By Carl Stagner
In a town of fewer than 500 people, 100 to 110 children and youth can be found hanging out at one local hot spot in Bertha, Minnesota: New Life Church of God. A hub of community activity and a beacon of hope, the church is uniquely positioned to reach the next generation for Christ. Seizing the opportunity God’s given them, they’ve placed special emphasis on their youth ministry and their children’s ministry, which is called Kids For Christ (KFC). While New Life Church of God nears their final mortgage payment this year, they’re definitely not waiting to walk through every open door for the kingdom locally, nationally, and globally.
Situated in the second poorest county in the state, Bertha is a rural community in need of life change. With roughly seven out of ten students eligible for free or reduced lunches, the need is both physical and spiritual. But New Life Church of God isn’t waiting for change; they’re being the change. Their church is the host site for the local community food pantry, and all the pantry staff call New Life Church home. Not only is the existence of a food pantry a win for the community, but the location is, too. The new campus of New Life Church of God was built on the main highway that leads into the heart of town. It is, as Pastor Jason Knoll explains, the most visible building in town. That may also be one reason children and youth flock to the church, but it’s certainly not the only reason.
“Our church has recognized that God has called us to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the children and youth of the community,” Jason explains. “We’ve identified it as our primary reason to be here. You’ve heard of the phrase, ‘If your church were to close its doors, would anybody notice?’ For us, they would!”
On any given Wednesday evening, about half of the elementary school attend KFC. Though there may not be chicken on the menu every week, the children are served a meal. As a primary thrust of the church, the congregation has proven they’re behind the strategy to reach kids. Between the KFC volunteers, the youth ministry leadership, the cooking crew, and the “released time” coordinators, there are forty-seven adults ministering to the younger generation. What’s released time?
“More than a hundred years ago, the state of Minnesota started a pretty cool thing called released time,” Jason explains. “It has to do with a time during the school day in which students are offered the chance to get religious education. The parents just have to sign a form for it. This church has been doing it for longer than anyone in the church today has been alive.” While the opportunity isn’t available everywhere, it’s available in Bertha. For New Life Church of God, means seizing the opportunity.
What opportunities has God laid before your church?
Some children in the community attend the released time ministry only, while others only come to KFC. Some come to both. But all those hours the church has committed to kids is yielding eternal dividends, many of which can already be seen in these young disciples. Take, for instance, a recent Sunday when the church hosted Children of Promise’s Paul Maxfield. Moved by the transformative work of the Church of God child sponsorship ministry, the Kids For Christ children made a bold decision, on their own. For twelve years, one Sunday each month, the children have participated in the regular offering time by coming forward and dropping coins in a container. It took time, but the fund had accumulated $1,300. In response to the Holy Spirit’s work in their lives that day, the children decided to give a generous $750 of that to Children of Promise. Paul rejoiced that their gift would be used to purchase mosquito nets for children who face malaria-carrying mosquitos every night as they sleep. Praise God!
Locally, New Life Church of God has also offered other services, including financial management education, to its community. Across the county, the stewardship principles they’ve taught have proven helpful to many whose income is uncertain, at best. Now that the church is about to pay of their mortgage, they recognize the example of stewardship they’re setting for those they’ve already taught. Beyond Bertha, the church has extended its reach internationally by supporting Global Strategy’s Ernie and Lori Nicholas, Larry and LeAnn Sellers, among others. This global support, as well as the church’s local mission work, is simply a reflection of the Jesus-centered focus of New Life Church of God.
“The world is a big place, but in Bertha we’re trying to make Jesus the subject in all we do,” Jason reflects. “I grew up in the Church of God in Brookings, South Dakota. I didn’t really understand what the Church of God was for a long time. When I went to seminary at AU, I took classes with Gil Stafford, which began to clarify things. But for the first time in my forty-one years of living as a Church of God person, I feel like our movement today is actually a movement. I’m excited by that. I believe that Jim Lyon truly received the message of ‘Jesus is the subject’ from God. This emphasis is not just the movement’s anymore. At New Life Church of God, it’s become ours!”
In Minnesota, across North America, and around the world, God is on the move in the Church of God. Join the movement. Reach our world. Donate today at give.jesusisthesubject.org.