by Paul Hoard
Reaching young people with Christ has always been a challenge. But Maranatha Brethren Church in Hagerstown, Maryland, (Jay Fretz, pastor) has found an exciting way to encourage, build relationships, and share Christ’s love with the youth in its community.
Every Saturday through September at Maranatha skateboarders flip through the air without having to worry about being chased off. Starting at 4 p.m., skaters are invited to show up and let loose at the skate church.
For the past eight years Maranatha youth pastor Ron Shank has led this unique ministry opportunity for the young people of the community. On average 15-20 skaters show up each week to ollie, grind and listen to a 5-10 minute lesson. “Our desire is to show the love of God to these guys who have little or no connection to any church,” Shank says.
The skate church started when some of the youth who came to the church’s Wednesday night outreach events asked if they could build a few ramps for skateboarding and invite other skaters in the neighborhood to join them.
“The Lord,” says Shank, “then opened an amazing door by putting us in contact with someone who had a skate park with a lot of equipment who had just found out that they were going to have to close. They gave us thousands of dollars worth of equipment and ramps and we were in business.”
Since then the skate church has been consistently ministering to young people. Every skater is required to hear the lesson each week, which covers issues such as “the gospel in interesting ways and biblical principles for life,” said Shank,
For one lesson Shank said he used a regular can of soda “that looked totally good on the outside yet the can had never been opened, but it was not fully filled. I used the can to illustrate that everything might look fine on the outside, but there is something missing on the inside. They need Christ to fill the void that many times can’t be seen on the outside but is there on the inside.”
As a result of coming to the Saturday events, a young man named Jason became involved in other activities of the church and later accepted Christ at camp.
“There was another young man named Marty who was one of the first bikers who came to skate church. He was a pretty rough guy. He has been faithful over the years and has made a commitment to Christ. He is very different than when he first came,” says Shank.
Not only the youth group and young adults have taken an interest in this ministry, but the whole church has also done what they can. Shank says, “The congregation has been wonderful and fully supportive. We have all ages that help out with the ministry. We try to have at least two adults present at all times for skate church and the ages of our helpers go from teens to those who have just celebrated 50 years of marriage.”
Participants must be at least 10 years old and pay $15 for insurance. Skaters show up at 4 p.m. when the ramps are open to skateboards till 6:30 p.m. At 5:30 bikers are allowed in until the skate church closes at 8 p.m.
Aside from the mandatory devotional time, members of the skate church are asked not to smoke, drink alcohol or use crude language and must wear a fastened helmet at all times.
“The key to the ministry is consistency,” says Shank, who just celebrated 20 years as Maranatha’s youth pastor. “Be there to build relationships with the guys. I see the guys all over town and they come up and talk to me and are glad to see me. We have to be consistent in showing God’s love to these young people that many in our world would like to over look and ignore. Christ loves them and died for them and we must be His vessels to reach them.”
Paul Hoard, a journalism major at Grace College, from Ankara, Turkey, is the summer editorial intern at FGBC World and BMH Books.