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409 || How One Church Raises Students That Stay

Building a Life-Giving Church That Lasts.”

Not long after you walk through the doors of East Coast Christian Center in Merritt Island, Florida you’ll see those words.

In the bite-sized attention span of our culture these days, the “lasts” part is the one that’s hardest to accomplish. But East Coast Christian Center gets it. And their youth leaders are making sure the next generation gets it, too.

Meet Luke Bowman

Luke loved music as far back as he could remember. When he came to East Coast Christian Center in fifth grade, he wanted to be on the other side of the wall of his fifth-grade-department room at church. Through that wall, he heard music and middle schoolers singing together, and he wanted to be a part of whatever it was.

After church one morning, worship leader, Pastor Chris Johnson, rounded the hallway corner, spotted Luke and casually said, “Hey, Luke! How ya doin’?”

Luke’s heart stopped.

Luke Bowman thought Pastor Chris was cool. He had admired Pastor Chris as he watched him lead the whole church in worship from the stage. He sang and played the guitar and the keyboard (not all at the same time, of course). Chris seemed larger than life to a fifth grader like Luke Bowman.

And Pastor Chris knew Luke’s name.

What had been a passing hello for the worship leader was huge for Luke Bowman.

More Than Hello

Finally, Luke moved up to middle school, and he was in awe of the music. It was even better than he had imagined. He joined in the worship, but it wasn’t enough for Luke. He wanted to lead it.

So, he auditioned—nervously. And when they accepted him on the worship team, Luke poured his heart and soul into it. This was where he belonged. And it was clear to the middle-school leaders that Luke loved his music. Soon, Luke learned to not only lead worship, but also mentor younger students who would take his place when he moved up to high school. And he loved that, too.

Summer approached, and Luke’s group of friends wanted to volunteer at church for the summer. So, Pastor David Gammon, the youth/young adult pastor, took twelve enthusiastic teens and created an internship program.

The congregation was soon familiar with the kids in the blue t-shirts that read, “How Can I Serve You?” They greeted people before church, worked in the children’s departments, served in the nursery, stocked the bathrooms, and became part of the production team. They even planned an annual event for young ladies, called “Beautiful You,” which turned out to be a hit. More and more teens joined, and their varied talents and desires to serve became a valuable asset. These students were being entrusted with vital parts of the ministry; they weren’t just teenagers.

Luke’s First Love

Soon, Luke was doing almost everything there was to do. He became part of the production team, and he learned more about computers, lighting, sound and all the facets of production. He even was asked to produce a radio broadcast with senior pastor Dan Stallbaum. Luke found himself tucked away in the studio with the production equipment and Pastor Dan, primetime for one-on-one mentoring.

But he still loved music, and he missed being more deeply involved with leading worship. The production ministry took most of his time.

So, Luke took a chance. Pastor Chris, who had known fifth-grade Luke’s name years ago, was in the office one afternoon when Luke was there. Luke asked if there was a position on the church worship team. Chris was happy to give Luke that opportunity, except for one thing: He had to learn the keyboard. Luke was okay with that.

Just One of Many

Luke has come a long way from being that fifth grader who wanted to be on the other side of the wall. Now, he’s pursuing formal education as a worship leader. Perhaps, more than all the skills Luke learned and honed at East Coast Christian Center, Luke learned the importance of mentoring.

Luke’s story is just one about the many teenagers East Coast Christian Center helped bring up in church. And as the times change, East Coast Christian Center continues brainstorming ways to value and train the next generation—“Building a Life-Giving Church that Lasts.”

It can be scary to hand keys over to teenagers like Luke. They’re figuring out what it means to be independent without being completely independent. They’re learning who they are and how to think, and how to act so their parents and their friends like them. And they’re discovering the freedoms and responsibilities afforded by a driver’s license. Sometimes their stories aren’t pretty. And sometimes we need grace for them.

A lot of grace for them.

East Coast Christian Center is willing to employ grace for teenagers because they know a lasting church needs students like Luke. And a lasting church needs mentors like Pastor Chris and Pastor Dan to bring up students like Luke—because East Coast Christian Center knows students aren’t just the church of tomorrow; students are the church of today.

Sometimes, all it takes is knowing a fifth grader’s name.

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