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Give them the gospel

Lisa Misner —  August 19, 2019

A new ministry reignited this church’s passion

By Meredith Flynn

MIO Next Gen

Outside the white wooden First Baptist Church building, Atwood is quiet on Wednesday evening. A few parents stroll babies on the sidewalks, and a group of teen boys walks toward the school gym, basketball in hand. This community of just over 1,000 people is minutes from Illinois’ Amish country.

From the church parking lot, though, the thump, thump, thump of a bass line played over stereo speakers gets louder at the door. Inside the darkened auditorium, children and teens swing their arms and stomp their feet—matching the motions of a worship leader onstage.

This is Ignite, FBC Atwood’s year-old ministry for kids and students. On this Wednesday night, Pastor Lanny Faulkner will baptize 17 young people who came to Christ through Ignite or another of the church’s ministries for kids and teens. (The church baptized 15 people total last year.)

His church understands the statistics, Faulkner said. Most people that come to faith in Christ do so at a young age.

“If we’re going to change the world, we have to change Atwood,” said Faulkner, who has led the church since 2006. “If we’re going to change Atwood, we have to reach children and young families.”

Braving a new world
The generation coming of age now has experienced the world in a completely different way than the adults leading them at church, said Jimmy Hammond, an IBSA associate who facilitates student ministry around the state.

“For us, the challenge is learning how to see things from their perspective, so we can find meaningful ways to connect to them,” Hammond said. Throughout the year, IBSA sponsors camps and conferences for kids of all ages, and training opportunities specifically tailored for children’s and youth leaders.

Those events are possible because of the Mission Illinois Offering & Week of Prayer. Collected in September in churches across Illinois, the Offering helps provide missions and ministry that address critical needs in the state. MIO also supports IBSA personnel like Director of Next Generation Ministries Jack Lucas.

As IBSA and church leaders partner together to reach the next generation, they recognize the window is narrow. A 2004 Barna study found that 43% of Americans who profess faith in Jesus do so before they turn 13, and 64% before their 18th birthday.

The next generation presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities for church leaders. They see the problems in the world around them, Hammond said, but they’re not content to sit idly. They want to be involved; they want to make a difference. “But they’re just not sure how to do that.

“We know the answer to that: the gospel’s the way to make the biggest, most meaningful change in the world.”

In the world, and in Atwood. Every Wednesday at the beginning of Ignite, attenders read or recite a 30-second gospel summary. Ignite leaders say they’ve heard kids sharing the gospel summary at school. And Faulkner recently baptized an entire family that came to Christ after the children heard the gospel every week. The parents, sitting at the back of the auditorium, heard it too, and responded in faith.

Finding what works
For 25 years, FBC Atwood church hosted a successful Wednesday night children’s ministry that depended on many teachers. When the number of available teachers dwindled, the church had to get a new vision for the ministry. They tweaked the structure so that fewer teachers are required. The church saw an average of 120 young people every Wednesday during Ignite’s first year.

Some things are the same, though. Faulkner still rides the church bus on Wednesday nights as it picks up a dozen or more children from neighboring communities. The pastor serves as bus captain (or monitor); the driver is a deputy sheriff who has been transporting kids to and from the church for 25 years. His wife, who recently passed away, started the original kids’ ministry in Atwood. Together, Faulkner said, the couple is responsible for hundreds of kids coming to know Christ.

On Wednesday nights in Atwood, the message is also the same as it always has been.

“The gospel is the power of God unto salvation,” Faulkner says. “It’s not preaching ability, teaching ability, how exciting the music is. The thing that brings people under conviction, the things that bring them to repentance and faith, is the gospel.”

Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offering.

Meredith Flynn

Students at AWSOM listen to Bible study leader Courtney Veasey.

Students at AWSOM listen to Bible study leader Courtney Veasey.

HEARTLAND | The girls from Anna Heights Baptist Church were pretty quiet after AWSOM, said their leader, Judy Halter.

“Whenever you’re raising the bar like that, I think the girls are going to get quiet.” Halter and two fellow leaders brought 14 girls to the annual conference for young women. (AWSOM stands for “Amazing Women Serving Our Maker.”)

