P.R.A.Y. as Evangelism!
Cornerstone United Methodist Church
Dr. Dave Meadows
P.R.A.Y. processed an order for Cornerstone United Methodist Church that included young people from the AHG, BSA, GSUSA, and several Sunday school members (non-Scouts). We knew that Cornerstone UMC had been offering the P.R.A.Y. program every year for the past ten years. On a whim we gave a call to Dr. Dave Meadows and boy are we ever glad we did!
Dr. Meadows told us that after more than ten years of offering the P.R.A.Y. program as a separate class to the Scouts meeting in their church*, Cornerstone UMC decided to try something different. They offered it in Sunday school. That fall, they incorporated God and Me and God and Family into the Sunday school curriculum for children in grades 1-3 and grades 4-5. Scouts from the community who wanted to earn their religious emblem were invited to attend Sunday school. Dr. Meadows was pleased to report the program was a great success! Two families formally joined their church, and there are other families who are attending and might yet join.
According to Dr. Meadows, "We're always looking to reach out to the community. The P.R.A.Y. program has a double benefit. We used it as a successful Sunday school program AND Evangelism tool."
The idea was actually suggested by a Scout parent who also teaches in the Sunday school program. Each of the P.R.A.Y. lessons was broken into two different sessions to fit into the Sunday school setting. Dr. Meadows met with each of the classes three times. At each visit, he talked with the children as a group and then met with each child individually reviewing their work. At his last visit, he heard each child recite the memory work required for that particular study. Dr. Meadows said the kids really enjoyed it! The PRAY awards and certificates of completion were presented on Scout Sunday during the 10:45 worship service.
Over the years, there might have been a family or two that joined the church because they got to know Dr. Meadows through the P.R.A.Y. classes, but this year was different. The P.R.A.Y. award wasn't presented as a separate Scouting activity, but as part of the church. Scouts who earned their P.R.A.Y. award were participating in Sunday school, and their families got to know people in the church. Dr. Meadows reports that the program was so successful they have plans to implement it every other year as part of their Sunday school curriculum.
*Cornerstone UMC charters several Scout groups: 2 Packs, 5 Troops, and 2 Girl Scout Troops.
Michael Warren, Family Pastor
ChangePoint Church, Anchorage, Alaska
ChangePoint Alaska hosts over 750 children, from birth - 5th grade, in our weekly Sunday school program. Many of our children grow up in broken homes with first-generation Christian roots. We embrace, celebrate, and praise God for the privilege and opportunity to communicate Gospel and kingdom truths to such a large and broad audience.
For many years, fine-tuning and executing our Sunday morning programs with excellence held top priority for our Children’s Ministry staff and volunteers. However, in His great love and grace, the Lord has recently revealed a game-changing reality to our ministry leaders…
The one hour a week we spend loving, encouraging, challenging, and teaching our children in Sunday school programming, though strategic and important, is not enough to effectively disciple this next generation of children for life in Christ…
Prayer and discernment led us to conclude that the Lord was calling us to equip and empower parents and adult mentors.
They are the primary discipling leaders and faith influencers in the lives of ChangePoint kids.
They are the strategically placed and God commissioned leader teams building this next generation during the other 167 hours of the week.
These were our first practical steps in response to the Lord:
God and Me, God and Family, God and Church, and God and Life have been powertools in this endeavor.
We call these “Parent/Child Theology Workshops”:
For one month, we gather at a weekly Sunday meeting that is completely hands-on, fun, and interactive, often using creative manipulatives like Legos, experiments, skits, and projects to magnify big ideas and concepts. During the workshops, we position parents and mentors to actively instruct, guide, and lead their kids after a method and a concept is modeled and introduced. This in class teamwork between adults and youth continues throughout the week as homework projects are completed. Parents, mentors, and children often present their work and discoveries together.
As we build Gospel and theological fluency in parents, mentors, and children through the class experiences, we are simultaneously building an army of parent/mentor teachers who are confident and competent. The content rich courses are backdoor discovery opportunities for parents and mentors as they “try on” their own teaching styles and methods. The course instructor models a spectrum of activities and strategies throughout the month.
The courses finish, the awards are presented, and everyone goes back to their homes and routines…
And here are some courageous questions…
How can we as church leaders equip and empower parents and mentors? They are the greatest God given resources that our kids already have.
How can we assure that discipleship and Life in Christ continues beyond the few sessions we spend with our families?
In just two years, 89 youth and over 75 adults and mentors who support these kids have participated in P.R.A.Y programs at ChangePoint Alaska.
Momentum continues to grow!
By The Rev. Christopher D. Owens
When working with young people, we never know the huge impact we may be making on a life.
Case in point: over 30 years ago, the Rev. Dr. Ken Lyons taught a God and Country class for local Cub Scouts.
A boy’s mother signed him up for this class in the belief that some faith instruction might be a good thing.
This boy and his family were not churchgoers. In fact, at age 9, he had no idea how to read a Bible.
Ken taught the youngster how to read the Bible along with some basics of the faith. He learned about Jesus, Christian love and faithfulness, and what it means to live as a Christian in his home, school and community.
