Students Make Mid-Week a Celebration of Faith at Harvest UMC
There are many different paths to stewarding the potential of a congregation. It may not seem like a simple building loan could help encourage discipleship and create a better world, but that’s exactly what happened at The Harvest United Methodist Church in Missouri City, Texas.
The Harvest UMC has a simple mission: “To Transform Lives by Connecting People to God and One Another.”
Yet, fulfilling that mission can be challenging. It requires leadership, commitment and imagination. It also requires space. When The Harvest UMC first opened its doors in 2004, it was actually opening the doors of the “cafetorium” in a middle school on Sienna Ranch Road in Missouri City.
In 2010, TMF, working with The Harvest clergy and lay leadership, was able to provide a loan so the church could construct its own building on land directly across the street from the middle school.
When the new building was completed, the congregation felt compelled to use the facility to fulfill their mission in every way possible. One group they especially wanted connect to God and each other were the young people in the community.
“We experimented with a number of different ideas and approaches to see what resonated with the kids in the neighborhood, whether they were part of our church, another church, or hadn’t attended church at all,” explains DJ Frewin, Director of Student Ministry at The Harvest.
The leadership team at the church prayed and brainstormed to consider how to bring kids into the church in a way that didn’t compete with all of their other extracurricular activities, or that was too inconvenient for their very busy parents.
“Then we thought, ‘Wait! What about the school right across the street?’ While it’s more intuitive to think kids would want something after school, we discovered that gathering one day a week before school was a perfect solution” says Frewin. This was the start of the Mid-Week youth ministry on Wednesday mornings at The Harvest UMC.
At first Frewin sought to attract a handful of students who’s families worshipped at The Harvest, and hoped that the group could grow to 20 or 30 through word of mouth. Many of the middle school students were dropped off early every day, as their parents needed to get to work. For these kids, early arrival usually meant sitting in the library until classes started.
The Harvest’s UMC’s new building provided ample room for these students to gather and visit, and also had basketball and volleyball courts outside for those who wanted to burn off a little energy before school.
The church initially tried offering some healthy breakfast options, but soon learned that the kids were really only interested in donuts and visiting with each other. And in the three years since the program started, the number of donuts served every week continues to rise.
Mid-Week officially starts at 8am every Wednesday, but Frewin usually shows up at 7am, and starts welcoming arrivals by 7:15.
At 8:15, all the students are invited into the sanctuary. After announcements are made about upcoming events, Frewin leads the group in a brief prayer. There is usually a short video for the students to reflect upon before he offers a brief devotional. Then, before they leave, Frewin presents them with a personal or spiritual challenge for the week ahead.
“We challenge them to expect more of themselves. Or to do something that makes a positive difference in the life of another person,” he explains.
“Middle school is tough. It’s tough for the kids. It’s tough for the families. So it’s very rewarding to see these kids fill up our halls every Wednesday,” explains Jill Aycock, Assistant to Senior Pastor Jeff McDowell and Mom to two sons who are Mid-Week regulars. “It’s amazing to see kids who don’t go to our church or don’t go to church at all feel so welcome with us. Sure, they want to hang out with their friends. But they also get to experience faith in a very positive environment.”
“They love Mid-Week,” Aycock continues. “That love spreads to their relationships with each other. Every student at Mid-Week is invited to participate in all of our youth activities, all year long. And it helps the kids to know they’ll have friends in these groups.”
What’s most impressive is the number of students showing up every week. While church leadership had hoped to get 20-30 kids taking part in Mid-Week, they typically host between 100 and 150 students every week. They’ve had more than 200 on a few occasions. Mid-Week has become so popular that the coaches of the school’s basketball and volleyball teams that practice in the mornings before classes now let the athletes leave early to participate in the The Harvest UMC program.
“It’s really remarkable to see 100 or 150 or more students crossing the street from our church to school every Wednesday morning,” says Frewin. “It’s catches the attention of the other students, and their parents. I think the fact that we can host so many kids is one of the reasons the program keeps growing. Thanks to TMF, there’s still room for a few more.”
The Harvest UMC is not ready to stop building, either. The church is now working with TMF to get a loan for a second building. The new building will be essential to helping the church better serve the community with additional programs. The church started participating in the Lunches of Love program last spring. Lunches of Love provides lunches to students who are identified by counselors or nurses as being “chronically hungry.” Every Friday, these students are provided with two lunch meals to ensure they have food during the weekend, when they can’t get free or subsidized meals at school. Right now, the church has plenty of volunteers to support the Lunches of Love program, but not enough space to prepare as many lunches as they need to provide for every student in need. And the lack of a commercial kitchen means they can’t prepare fresh, healthier meals. But that will all change with the completion of s second church building.
“We’ve really come full circle,” says Aycock. “We used to meet in the middle school to worship. Today, we are blessed have all these middle school kids coming into our building to experience the goodness of God.”