“I think it’s all about discipleship,” she said. “It really is, and that was a great missions and discipleship conference.”

With a deep theme for 2014. The most recent AWSOM focused on “the battle for your mind” and found its biblical basis in 2 Corinthians 10:5, a verse that calls Christians to “take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

“The more I study about biblical womanhood and research current world issues impacting women, the root cause always begins in a person’s thoughts,” said Carmen Halsey, IBSA’s director of women’s ministry and missions. “This year’s theme was intended to be a proactive stance in educating our young women and their leaders about the power of our thoughts, and the need to discover the Word and plant it deep inside, so that the Holy Spirit is armed and ready to do war.”

Planting the Word was main speaker Courtney Veasey’s role at AWSOM. The director of women’s academic programs at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary taught on the conference theme passage and others from the Bible, urging the girls toward victory in the battle, and a deeper dependence on God’s Word. AWSOM attendees also sat in on a variety of breakout sessions:

  • Dr. Olivia Johnson, a former police officer with a doctorate in criminal justice, talked the girls through a series of potentially dangerous situations they could face in the real world, training them on how to think through each situation and make smart choices.
  • Mother/daughter pair Amy and Amanda Neibel educated the students on human trafficking prevention. The Neibels are part of a leadership team established to raise awareness among Illinois women and churches about human trafficking.
  • Brenda Sommer, a licensed clinical professional counselor, taught on the role of Christian counseling and how girls can speak truth into the lives of friends who are struggling.
  • Halter cited Renee Smith’s session on CrossFit as one moment when things weren’t so quiet. Smith, a pastor’s wife from Mt. Zion, demonstrated easy exercises and gave tips for developing a healthy selfimage.

This year’s AWSOM conference is scheduled for November 6-7 in Springfield. For more information about upcoming opportunities for women and girls, go to http://www.IBSA.org/womensmissions.

Students meet in their "family group" at Super Summer, IBSA's discipleship week for students in Greenville, Ill.

Students meet in a “family group” at Super Summer, IBSA’s discipleship week for students in Greenville, Ill.

HEARTLAND | When you ask him if students in his youth group are different after they experience Super Summer, Tim Drury pops open his laptop and pulls up a video of Hannah Batista sharing her testimony. Hannah came to Christ last summer during the annual discipleship week at Greenville College.

Most students are already Christians when they get to Super Summer, which is sponsored by the Illinois Baptist State Association. But the week is still life-changing. They grow, and they want to grow more, said Drury, youth minister at FBC Bethalto.

“My job as a student pastor is to take what they’ve learned, and for the other 51 weeks of the year, help them put it into practice.”

It’s something he’s been learning how to do since the early 2000s, when he first came to Super Summer as a youth pastor. He now serves as an assistant dean in the gray school, a group for students preparing to go to college in the fall. The dean of the gray school, Lakeland Baptist Pastor Phil Nelson, has been at every Super Summer since the beginning, more than 20 years ago.

The students aren’t the only ones being mentored, Drury said. He’s being discipled too, by pastors like Nelson who take a week away from their churches to come to Greenville.

Caleb Ellis was a student in Drury’s gray school this year. The 18-year-old, who’s also from Bethalto, likened his first Super Summer to drinking from a fire hose. But he learned “tools for practical, modern faith,” and was already talking in Greenville about how he could go home and start Gospel conversations with a friend from another culture.

When he came to Bethalto, Drury said, “I needed something that did heavy discipleship and challenged our kids to look more like Jesus.” Super Summer helps fill in the gaps caused by the time limitations he faces as a youth minister. He may only see most students once a week, for example, and it’s difficult to do intensive classes for specific ages or genders. But in Greenville, his students are “under the pressure of the Gospel” – it’s a refining process for them, an opportunity to evaluate their relationship with Christ.

And for him. The students are learning things here that he’s still learning, Drury said.

For more on Super Summer, read the July 28 issue of the Illinois Baptist, online later this week at http://ibonline.IBSA.org.