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Reaching families in Jamestown: Fresh Expression at First UMC

By: Doreen Gosmire and Dave Stucke, communications, Dakotas UMC

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Pastor Travis Voeltz reads to classroom of children at Solid Foundations childcare. Photos from Facebook.

"We are trying to work with people's busy schedules. When we just had things on Sunday mornings that wasn't working. Wednesdays seem to work better for busy families. We want to do something that includes the entire family. If people cannot include their kids, they probably won't do it," said Rev. Travis Voeltz, Pastor of Discipleship at First United Methodist Church in Jamestown, North Dakota.

Pastor Travis and a team  from Jamestown First UMC attended Imagine Day, a training day for the Fresh Expression movement. They were affirmed that they were on a path to invite more families to know Jesus.

"We have a daycare for children at the church. They rent space from the church and provide a much-needed service for families in Jamestown," said Rev. Marty Toepke-Floyd, senior pastor at First UMC. "The daycare started before I arrived here. We have been working to connect with families. The daycare and Travis's leadership are making things happen."

Pastor Travis is connecting with families at the Solid Foundations Growing Center, the daycare housed at First UMC, in several ways.

"The childcare is an obvious spot to connect with more families. There is no more traffic through this church than through the childcare with families and their children. I thought there should be ways we can incorporate the childcare into the church as opposed to them just using the space here," said Pastor Travis.

Pastor Travis walks through the daycare daily, greeting the staff and children. He also reads a story once a week. But there was an urge to do more.

"We started Wiggles with the Littles. It's a version of Sunday School but on Wednesday. Most families are doing other things on the weekends. The kids from the daycare come to Wiggles, and people in the community with children ages 2-2nd grade can attend. It is a half-hour, from 5-5:30 p.m.," Pastor Travis said.


Crosswalk students gather for an after school program at First UMC in Jamestown.

Wednesdays at First UMC are busy with Crosswalk, an afterschool program for middle school students, Wiggles with the Littles, and confirmation. A family dinner happens once a month. There is something for everyone.

"Crosswalk is from 3:30-5 p.m. followed by Wiggles with the Littles at 5-5:30. When we have a family dinner night that starts at 5:30 p.m.," describes Pastor Travis. "When we serve supper, we have something for the kids and older people. We have something for every age. We try different things each time."

The confirmation class of 19 students will help with the family dinner night. Confirmation classes are held on nights when there is no family dinner.

A change this year is limiting family dinners to once a month.

"We tried doing it every week but found that attendance was varied, and we didn't have the volunteers we needed," said Pastor Marty. "We also tried doing worship in the sanctuary. That did not go well. People didn't want to come to dinner and then go to the sanctuary."

Traditional church settings are uncomfortable for many people, especially families.

"Kids can make a lot of racket. Some people feel uncomfortable when that happens. So once a month at family dinners, we have casual worship in the fellowship hall," said Pastor Marty.

Families are constantly on the move, and that means that ministry must be nimble.

"If I am learning anything, I need to be flexible and open to new ideas. What works today may not work tomorrow," said Pastor Travis.

For example, Pastor Travis found that some kids did not like to come to confirmation and leave their friends behind. So, he opened the opportunity to others.

"I didn't limit it to just traditional church members. I look at why people come to or do not attend church and invite them to try it. Nineteen kids consistently show up. I encourage the parents to be an example—come to worship, not just drop your kids off. They all have been faithful," Pastor Travis said.

Pastor Marty has been supportive of new ideas as well as the congregation. The ideas for ministry begin with prayer.

"It all begins with prayer. We meet—Pastor Marty, our business manager, and me in the mornings and pray. We know that there are people in the congregation praying and community members . We are praying for the Holy Spirit to be involved and to lead us," said Pastor Travis.

As each parent comes in the door to drop their children off at daycare, or students walk across the street from the Middle School to the afterschool program, or confirmation students and parents show up, there is a large TV screen that shares digital announcements.

"We have a TV at all three entrances. We put graphics—photos of things: happening with families, members of the congregation serving, people reaching out to the community, announcements for events. They see these things that are going on and that there is life in this church. We are doing things and sharing them with a younger demographic. We also have an app that they can download. It's all digital. That's how families communicate. I am going to where they are at."


Dakotas Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church 605.996.6552 1331 University Ave. Mitchell SD 57301-0460 US 43.69689310 -98.03291320 122 W. Franklin Avenue Ste 400 Minneapolis MN 55404 US 0.00000000 0.00000000 1331 W University Ave Mitchell SD 57301 US 0.00000000 0.00000000 1331 University Ave Mitchell SD 57301 US 0.00000000 0.00000000