In Spring 2017, we invited American Baptists from across the country to share their Transformation Stories – this is a part of the Transformed by the Spirit initiative. Videos and written stories are included as provided by local churches and American Baptists. Want to share your story? Submit written and video submissions to: firstname.lastname@example.org. View the full list of Transformation Stories here.
Transformation Story: F.R.O.G.S. (Faithfully Rely On God) – Lakeview Baptist Church, Battle Creek, MI
We have a ministry to Jr. High kids (primarily) called F.R.O.G.S. Its an anacronym that stands for “Faithfully Rely On God.” It was ministry that had been carried out at the church in the early 2000’s but church kids grew up and out of it. It was revived about three years ago as a Wednesday night ministry, starting with four or five Jr. High students that had “graduated” out of our Sunday school program. We didn’t want to give up on these kids, so we thought we’d offer them something simple, but of substance: a bible lesson, a snack and a game. Parents weren’t necessarily demanding that we do anything for their kids, but we believed nurturing these kids was important for their discipleship, if they were willing.
The beginning weeks of the re-birthed ministry featured spotty attendance. 5, then 3, then 1, then 5, etc. It was typical small church ministry. Low key. Informal. Grandmas brought their grandkids. Parents sent their own. But we were steady, consistent. It was one of the best qualities of our volunteer FROGS leader.
A grandchild of a congregation member thought that one of her friends would enjoy the ministry so she invited him. That friend then invited his brothers and sisters. Those siblings invited their friends. At the same time, my wife and I seemed to be attracting a lot of neighborhood kids to our house on a regular basis. Between the basketball hoop we installed in the driveway, the baseball field I carved out of our property with my mower (in the fall it turns into a football field with spray painted goal lines, hash marks, numbers, the works!), I had gained enough notoriety in my own neighborhood that I’d often have to bring the church van home to pick up all the kids who wanted to follow me to FROGS that night.
The ministry has absolutely exploded. About 60 kids rotate in and out of the ministry throughout the year. On a weekly basis, we have approximately 3-4 elementary school age kids, 15 middle to Jr. High school kids and roughly 15 Sr. High students that consistently meet under this ministry name. The thing that’s unique about this ministry is that 80% of the students are not regular attenders of our church on Sunday morning. In other words, this is not a ministry that we give resources and energy towards because it’s reaching our “own” students. A strong majority of these students have never stepped foot in a church.
This ministry is not for the faint of heart. It is a rough and tough group. They import the language of the world into our FROGS ministry—and it’s unfiltered. They are predominantly hurting kids from broken homes. And they act like it. This is one of those ministries where you second guess even having your own kids involved and rubbing shoulders with the other kids.
A few months ago, we opened the Sr. High group up for some prayer requests. Surprisingly, some in the shared some pretty personal things. Just a few examples:
Kid 1: Pray for my court date. I stabbed my father in law with a knife.
Kid 2: Mom has stage 4 colon cancer. My dad is unemployed.
Kid 3: Mom had gull bladder surgery so that means increased responsibilities for me at home. I’ll have to watch my younger siblings and be the main cook for several weeks.
Kid 4: Mom and step dad have screaming matches and threaten divorce. I get screamed at by step dad. I take anxiety medication because of it.
Kid 5: Depression
Kid 6: Have you ever tried to kill yourself? I did this past week.
Kid 7: I’m going through a really rough patch in my life.
Kid 8: I’m having surgery.
Kid 9: My friend was shot in the head and is recovering (this was by chance, not because of poor choices).
Fifteen kids in the room and these were just a few of the prayer requests.
And the thing is, they keep coming back. You’d swear they hate the Bible lesson. We’ve had a few even leave when we say it’s time for the lesson. They literally stand up and walk out the door. Some are vehemently resistant to the gospel. The brokenness in this ministry is incredible.
We are attempting to reach the parents through “FROG family dinners,” free monthly meals at the church the same night as the FROGS program, but are experiencing little success. Even at the offer of a free meal, parents will drop the kids off and drive away. So we’re experimenting a bit with reaching the parents. We have had three “FROG family bowling nights” over the past two years. We’ve had 84, 76, 72 people attend, including fifteen or so parents. Like our ministry in general, a good percentage of those who participated in this bowling night are members of the community, not church members. While our ultimate goal is gospel proclamation, these are important bridge building events.
We aren’t flashy. We don’t do strobe lights or fog. We don’t even have a worship band. We have a young grandmother who loves to feed kids snacks, a creative game-master, and a Bible study leader who faithfully does his best (and a host of other faithful volunteers). None of the leaders are hip, cool, are even remotely close to the kid’s age (I’m the youngest leader and am 20 years older than them!). We’re breaking so many stereotypes of how you’re supposed to do youth ministry.
We’ve been able to reach people we never dreamed we would reach. It is stretching us! This is the bleeding edge of our church right now. A lot of energy and conversation is going into it.
We’re glad to do it, but it’s tough. Some Wednesday nights, I drive home in silence (as best as I can with a van full of kids), shell shocked by what I’ve seen and heard. But we continue to do it week after week because the need is so great. Where else will these kids be loved and learn about Christ?
About a year into this ministry, I was able to baptize three members of this FROGS group. The next year, two others made a confession of faith and wanted to be baptized. It’s hard work. But it’s worth it.
Lakeview Baptist Church
Battle Creek, Michigan