’re telling me that you have more active men than women in your church?”

She said, “Yes, I do.”

I said, “How have you been able to do that?”

She said, “I bought your book, and I did everything you said.”

I looked around the room and said, “Folks, I didn’t pay her to say this!”

After the session I got together with her to talk to her about her strategy. She’s in this little, 160-year-old mainline church in the middle of corn country in a town of 10,000 people. What she did is she took several of the steps that we recommend at Church for Men.

The first thing she did is she changed the decor in her church. Like most mainline churches, her church was covered in quilts, banners, flowers…laced doily on the communion table. These decor items send a very powerful message to men that that church is for women, particularly older women, grandmas, because these are the types of things that grandmas decorate with.

So she very gently and carefully took those decoration items down. She replaced them with some big-screen TVs. She has big-screen TVs in the sanctuary, so people can see the words of the music and stuff like that. She repainted. Pinks and lavenders came down. She used Army green, colors of the field, rust colors and stuff like that on the walls.

She opened an Internet café in the Fellowship Hall and made that kind of a hip place to hang out and drink coffee.

The Methodist hymn book was gender-neutralized a few years ago. She put back the guy-friendly songs: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, Onward Christian Soldiers – songs that talk about battle and blood. She also put male pronouns back in the Scripture. She doesn’t read the gender-neutral Bible translations anymore.

She preaches sermon series that focus on guys’ needs. She did series called “Power Play”, “Men and Sex”. She really goes after the things that guys are interested in.

You would think that she’s discriminating against the women, and the women would throw up their hands and say, “What about us?”

The women are delighted because for the first time they’re in a church with dynamic men who really get the gospel and who really want to serve. They’re not carrying the burden themselves.

She’s big on mission. They’ve had several big visions and fundraising campaigns to expand the church and to do a community center for kids. She’s really appealing to that side of men that want to reach out, to expand, to grow, to challenge the community.

The church is growing by leaps and bounds. They’ve had to add a third service. They had to break out the back of their narthex wall because they had to seat more people. It’s just really been a wonderful turnaround story.

The long answer to your question – Can a small church do what the megachurches are doing? – is yes. Yes, a small church can, a traditional church can, but you just have to be very careful about cultivating your men and creating an environment on Sunday morning where visiting men come in, feel comfortable, feel wanted, and feel needed, and then your church will grow.

Changing a Church’s Look and Feel

Bolinger: Let’s take your points one by one and spend some more time on each one. You’ve given concrete, practical, straightforward things that a church leadership team can undertake. It’s not a complete revamping of the church, but it’s some calculated steps with an emphasis on reaching more man than we reach today.

Let’s start with décor. It seems like a fairly easy one, although it could be problematic. You mentioned taking down some of the banners and putting up some TVs so that it’s easy to see the words and easy to have some visuals. A lot of men are visually oriented, so you can give them some man-friendly visuals during the worship service. Who might object to this, if a church decided to make this change?

Murrow: It’s going to be the people who created the banners. Churches tend to be full of passivity activists, people who are in church precisely because they want the church service that they had back in the 1950s. They want the experience that they had when they were young, so they come into the church and expect to see the banners and the quilts and the flowers and the lace doilies. You remove a lace doily from a communion table, and you wouldn’t think that would be a big deal, but the problem is that the lace doily was brought from the Holy Land in the 1960s by Aunt Agnes. By removing that, our dearly departed sister is being dissed. We’re forgetting this wonderful thing that Aunt Agnes brought from the Holy Land. The person who sewed the banner, especially if she’s passed on – these become living memorials to the saints. So yes, there’s always going to be opposition.

I made a film about Pastor Jen and her struggles to change her church. It is called Amazing Grace: A Church for Men. If you just Google that, you can watch it online for free. You can see how she handled it.

She actually went to the women’s group in the church and said, “We’re trying to expand to a younger crowd and get more guys involved. Do you all agree with that?” They all said yes.

She said, “One of the things we’ve learned is that these banners send a message to men that this is kind of a women’s place. They’re beautiful banners, but we really don’t want men to come in and think that this is just a thing for women. We want them to understand that this church is for men as well. So, is it okay if we were to take these down for a while? Maybe try a little bit of a different look here in the sanctuary and see if we get more men involved?”

When she explained it gently and carefully to the women, the women were all on board. They understood. So the banners came down, and they’ve never gone back up. They’re in a closet behind the organ. And guys come to the church.

Men and Music

Bolinger: OK, let’s talk about music in the church. What type of music does Pastor Jen’s church do?

Murrow: Pastor Jen’s church does not have a praise band. They have not gotten rid of the hymnal. There is no drum set in this church. They play traditional hymns on organ and piano. And the church is packed with young families.

I think a lot of smaller churches will think, “We need contemporary worship.” And so what they’ll do is they take several middle-aged and older musicians and try to teach them how to do contemporary rock-‘n-roll in a space that’s not really conducive to that type of music. It just falls really flat.

