Growing by God’s Nudge

By Kim Messinger Posted on June 14 2010

When my youth group comes up in a conversation, I know the question will follow, “How do you get your kids?” It’s a longer story than they may want to hear. But I never tire of telling it.

The story begins with a nudge from God to give one message to a group of skateboarders that had recently lost their youth pastor. I was in my forties and had hung up 20 years worth of all-nighters and retreats. One cold December night, an “up for a challenge” church elder and I stood before those skater teens, as they demanded answers from me, an outsider who didn’t even attend their church. One look told me they needed the love of Jesus.

That night about four years ago the group was about 20 students; it's now more like 100. The key to this growth has come through knowing and meeting the needs of the kids who walked through our doors. Our youth leaders didn’t have time to eat supper before youth group began, so we would bring meals for the adults to share. It wasn’t long before the kids were talking about how good the food smelled and told us they hadn’t eaten either. I am not sure why I was surprised. A majority of the parents in our town have at least a one hour commute to work, leaving many teens alone and hungry after school. The word got out in our congregation and a youth meal team formed to prepare and serve dinner! We did not require the kids to stay for the service following the meal. We just wanted to get them in the doors so we could love on them. Through that open door, God started opening our eyes as well.

By the time we were averaging 50 teens at our youth group, things had changed a bit. We were about a 95% unchurched youth group, although we have since banned the term “unchurched” when talking about our kids. We started using the terms “exposed" and "not exposed" to Jesus. The majority of our teens walked to youth group, in all types of weather. They are the third and fourth generations of families who have had no relationship with God in their homes. Bible Quizzes were out, but new outreach opportunities were in. As I kept looking for advice for “the model” of ministry we were experiencing I just couldn’t find the right book. So we kept praying to be God’s hands, eyes and feet. He was writing the book.

We faced a lot of challenges. There were times in which twelve youth group leaders and a $3,000 budget didn’t seem to be enough. We couldn’t transport the kids because we didn’t have enough cars. So, we prayed for a FREE bus. God answered our prayer with the most beautiful yellow school bus I have ever seen. It takes an understanding pastor and board of elders to love a group of kids that occasionally puts a hole in a church hallway or loosens doors off of their hinges. We had all the perfect pieces fitting into our puzzle.

By the second year the numbers were growing weekly. We knew we would soon be reaching 75 and with that came challenges. The parole officers knew where to go on a Wednesday night to talk to their kids. We praised God that we could work within the system. We started connnecting with the teens on a deeper level and they began to trust us with their "stuff" -- cutting, drugs, alcohol, and poverty. Once again our church followed the call and began a food bank. We stayed faithful to God’s plan of giving them Jesus, even if it meant reinventing things.

We didn’t realize the first time we took them Christmas Caroling they wouldn’t know the hymns and carols, so the next year we practiced. We didn’t know when we said “Youth Retreat down payment of $10” that many would not be able to afford the down payment. Our church congregation responded again by sponsoring students to attend the retreat. When we opened a skate park we didn’t realize we would have such a crowd that a second youth group could be started just with skaters. The lessons we were learning went on and on.

We run our youth service like many other youth groups. We start off with worship music, which includes some of the teens playing and singing in the band. This music was so new to the majority of our students that often we felt like we were singing strange songs in a strange land -- to them, we probably were. Following worship 40 to 50 high school teens meet for a combined lesson, while middle school girls and middle school boys meet separately. Special speakers, game nights, group events to get to know one another jam-pack our year.

The first night we hit 100 teens there was no confetti falling from the sky or blinking lights. We knew it looked a bit heavier on the kid side than leaders. So we went back to the congregation again. We now have a team that hangs with the teens prior to the meal and a youth team that minister during the service. We have no full time staff, but a ragtag bunch of leaders ranging in age from 25 to 60. Our church has sidewalks dented from grinding and a sanctuary rug that is well worn from sneakers, along with a youth group straight from the heart of God. We have seen lives changed through the love of Christ as stone hard emotional walls have been torn down. Teens are walking in our doors on a Sunday and some have brought their parents. Even still, we consider this a model in the making.

Out of everyone, I am the one truly blessed. God allowed a 40-something mom to be part of a ministry that is experiencing what can be done in the lives of teens when a church really listens to the call of God in their town. For me it is a perfect fit! 


Picture of Andrew Burden

From Andrew Burden on June 14, 2010

Kim, thanks for an inspiring reminder that God is so much bigger than we dare to imagine. I myself am continually amazed at how quickly the needs pop up and present opportunities to trust God to work through me. Even something as (seemingly) simple as collecting data on a visitor card can open up a whole host of subjects like who lives with whom, how a kid even got to church, whether the home has a home phone or internet… the list goes on and on. While numerical growth alone can be a hollow way to “measure,” your tone tells me there is some exciting stuff going on in your midst.

Picture of Kim Messinger

From Kim Messinger on June 16, 2010


How totally right you are about God’s opportunities! So not about “Who” we are, but “How” we are used by God! Looks like you are doing that with your ministry! Keep that middle school heart!

For the Kingdom!

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From rockmelon on June 17, 2010

Thanks for sharing your ministry, you have encouraged me to keep on pushing on with ministry even though sometimes it feels like we’re getting no where with the youth.  I hope to read more of you and God in partnership, changing lifes.

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From Pencil Boone on June 30, 2010

Great article.  Like you I spent more than 20 years ministering to teens through radio.  My wife and I served 20 years with Trans World Radio in Bonaire (Caribbean), Swaziland (Southern Africa), Guam (Western Pacific), and in Melbourne Australia.  In 2004 God called us to Bangor, Maine.  I told God I never wanted to see snow again.  But we came.  To minister to teens in Eastern and Central Maine through Solution FM.  Then in 2006, my Pastor asked me to become the Pastor of Student Ministries.  I turned him down.  In 2008 he asked again.  We also received a call form a Mission Board to become their next President.  We turned it down because we would not be directly connected with teens.

In 2009 at the age of 48 God started impressing on us that it was time to become the Pastor of Student Ministries.  I kept telling God, I’m to old.  He quickly reminded me of Noah!  In June 2009 I stepped out in faith and became my church’s Pastor of Student Ministries 3 years after I was originally asked to take the job.

In Sept. 2009, we started with more than 200 hundred the first night.  It scared me to death.  The 2nd week we were in the 90’s and that’s where it has stayed for the first year.  I’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way and we still have a long way to go, but I’ve never been more content.  As I said all along,our missionary “people group” has always been teens, the location has changed several times over the years but never the target.  What a blessing to be in a place where God nudges us!

Picture of Kim Messinger

From Kim Messinger on July 02, 2010

Rochelle - I am sure you will never know the difference you are making in a teen’s life until you are with Jesus. (: Keep up the good fight Sister!

Pencil Boone - What an amazing journey to the place God has you “For Such A Time as This!” Thank you for touching so many lives for HIM!

Picture of Kevin

From Kevin on July 09, 2010

Thank you!!

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