"People want to share their stories. Allow for fellowship and interaction—a chance to hear each others' stories. Point them in the direction of God's word and story. That is what we see people are seeking," said Pastor Travis Voelz, Pastor of Discipleship at First United Methodist Church in Jamestown, North Dakota.
It's time for Jesus, and rootbeer floats at First United Methodist Church in Jamestown, North Dakota. Again this year, First UMC will invite middle school students across the street while congregants dish up root beer floats, and students can check things out.
"We are starting with rootbeer floats again because there is a whole new crop of kids in the middle school," said Pastor Travis. "We plan that for September 20, and the following week, on Wednesday, we will kick off our Crosswalk program for middle school students."
Crosswalk is an afterschool program for middle school students. The name is derived from the actual walk across the street from the Jamestown Middle School to First UMC and the walk or journey of Jesus to the cross. Crosswalk happens at 3-5 p.m. each Wednesday.
Food is available when students arrive, followed by a short lesson and discussion with open-ended questions. There are activities on the app and free time.
"Food gets them here. There is a short lesson that involves open-ended questions. The key is open-ended questions. They can give their take on things, which naturally spurs conversations about things going on in their lives. It's about making sure everyone feels included and welcome. It is such a hard age in the world today," Pastor Travis said.
Wednesday evenings at First UMC includes "Wiggles with the Littles" from 5-5:30 p.m. A program for Pre-K through second grade. Many of the children that attend are participants of Solid Foundations Growing Center, a childcare facility that is a ministry at First United Methodist Church. An average of 25 children attend "Wiggles with the Littles" from the childcare program each week.
"Our childcare is great for reaching the community. People are coming to this church for more than just childcare. We invite them to activities in many ways," said Pastor Travis. "We have more than 100 people attend each of the holiday programs. There is supper, a short program, and then fellowship. They are tremendous events."
Digital signage greets parents as they drop off kids, connecting them to the church. Families are invited to participate in holiday programs centered around their children at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentines, and Easter.
"The holiday programs led naturally into our Vacation Bible School, which took place in August. Families were connected and felt welcome at Vacation Bible School that went well," said Rev. Marty Toeple-Floyd, lead pastor at Jamestown First UMC. "There's a lot of those relationships that we've been able to build through the childcare. Travis' wife, Lindsay, manages the daycare. It's just good to see that synergy come into fruition."
At 5:30 p.m., family church with dinner takes place. "It's a family Christian environment with food, fellowship, a Jesus story, and conversation," said Pastor Travis. "Family church was great, but we plan to switch things up this year."
Family church has a space for younger children to play during fellowship and worship. "It can get a little noisy. We rearrange our space a little to allow younger children's activities," said Pastor Marty. "Travis has some good computer skills and introduced some games that we've used with Crosswalk and the adults. We have our church app that we introduced last year, and they answer Bible questions on the app."
First UMC's app has resources to assist people's faith journey. There are brief inspirations, daily prayers, music, devotions, an entire Bible, messages for young people, groups to connect with others, podcasts, Christian radio, and upcoming events. Check out the app with the QR code in the photo.
You don't have to have a device to join in the interaction at the family church. "We do some paper and pencil or in-person responses. We want to involve both groups. People who did not bring their device and people that are only on their device," said Pastor Travis. "We want to get everybody involved."
So far, 297 people have downloaded the app. "Using the games and other types of interaction is a way to introduce people to the app," said Pastor Marty. "It is a free app. It is private. It connects people to the church. They can watch worship online. They can see inspirational messages. It is an excellent way to make connections."
The app reaches people who might never be in the church building. "We want to go to where the people are, and people are on their phones," said Pastor Travis.
Family church will have a different format each week. There is a full confirmation class of 16 this year. Pastor Travis is leading confirmation at 5:30 p.m. One week, family church will be a worship experience with the confirmation students facilitating. Two of the other weeks, there will be a Bible study led by two congregation members. One week, a worship service will be in the sanctuary led by Pastor Marty.
"We want to disciple people and get them involved. The idea isn't us [Pastors Marty and Travis] just doing things. We want other people to explore their journey by getting involved," said Pastor Travis.
Meals will be served only for some weeks. Preparing and serving food can become overwhelming and take the focus away from connections and growing in faith. Leaning into the concepts of Fresh Expressions, the hope is to try things out and see where the Holy Spirit is on the move.
"We are in an experimental mode. The things we are trying have never been down before. We have permission to make changes as we go. COVID sort of upset the traditions. We are free to try things out," said Pastor Marty. "We are playing off of last year. We'll do this, and it may morph into something else. We pray daily for the next person to connect with Jesus."
Fresh Expressions: Bring a team to Imagine Day with Rev. Dr. Michael Beck on September 30. You'll leave fired up to reach people through the Fresh Expressions movement and initial resources to help you do just that: a people map, listening tools, next steps for your church, and an invitation to group coaching sessions.
Subsplash: The Subsplash platform equips churches of all sizes with mobile apps, websites, online giving, and more to engage and grow their audiences.