WHEN CHURCHES SET OUT TO REACH TEENS, THEY CAN COUNT ON KNOX STUDENT MINISTRIES FOR HELP.











BY DAN IRWIN DIRWIN@NCNEWSONLINE.COM





Youth pastors and volunteers always are seeking new ways to reach teens, both inside and outside the church. For the past seven years, Knox Student Ministries has been around to help. Funded entirely by the Caroline Knox Foundation and run by transplanted Kentuckian Todd Smith, the ministry's overriding goal has been to form a nondenominational network of local youth groups. The purpose is twofold. The first is to bring youth leaders together to pray for and encourage one another and to expose them to insight that, individually, they might not be able to access. The second is to help pave the way for teens themselves to form spiritual bonds with others outside their own church. "Lawrence County is a pretty rural area," noted Smith, his Bluegrass State accent coloring his speech despite seven years in New Castle. "There's a lot of small churches, nice churches, but they either weren't doing anything for teenagers, or they were doing something for the five teenagers in their church but not a whole lot for the hundred teenagers in their community. "That's where this position is nice, in that we can work together to try to reach young people for Christ and try to strengthen churches together." Smith admits that, in the beginning, his ministry was a hard sell, made even more so by his "outsider" status. Initially, he said, only eight churches wanted to get involved. Now, out of the 170 congregations he has identified in the county, 68 are on board. Perhaps the biggest lure has been the chance Knox offers youth groups to expand their budget without having to add another penny to it. Smith noted that a National Youth Workers Convention in Pittsburgh last year charged participants $350 to attend, not including rooms, meals and transportation. "But we bring a lot of those same people into this area for free, so it costs the churches nothing to be trained by experts from around the country." He also pointed to a youth worker retreat scheduled for September at First Presbyterian. The featured guest will be Chap Clark, a professor of youth ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary, "the largest theological school in the world," Smith noted. "You're talking about one of the biggest and most influential youth workers in the country. He's going to come and sit with youth workers and just talk youth ministry for six hours. And it will cost them nothing. That's a gift." Jon Pickens, youth pastor at First Baptist Church, agrees. "One of the ways we benefit, even as a larger church, is that they pay for things we wouldn't necessarily budget for," he said. "They bring a guy in every year, a big name, to train leaders, something that would cost us an enormous amount of money. But they bring him in free to us. That's incredibly valuable." Knox also will schedule youth activities to bring teens from various churches together for fellowship. It might rent out an amusement park, Smith said, or offer discounts on bowling or laser tag. Late last month, it had a "Water Wars" night at First Baptist. "During the summer especially we'll do a lot of youth activities," Smith said. "But we're really doing it for the youth workers, because we know their summers are busy. So well tell them 'We'll make sure the bills are paid, that things start on time and that it's safe. We'll do all the dirty work; you just spend time with your kids and care for them.' "It's a blessing to them because some of these things are $2,000 or $3,000 events, and these churches don't have that much just lying around. So for a small church, wow, this is a big deal because it allows them to have an active youth ministry that they are in control of. "And that's important. We don't run their youth ministry. We assist, we encourage, but it is up to each church to reach their own kids."



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