Well, Grace has avoided that pitfall. They’ve stuck with traditional music – hymns played on an organ and played on a piano – which is appropriate to the space that they are in. And they are continuing to attract young families because they do what they do and they do it well. They’re not trying to be something they’re not. They’re not trying to be a rock concert…

Bolinger: OK, so the church in LaSalle demonstrates that you can have a traditional approach to music – traditional hymns, a choir – and attract men. I presume that men who don’t like to sing appreciate the fact that the words of the hymns are man-friendly, so men can stand there listening while a hymn is being sung and can be reassured and strengthened by that.

Murrow: It’s a mix of hymns and praise songs. They’re just careful that they’re all man-friendly.

They’ve even thought through the projection system, which they use to put the words of the hymns and praise songs up. The projection system puts the words up and then behind it are still images. They used to have flowers and all this “girly stuff”. They’ve taken those off and now they use natural scenes that would appeal to either men or women: mountains, streams, rivers, rocks, hikers. They use the great outdoors. They put an image of the great outdoors behind the words of the song that they are singing. Even that tiny little visual cue is encouraging to men because men are all about the outdoors. They are really intentional about looking at the little things that they really want to send a message to men that you’re wanted and valued, and you’re understood here…

Impact on Women

Bolinger: I watched the Amazing Grace video about Jen’s church a couple of months ago…It was great to hear from the pastor about what she had done and why. But the real selling point for me is about two-thirds of the way through the video where you interview some of the women in the church, and they talk about what it’s like to have their husbands and brothers and others in the church, active in the church. For me, that was the home run, because getting the men involved is not just good for the men. It’s good for everybody.

Murrow: Far from feeling discriminated against, these women were feeling empowered because finally, finally they were not having to drag their men to church. I can tell you, they felt so liberated by this, that they were no longer the spiritual drivers. They and their husbands, they and their brothers, and they and their sons were all following Jesus together, rather than the women constantly having to be, “Come on, let’s go to church, let’s go to church.” No, the men want to go and it’s such a different dynamic in those families now. I can tell you, the women feel supremely blessed and they are more than happy to let the men have their ministries and let the men lead in these areas because it’s caused so much more balance.

For More Information…
Here are Dave’s four books:

  • How Women Help Men Find God, 2008
  • The Map: The Way of All Great Men, 2010
  • Why Men Hate Going to Church, revised in 2011
  • What Your Husband Isn’t Telling You: A Guided Tour of a Man’s Body, Soul, and Spirit, 2012/li>

Dave’s blog is at patheos.com/blogs/churchformen. You can find him on Twitter: @murrow5. His website is  churchformen.com, and his Facebook page is facebook.com/churchformen.


For the rest of the interview with David Murrow, pick up a copy of Today’s Vital Church, Volume 1.

Copyright 2015, 2016 Revitalize Ministries, Inc. All rights reserved.

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.

Members Open Up in Lenten Devotional

Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Cortland, Ohio – now part of Faith Lutheran Parish – produced its first Lenten devotional in 2009. Many churches produce 40-day devotionals for Lent, even though it is a fairly challenging endeavor. The effort at Prince of Peace has been led by a layperson, Carole Wiley, who in 2009 was a new Christian.

“For the most part, the origin of the booklet lies in my relatively new belief in God,” says Wiley. “For about the first 60 years of my life, I struggled mightily with my faith. In all honesty, I just was not a believer, plain and simple. I was extremely anxious over this and devised a plan to follow that I hoped would lead me to a better place. Eventually I succeeded in reaching a state of genuine belief!

Church’s Name Prince of Peace Lutheran Church
City, State Cortland, OH
Denomination Lutheran (ELCA)
Year Founded 1975
Lead Pastor/Minister’s Name Pastor Denise Gundersen
First Year at Church 2013

“I wanted to share this wonder-filled event!” continues Wiley. “And I knew that God wants us to share our faith to benefit others. Because I have always enjoyed writing, putting together a Lenten devotional was an avenue in which to do this and was an exciting idea for me. I discussed it with a few trusted friends who also liked the idea. We all agreed that sharing our personal narratives would also likely raise the level of spirituality within our church.”

Wiley was blessed by sharing the story of her “own personal and glorious journey to the cross” in the first edition of the devotional. “There are no words to express the joy I experienced in sharing it with everyone!” she exclaims.

Initially, however, other members were not as confident as Wiley in sharing their stories in written form. Many felt they could not write well enough. If they were willing to share, then they were provided with coaches or “ghost writers”. Members of church committees were recruited to ensure that all 40 days were covered.

Now, seven years later, people who once needed coaching refuse any assistance and submit meaningful and well-written stories. “They have come full circle,” says Wiley. “There is little difficulty in filling the book now. There are purposely no strict guidelines or restrictions in what can be submitted. We do no editing unless asked to do so.”

Many of the stories in the devotional are touching and even moving. People share personal experiences that many would be unwilling to share in person. Everyone in the church benefits by reading these daily faith stories of their good friends and fellow members, gaining insight into how God has worked and is working in the lives of His people.

Producing the books is no small task. “On the Saturday before each Ash Wednesday, several of us gather at the church for the big challenge of the year – assembling 250 copies of our treasured booklet!” says Wiley. Why so many copies? “Everyone is encouraged to provide copies to friends and relatives,” she explains.

“As we are finishing the task, a wave of joy fills our hearts for we know that we have again honored our Lord through the written word of our small congregation.”