That knowledge and skill received in the God and Country study helped shape his life.
Nine years later, this same boy––now an Eagle Scout–– accepted a classmate’s invitation to visit Mt. Zion UMC in Lothian, Md.
He accepted the invitation because he remembered how loved he was by Ken Lyons and his church.
The young man later gave his life to Christ and was baptized.
A year later, he answered God’s call upon his life to enter the ordained ministry.
I am that young boy.
While I was not raised in a church and I was nominally Christian at best, God preveniently used things within my scouting experience to move me towards faith in Jesus.
One of the three duties of a Scout is to God. The 12th point of the Scout Law states that a Scout is reverent. And there are pastors like Ken Lyons who take the time to mentor Scouts in the faith through the God and Country program.
Looking back at my strange, windy road to faith in Jesus and the ordained ministry, I’m reminded that coming to faith and answering God’s call is never contained in isolated moments. It truly is a long journey of steps forward and backwards, lessons learned––often the hard way, and the persistent, patient love of Christian mentors like pastors, youth workers, parents, and other adults.
God and Country is one of those pieces, and when I was an unchurched child, a pastor like Ken Lyons teaching God and Country was a highly impactful part of my journey.
Ten years ago, I knelt before my bishop to be ordained as an elder in the UMC. One of the hands on my head belonged to Ken Lyons. After all those years, he remembered me and agreed to be one of my ordination sponsors.
It all began with a God and Country program he taught to a Cub Scout eager to learn about the Christian faith.
Article used with permission: http://www.gcumm.org/scouting-news/god-and-country-class-starts-journey-to-ordination
Pastor Brian and Shan Sixbey
First United Methodist Church Fox Hill
2 Girl Scout Troops, 1 Cub Scout Pack, 1 Scouts BSA Troop, 1 Venture Crew
Is your church searching for ways to engage youth and increase church attendance? Is your congregation bemoaning the lack of young families as your church ages? I know my church is graying and coping with declining church attendance. Moreover, the books floating around my house are about reaching millennials, reaching the unchurched, and the church in quarantine and post-quarantine. Why is “build it and they will come” no longer sufficient? Because we are not called to be passive! We are called to be in relationship with those whom we wish to reach and disciple.
So how do we reach our neighbor? How do we connect with those who are different than us? A potential path to discipleship and developing relationships is in our hands! The P.R.A.Y. program is “a Bible-based religious emblems program for Protestant and Independent Christian churches designed to bring children, youth, and families to Christ.” Oh, that. But wait – it truly can be what it says, a program designed to bring children, youth, and families to Christ. What is missing? Us – as disciples, apostles, teachers, and followers – doing what we were called to do: “And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” Matthew 6:15
In 2010 my family moved to our present church. My children had started in the P.R.A.Y. program in our previous church, completing “God and Me,” the first level, at that time, of the Religious Emblems program. What a delight it was to discover girls were welcome in the program and not just boys! The program has been traditionally offered through Cub Scout packs or Boy Scout troops, so I had not witnessed a program open to girls. To keep my children advancing in the program I implemented a P.R.A.Y. Religious Emblems programs at our new church. Thus, our narrative was flipped: the church offered the program, rather than the Scouting unit.
The first time we offered the program it required recruiting solid Christian teachers from the church. While it is a lot of work to recruit 2 teachers for each grade level, coordinate start and end dates, and manage an award ceremony, once the details are worked out, it is a matter of maintaining what has been created. Furthermore, we only offer the program every other year to not wear out our volunteers. Over time we brought the award ceremony into a Sunday morning service with an award cake reception afterward. Our most recent epiphany was turning the award celebration into a potluck for the youth and their families along with church members. We had finally moved past delivering content and building a few key relationships with the youth, to encouraging our church members to see the number of wonderful youth who use our building weekly and make tentative steps towards reaching out and connecting with these youth and their families.
Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic has slowed our momentum. We heard requests for an online Religious Emblems program, but our teachers were not ready for the challenge in the Spring. Then information from P.R.A.Y. and our Virginia Scouting Conference Ministry Coordinator sparked renewed enthusiasm. Within a week I recruited the teachers, and they are ready, willing, and raring to go with teaching the program online. The new P.R.A.Y. resources promise to make the task easier. And the teachers of the younger grades are excited about the necessary level of parent involvement for them to successfully teach elementary-aged children online. Hmmm, maybe we are not looking at an unfortunate obstacle, but rather a God-given opportunity to fulfill our Great Commission.
If our experience has inspired you to consider sponsoring a Religious emblem awards program in your congregation through P.R.A.Y., enlisting your own adult leaders and whatever youth you have in the church, community, and scouting organizations, the P.R.A.Y. organization, denominational scouting associations, and we - the Sixbey's - stand ready to assist you in planning, implementing, and celebrating a viable disciple-making extension in your community.
Shan and Brian Sixbey
Shan Sixbey and her husband Pastor Brian Sixbey from First United Methodist Church Fox Hill are an incredible duo. This husband wife team has received the God and Service Award, Cross and Flame Award, the Building Faith in Youth Award, and the Torch Award. These awards show the passion that they have for reaching young people through the scouting programs.