For almost-three wonderful years, I have led the Middle School Youth Group at PPC. The group was formed in January 2015, when many of the kids were in third to sixth grade, and in those early days, I called them a “proto” youth group—because they weren’t quite old enough for the traditional experience, but we were going to give them as much of one as we could.

I’m grateful to the volunteers who have helped me during this time: Dorothy Cook, Marla Zaragoza, Kay Jackson, Pete Myers, Karen Murray, Jane Jackson, Paul Erickson, Graham Houston, and Wayne Frazier. I’m grateful to the parents who have carted their kids back and forth, and occasionally joined us for special events like the CROP Walk, Worlds of Fun Day, the Harlem Globetrotters, and more. In particular, for their willingness to get up very early on Easter morning for the Easter Sunrise Service, I give thanks.

Most of all, though, I’m grateful to the kids, for their talent, energy, and desire to serve. I’m grateful for their insights about the Bible and the world, and for all the exercise I’ve gotten chasing them around the church. I’m also grateful that they’ve embraced the youth group spirit. They never thought of themselves as a “proto” youth group to others, but as “the” youth group.

This fall, as we were welcoming a new member, some of our veteran youth were explaining Souper Bowl Sunday. This is a collection of canned goods and other donations for the SPEAC pantry on Super Bowl Sunday. The youth offer a skit in church to promote it, and the donations are gathered around two goalposts in the lobby, each marked with the logo of a Super Bowl team. I often joke that the side which receives the most donations “has a fifty percent chance of winning the real-life Super Bowl.”

Anyway, this fall, as our veteran members were explaining this to our new member, they said something that surprised me: “And we always say, the team that has the most donations has a fifty percent chance of winning the Super Bowl!” And they laughed!

I kept it to myself in the moment, but I was kind of giddy, as I thought, “This little throw-away joke of mine, that I started saying when I was a youth minister in Connecticut—for them, it’s part of our tradition. It’s something we always say. How cool is that?”

This fall, we’ve started another “proto” youth group—or as I call them, a Rising Youth Group—of 3rd to 5th graders. Our first one began because that was the age range in which the church had kids, but this one is here because the younger kids have been asking for it, wondering when it was going to be their turn to experience youth group.

I love the Middle Schoolers, and I love the Rising Youth, but in 2018, I hope we can bring on another staff member to lead both groups. I hope we can hire a half-time Director of Ministry with Children and Youth, who will support our Sunday School programs, lead our youth offerings, organize special events, and arrange for kids to contribute even more to worship. I don’t envision this person as someone who would “do” children’s or youth ministry, but as someone who would make it easier for us to do that ministry, as they facilitate the work of the church.

Of course, in order to bring that person here, we need a larger budget than we have now. In particular, to hire this person and offer health insurance to those on staff who depend on us as their primary means of income, we need each of the church’s identified givers to give an additional $500 a year. To achieve that vision, some will probably give less, and others will need to give more.

If this vision comes to life, I will miss the youth in both groups, but I won’t entirely step away. I’ll still be involved. I’ll still work to know all our kids by name and to greet them by name. I’ll just have more time and energy to work on our communication and outreach ministries—to do more of the administrative work a growing church needs in order to thrive.

As you consider your stewardship pledge for 2018, I hope you’ll pray over this vision and keep it in mind. I also hope you’ll be willing to support it. As always, if you have questions about this or anything else in the life of the church, please let me know. I’m always glad to talk—and I always will be.