By Carl Stagner
Four years ago, the children’s pastor at First Church of God in East Prairie, Missouri, was in the middle of a conversation with a group of moms about issues their daughters were facing. It seemed that a common problem among the church girls was the presentation of an image at church on Sundays that didn’t match the one they lived out during the week. Dawn Walters recounts how she and this group of moms envisioned an evening experience designed especially for girls where the gospel would be presented clearly, where such topics would be addressed from a biblical perspective, and where the girls would make wonderful memories. Considering prevalent bullying, stressful relationship dynamics, social media craziness, and more, it was clear something needed to be done, particularly before those trying teenage years, to instill in the hearts of girls the love, acceptance, and security found in Jesus alone.
“We knew we needed to target younger kids, because it’s so much easier to learn a good habit than to unlearn bad ones,” Pastor Dawn explains. “So, we designed this event for girls in kindergarten through sixth grade.”
For a variety of reasons, Dawn and these concerned moms knew that many of the girls in the East Prairie community would never get the opportunity to attend a youth convention at the state level or beyond, but perhaps they could attend a one-night conference in their local area. How could they bring a scaled-down, but not watered-down, version of a life-changing event to their town that could reach as many girls as possible?
Through high-energy times of worship, a pizza party, moments to make friends, breakout workshops with girls of similar ages, and much more, the one-night Jesus Girls conference came together within the four walls of First Church of God. The conference website describes part of the appeal of the event, which then opens doorways to the hearts of girls to hear the gospel. “If there’s one thing our girls love, it’s fun! Throughout the evening, the girls sing songs and learn new dance moves as they get into the spirit of the conference. It’s a fun vibe and a chance for girls to let loose in a friendly, encouraging environment.” These fun moments lead into more serious, soul-searching moments with adult leaders—and helpers from the church’s youth groups.
“We like to involve girls from our youth group,” Pastor Dawn explains. “They’re active in leading breakout sessions, small groups, and, really, every aspect of the event. We know that the younger girls look up to these teens, and this is a good way to reinforce and model what we call ‘Jesus Girl traits’—kindness, love, and modesty. This year, one of our eighth graders—who started out as one of the students we were targeting in the beginning—made our preview videos and was integral in marketing the event.”
It’s all working, because the word is getting out to the entire region. Not only do churches from a variety of denominations across town now send their girls to the annual conference, but churches from nearby cities and towns like Sikeston, St. James, and Cape Girardeau, are also sending their girls.
Additionally, First Church of God celebrates the great spectrum of ages represented among the convention production team. Volunteers range from youth-age to over seventy. “Hopefully relationships and connections are made, so if these girls ever need help or advice, they can call on someone they know from this event,” Dawn reflects.
The 2019 theme was “I Belong,” based on 1 John 3:1. For a community of 3,500 residents, the 148 girls participating and over 100 youth and adults in the building earlier this year was very encouraging. But what’s most encouraging is the personal impact the event is making.
“A little girl told me that her dad was mean to her and said things that made her cry,” Pastor Dawn recounts. “We talked about a heavenly Father who would never let her down. To me, this is what makes Jesus Girls an event we will continue as long as we’re able. Giving young girls a safe space to share and learn about Jesus Christ is what it’s all about. Hopefully, we are planting seeds that will bear fruit.”
The church also hosts a conference for boys, Rise, each August, for which the local high school football team offers volunteer assistance and leadership.
Paul Matte, senior pastor of First Church, gives Pastor Dawn credit for her outstanding leadership in getting such a fine ministry off the ground. He also notes the possibility that Jesus Girls could be an event that other churches across the country could emulate. Consider the possibilities by visiting their website at www.jesusgirls.org.
In Missouri, across North America, and around the world, the Church of God is taking back what hell has stolen. Join the movement. Give life. Donate today at give.jesusisthesubject.org.