Reaching Families Through After-School and Summer Ministry
Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Luke 18:16).
One of the best ways to share the love of God is to care for your community’s children. Third City Christian Church discovered that there was a huge need in Grand Island, Nebraska for an after-school program that could share the love of God through an outreach to children.
So, out of a calling and an opportunity to reach families (along with a kid-loving leader, a great facility, and a church van), Connect After School was born. Connect reaches elementary children in Grand Island, offering a fee-based after school program that provides a safe and uniquely Christian ministry from the time a child is picked up at school until checked out by a guardian at the conclusion of the work day.
Since its founding with five children in 2002, Connect After School and its summer equivalent, Quest, have ministered to thousands of kids and families. On an average day, more than 100 kids attend. Hundreds of people whose first association was through Connect have come to Christ and to Third City Christian Church.
Since Connect and Quest (Con/Quest) are fee-based, there is no reliance on member giving to supplement its existence. The church’s primary contribution is the use of its facilities. With a budget of $280,000, Con/Quest employs two full-time directors. Clayton Loghry leads Connect After School and Cassandra Westpfahl leads Quest Summer. Con/Quest also employs 26 part-time staff members, mostly between the ages of 16 and 21. Tuition assistance is offered to families in need. A key tool for the success of the program is a fleet of buses, purchased through program revenues, that pick up the children at local elementary schools.
At its core, Con/Quest is an outreach ministry. This is clearly demonstrated in the breakdown of our students’ church affiliations. During the 2017-18 school year, there were a total of 287 enrollments. Forty-four percent indicated that they were not affiliated with a church. Twenty-one percent had a direct affiliation with Third City Christian Church. The other 35 percent of families marked “other” affiliation with a church. Family outreach is our ultimate priority.
The weekly rhythms of Con/Quest teem with ministry opportunities. Worship Wednesday is a focal point of the program. Most of our staff and students consider it their favorite day of the week. Worship Wednesday incorporates a full live worship experience, a message that relates to a monthly theme, and discipleship time in small groups.
Con/Quest staff members are in direct mentoring relationships with students. It is “Discipleship 101,” as they are able to lead, celebrate, and minister to their students through a wide variety of worship, service, and growth opportunities.
Con/Quest also has uniquely evangelized its young staff members. Many have been drawn to the claims of Christ in their lives through their involvement with our church through Con/Quest. It has played a prominent role in developing a leadership pipeline for the kingdom of God.
Just one example of Con/Quest’s effectiveness as an outreach and discipleship conduit is exemplified in the Loghry family. The Loghrys had become disconnected from their church. Their oldest son, Parker, began working for Connect in high school. He was discipled by many of his coworkers as well as the ministry staff working at Third City. As a result, Parker and his family were drawn back to the church. Parker is now a student minister. Parker’s father, Chris, is now employed with Third City as a media specialist. Clayton Loghry (who served on staff in high school) now serves as Connect Director. Olivia Loghry (also a former Connect staff member) is now pursuing her degree in Christian Education at Ozark Christian College. This is just one of many stories about men and women who have come to the Lord and who are now serving him through the Connect pipeline.
There are several key things to consider when looking into developing and implementing a children’s weekday outreach ministry. Examine your vision and motives. Why would you decide to open up a weekday kids’ outreach? Your community has unique needs, but we believe that the Connect template could be adapted to whatever child-centric need you identify. If your goal is to grow and reach multiple schools and kids from varied backgrounds and ages, this is a great option. You will need to give serious consideration to the initial organization, resources, and staff that will be required. Take time to assess the needs of your specific demography.
Be ready to learn from your mistakes. Our culture is one where mistakes are not considered failures, but a part of the learning curve. Connect has experienced numerous growing pains. There have been changes to organizational leadership. Because we employ a large teen and college-age staff, turnover is the norm. And with any program that grows, organizational restructure will need to occur at pivotal times. With each hurdle faced, Con/Quest has met the challenge.
The ministry opportunities of a strong weekday kids’ outreach program are unlimited. Third City Christian Church places a primary emphasis on the next generation, who will forward the vision, mission, and core values of Third City in the heartland.
Scott Jones is senior minister of Third City Christian Church in Grand Island, Nebraska. He was assisted in writing this article by Clayton Loghry and Cassandra Westpfal, co-directors of Connect After School and Quest Summer Children’s Ministries.