Mission accomplished – right?
That depends on the mission. For Becky Wilson, Kids’ Connection Team Coordinator at the church, the mission was a reason to step back and pray for direction.
Wilson, who grew up in the church and has directed children’s ministries since 2007, has a two-fold passion: to reach kids at WLGBC and to reach kids who are unchurched. As she looked at the Wednesday evening program, which featured the Awana children’s curriculum, it was made up mostly of kids from the Winona Lake congregation or from other churches, whose parents wanted them to be in Awana. She estimated that maybe 10 percent were unchurched.
One event brought this to light. “In the spring of 2013, the Kids Connection team gathered together for a ‘mini retreat’ to pray and plan for the upcoming school year,” said Wilson.
“Our Awana program had grown too large. We realized the extent of our problem’ when we were discussing our recent ‘Awana Invite Your Friend Night,’ in which we had not wanted to give our kids any incentives to invite their friends.”
The reason? The team knew if kids invited their friends, there wasn’t space or staff to handle the additional young people.
“We were devastated by this as we have a huge heart for reaching the lost in our community,” Wilson said. “We began praying about what God would have us do to allow us to reach the [children] in our community who needed to hear the Good News about Jesus. We were especially passionate about our kids being able to reach out to their lost friends at school.
“Throughout several months of prayer and discussion with others, we came to the conclusion we were passionate about:
1.Discipleship (assisting the parents of our church in training up the kids in the Lord);
2.Outreach (encouraging our kids to reach out to their lost friends in our community).
God led in showing us that we could strengthen our discipleship program on Sunday mornings by moving Awana to the Sunday school hour. We could be more intentional about teaching our kids and helping them understand and memorize God’s Word in [that] setting.
“We began to dream and pray about the possibilities of being able to focus entirely on outreach with a new Wednesday night program. We choose the Orange 252 basics program (a children’s ministry curriculum for elementary kids K-5) because we felt like it would be a good entrance point where non-believers, as well as believers, could grow together in studying God’s Word.”
The decision was not made quickly. The process began in February and the decision was made in June, in time to get ready for the fall 2013 school year.
Lead Pastor Bruce Barlow was a part of the process. He said, “Becky and her team did an awesome job of praying first, then wrestling with what we recognized as a duplication. Sunday morning Sunday School was about discipling our church’s children. Wednesday night Awana was also about discipling, particularly the heavy and good focus on Bible memory. And it was discipling our church’s children, a good number of other churches’ children, and a few unchurched children.
“We wanted to reach more unchurched kids, but were out of space. God led Becky and her team to consider Sunday morning as discipleship, incorporating Awana as a great
tool, and creating SPLASH (Students Praising Loving And Sharing Him) for Wednesdays as a primarily outreach and kids on mission event.”
Fourth grade Sunday School teacher Emiline Secaur said the “change was needed.” In her class recently, the the value of the decision was confirmed. She led the class in memory time and prayer. Then she taught the lesson, which connected with the memory
verse, and ended with an activity, which allowed the kids to think about what they had just heard in the lesson. (Secaur wrote her own curriculum for the class.)
The Sunday morning setting for Awana lends itself to the time and atmosphere needed for kids to understand more about God and His Word. The Wednesday evening SPLASH program serves as a gateway for unchurched kids to be introduced to Jesus. It also reinforces learning with kids who are already in the church.
Each month there is a theme at SPLASH. “For example,” said Wilson, “in April, the theme is ‘Peace’ and is called ‘Conflict Kitchen.’ This is a topic that all kids can come together on. Both Christians and non-Christian kids understand conflict. This provides a great common ground for us to all dive into the Bible together.”
Wednesday evenings begin with all ages (K-6th grade) together for worship time with music and other activities. Then, according to age, they have game time, a Bible story, and small group time. Joan Hoke, who has worked with the Wednesday ministry for seven years, noted that the program holds the attention of the older kids and says “Small groups are key in sharing. It’s very relevant for their age.”
Brenda Wilcoxson, who has also worked with Awana and SPLASH, remarked: “The strategy of SPLASH is to have small groups and spend our time relating to the kids – being kind of a mentor/teacher to facilitate them sharing and applying the group teaching time…as well as praying with them and trying to draw them out.”
Wilcoxson has taken the Wednesday ministry one step further. Last year, she and a friend started a Bible club (using the SPLASH curriculum) with first through sixth graders in a nearby town where many of the families are underprivileged.
Wednesday’s outreach emphasis is clearly seen through the Bosch family (Nate and Amanda and children Abby, Andrew, Matthew, and Megan) from WLGBC. Wilson says the family “has really captured the vision…as their kids have continued to invited
lots of friends.”
Nate explained, “We encouraged our kids to invite neighbor kids to join us once SPLASH was launched. Three neighbor kids came at first. They would arrive at our house any time between 4 and 6 p.m. and play at our house until SPLASH. The neighbor kids continued to invite their friends. Once 11 kids starting coming to our house after school on Wednesday, we knew we had to start looking at other options.
“We have a van and car and could no longer drive all the kids each week with the vehicles we had. There are about 15 kids from our neighborhood that we bring now, in addition to our four kids! [Now the family uses the church van to bring the kids, and recently didn’t have enough space in that vehicle.]
“We pray together as a family for the neighbor kids we are bringing that they will desire to have Jesus as their Savior just as our kids have already done.”
One addition this year has been an ENL (English as a New Language) class that meets on Wednesday evenings at the church. Several kids whose parents are in the class come to SPLASH, opening another door of outreach.
Barlow said the process, along with Wilson’s leadership, was “prayer driven, team oriented.”
Wilson, who has seen God lead in amazing ways through the transition, said it’s “exciting how He continues to move.” -By Judy Daniels
Editor’s Note: Judy Daniels and her husband, Denny, live in Winona Lake, Ind., where they are members of the Winona Lake Grace Brethren Church. She formerly served as editor of Grace magazine