Written by:
Rori Blakeney (SEJ)

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Rural Youth Ministry: Empowering Youth to Serve Leads to New Lives

By Rori Blakeney

“Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” - 1 Timothy 4:12 King James Version (KJV)

The Rev. Emily Case and the congregation of Eliam United Methodist Church take Paul’s words to heart. When Case arrived in 2015 at the rural, small membership church outside Athens, GA, the average age of a worshipper was 55. Today, the average age is 39.

“All of this is because we tried to teach our young people the importance of being the church--Knowing that you are loved and then loving others,” Case said.

Instead of operating in an age war, Case intentionally created opportunities for young people to connect with more mature members of the congregation.

Instead of operating in an age war, Case intentionally created opportunities for young people to connect with more mature members of the congregation. When Case did communion visits, the youth would go along to members’ homes. It provided an opportunity for youth to teach the elderly about technology, like how to take a picture with their cell phone. In turn, the seasoned saints helped them learn Bible stories, hymns, and how to become better readers.

Before you knew it, there was an inseparable bond between the young and not so young. It is a bond like Jonathan and David, Ruth and Naomi and Paul and Timothy. Each learning from one another while falling in love with Jesus and their brother or sister.

Eliam decided to be a lighthouse in this community especially for youth, children and young families.

Eliam, like many rural churches, is off the beaten path. To get to the church, you drive through Athens, the bustling college town most known for their bulldogs. As you pass landmarks like Bojangles, Walmart, McDonalds, the funeral home and the chicken houses, you come to Fortsonia, a neighborhood of farmers, granite shed workers, and teachers. Eliam is tucked away behind what used to be a bustling center.

The church is in one of the leading counties in the state for drug overdoses, teen pregnancy and children relying on reduced and free lunch. So many students qualify in fact that all kids under high school are given free breakfast and lunch. High Schoolers are given free lunch. Meth and alcohol addiction have run rampant. The dropout rate has been as high as 67%.

Eliam decided to be a lighthouse in this community especially for youth, children and young families.

They started with games and trips to the trampoline parks. Yet, Eliam did not stop there. They empowered the young people to lead in the life of the church through worship, in governing church, in mission, and in outreach. “In two years, we have grown from averaging 2 children to averaging 15 children on a Sunday morning. We have gone from 0 youth to 8-10 a week,” Case said.

“We knew we needed our young people’s help to become the church we need to be.”