Jesus said, "Let the children come to me, and do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs." Matthew 19:14, NRSVUE
Inviting and creating space for children is precisely what Riverview United Methodist Church in Huron, South Dakota, is doing. The congregation spent time and money updating rooms for children's and youth ministry, but it is about something other than the building. Instead, it's about the mission. "Connecting in faith and into the community" is Riverview's mission statement. The congregation is serious about the mission and is living it out by inviting families to bring their children and youth to learn about Jesus.
"The kids just love the spaces that have been created," said Rev. Teresa Person. "The rooms were just white walls with tables and chairs. Now they are designed around the children's ages and the curriculum."
The white walls have been transformed into a bright preschool room, a darkened theater room, an ambience-filled storytelling room, and a colorful art room for children's ministry. The rooms come to life each Sunday as children two years of age through fifth grade gather for fellowship and learning.
Volunteer teachers and helpers currently lead children through the Celebrate Wonder All Ages curriculum from Cokesbury. Everyone meets in a large group in the beginning for prayer and music. Then children rotate in groups to watch a video in the theater room, hear the Bible story in the storytelling room, and do a craft or creative project in the art room. Preschoolers hang out in their room.
“The children's ministry happens because of the faithful volunteers. I am not here when it happens because I have a two-point charge. I am at Virgil UMC leading worship,” said Pastor Teresa. “This is truly an effort of the lay people who just took the ideas and ran with them.”
Focus on the mission—connecting faith and the community has inspired members at Riverview to invite people to attend worship. The result is families showing up with children and a growing, spirit-led children's ministry.
It doesn't stop at grade five. Riverview now has a middle school youth group that meets every Wednesday night. The newly remodeled youth room has a space for playing games, hanging out on sofas and chairs for conversation, and a TV viewing area.
"For a few years, we didn't have a middle school youth group because we didn't have any middle school youth," said Pastor Teresa. "Now about 12-15 show up every Wednesday."
Person leads the middle school youth group each Wednesday at 6 p.m. A growing high school youth group also meets at 7 p.m. Once a month, a combined youth group meets for a mission outreach event like sorting and packaging for the change of clothing ministry.
"It is busy on Wednesday nights. But it is inspiring to see youth having fun, getting to know each other and God," Person said.
Once a month, the Huron School District has an early release time. It occurs on Wednesday for teachers and staff to engage in professional development. Riverview UMC hosts children during early release time.
"Some kids do not have any place to go. They come here. We use our children's ministry rooms and engage them," Pastor Teresa said.
The mission focus, passion, and the heart of the congregation are alive at Riverview UMC. Pastor Teresa said, "Many people who volunteer in children's and youth ministry do not have children in the program. Some of the volunteers are older. But all of them have a heart for the ministry. It is about not only creating a space in your building, but a space in your heart!"