Upton UMC Reaching Out to YouthUpton UMC has been experiencing a surge in attendance and professions of faith under the leadership of the Reverend Becci Loy. The church’s revitalization has been driven by their intentional outreach efforts to the community, and God has blessed their efforts in some wonderful ways. But their intentional efforts to reach the young people of the community have resulted in an incredible summer program that has taken on a life of its own.
Upton is a little town in the center of the state that has a small population of around 650 persons. Demographic studies reveal that the town is declining, has a high level of poverty, and a very low religiosity. But the community also has many unchurched youth, and that opportunity did not go unnoticed by Becci and her church leaders. They noted there were very few outlets in that rural town that were appealing to young people. Through their intentional efforts to build relationships, several teens made decisions for Christ, were baptized, and have become active in the church. It became very obvious God was doing something special.
With the help of the district and utilizing new church principles, plans were made for a very intentional summer “experiment” they call “Emerge”. The community center was rented, and after a lot of publicity, gaming, fun activities and preview events, a ministry began to gel. The church members had a candle light prayer walk circling the town and prayed for the Holy Spirit to be poured out upon every person in the community. In a matter of a few months a newly formed “youth band” was taught a few worship songs and a Thursday night worship service was launched right there in the community center. A meal is served by volunteers, the band plays, and Becci preaches the gospel in a relevant way to that generation. Along with music some sort of drama, video, or other creative interpretation helps the message to relate. The beginning month was difficult and slow, but what is happening now is beyond everyone’s expectations!
In recent weeks upwards of 100 - 150 youth and adults are attending each week, all different ages coming from a twenty mile radius around. A dozen youth came to Christ at the outset and were baptized. Fifteen others have recently made decisions for Christ, not necessarily from the worship service but from the relationships that have been made possible. Emerge ministry seems to be the talk of the town, and the church at Upton is highly energized about reaching out to others! What started as an experiment may take on a life of its own. The ministry will, in all probability, continue on in some fashion throughout the year.
Where do we get the idea that there is little opportunity, or that the demographics have to be just right before we can do anything? This small church, in this small community, recognized the great need around them and decided to do something different. And because of their faithfulness and desire to reach out, God is blessing this entire community in some incredible ways.