Three youth groups from Christian Reformed churches in the Kalamazoo (Mich.) area have been enjoying the benefits of combining their middle school youth groups for learning, fun, and mission. “We are better together . . . healthier, challenged, and supported when we simply do stuff together,” according to youth pastor Bryan Keeley of Third CRC.
Keeley, along with youth pastors from Kalamazoo’s Grace CRC and Prairie Edge CRC in Portage, recognized that their relatively small middle school youth groups were missing a level of excitement that comes with larger groups. He said smallness does provide “a blessing in intimacy and relationships,” but playing games, hanging out, and then spending an overnight together with a larger group have proved helpful and important. The combined groups also enjoy worship together.
The three or four times a year when the groups combine also provide a critical mass for mission work. In the morning following their combined overnight events, the middle schoolers participate together in Mission Mania, which involves a service effort such as playing Bingo at nursing homes, baking cookies for a juvenile facility, or replacing playground basketball nets around town.
The supportive relationships that have developed between the leaders of the three churches over the eight years of meeting together, Keeley noted, is one more benefit of these combined youth group events. Nineteen-year veteran leader Joey Dekoekkoek of Grace CRC added that working with the other youth leaders provides him an opportunity to glean a younger and fresh perspective on ministry. Additionally, during times when one church may be between youth pastors, the youth group can still be included in events, making things easier for the volunteer leaders. This fall. first-year youth pastor Aaron Stafford and the Westwood CRC youth group are joining the group as well.