Midweek Bible Study or Small Groups or whatever you call it. A weekly gathering of students to learn and grow together. It seems like a no brainier on why to do it. Sometimes we might lose sight of the reasons though. So lets jump in this week to…..
“Wednesday Nights: Why do them?”
Carol Harston has served as Minister to Youth at Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, since 2007. Born and raised at Highland, Carol has found the joy of caring for youth in the same community that shaped her as a young person. Outside of youth ministry, Carol has her hands full as a mom to James (4 years old) and Collier (21 months old) and wife to Drew (orthopedic surgery resident and faithful youth volunteer).
It all begins around a table in the corner of our Fellowship Hall. Youth filter in and begin crowding around the plastic colorful tablecloth. Backpacks, field hockey sticks and school burdens are stacked along the wall. Complaints about upcoming assignments and difficult teachers float through the conversation intermingled with random bursts of laughter over a funny story shared. They giggle and sigh as they begin to breathe a bit more and relax. Having survived three days of school, they settle in for a bit. Few of our youth go to school together so Wednesdays and Sundays are the only times to see each other. Church is their place to which they come home.
Not all of our youth participate on Wednesday nights. Some live far away, some parents work late, some play sports, and some just have never made it part of their routine. But those who do come are regular participants each week. Their consistency speaks of the power of Wednesday nights. Those who attend are the ones who feel most integrated into the youth group and express the most ownership over the ministry. We share dinner together with the rest of the congregation and then head up to the Youth Room for an hour and fifteen minutes of games, small group discussion, and large group prayer concerns.
Wednesday nights are the time when our youth enter into community as their raw, honest selves. They bring the school self that endured an early wake-up call, navigated the crowded hallways, survived the pop quiz, managed the bus ride home, and assessed the night’s homework. Any walls they had built up are either crumbling by Wednesday night or just simply tired.
They walk in and plop down next to their friend. Sometimes the stress of the school day fades and laughter comes. Games are more fun and conversation more meaningful. Sometimes the stress of school numbs them and they are only physically present. Discussions are more quiet and they seem to be checked out. Sometimes the stress bursts and arguments ensue. Eye-rolling and teasing abound and conversation is difficult.
Regardless, we are committed to be a home to them on the good days and the bad ones. Our Wednesday night leaders commit to love the teenagers that show up. They show love to our youth by being there for the Wednesday nights that are wonderful and the ones that contain more discipline than discovery. They are faithful and constant even when the youth are not able to be.
When we gather, we spend our evening exploring topics of faith together. We cover everything from friendship, dating, calling, future goals, to injustice, human rights, and missions. With each subject, we strip away the messages that have flooded them over the three days at school – that a human’s value is found in their achievement, the world revolves around one’s own self, and that life is measured in happiness. We instead preach a gospel of belonging, calling, and sacrifice. We teach the lessons that take weeks and even years to sink in and take root. On Wednesday nights, we are planting sequoias.
In closing each Wednesday, we gather together as a large group and we share prayer concerns. Slowly, hands go up and they share about their cousin, friend, teacher, or neighbor. We share prayer concerns from the wider congregation and from the wider world. We list them all and then we pray. We hold them before God long enough that they can become lodged into our hearts and minds as we leave. We pray so that our care for one another can knit us together.
Wednesday nights are messy, chaotic, and beautiful. They are the building blocks that set the foundation for the Body of Christ to be made real through our shared life together. As that Body of Christ returns to school the next day, we trust that the lessons we share are laying the groundwork for the Kingdom of God that is being born in our world even today.
Josh Beeler is the Associate Pastor for Youth and College at Central Baptist Church of Fountain City in Knoxville, TN. He is a graduate of Old Dominion University and of the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. Josh is married to his wonderful wife, Sherry, who he enjoys sharing conversation, adventures, and life with. He is ridiculously playful and works daily to maintain his mischievousness. Josh enjoys playing, singing, reading, questioning and laughing with friends.
Why do Wednesday nights? Because you were probably hired with that task in mind, so suck it up and handle it like a pro. In all seriousness though, it seems silly to question why we organize these mid week gatherings that have been a staple of youth ministry since, well honestly, I don’t know how long they have been around, but it feels like forever.
That being said, youth groups have always been the place to buck traditions. And, full disclosure: at my first place of ministry, we didn’t do Wednesday night gatherings for pretty much the entirety of my time there. It didn’t work well for the teens in our group, or for the church as a whole, so for pretty much the length of my time of service at that church, we met on Friday nights (Tuesday nights one year). Obviously, now that I live in East Tennessee, to organize anything other than a viewing party of high school football on a Friday night is ministerial suicide, but it worked for that group. It allowed our students to invite their friends who went to other churches to our group when they wouldn’t have really been able to otherwise, and it allowed us to do some unique gatherings and events that we might not have been able to do on a Wednesday.
Where was I going with this? Oh that’s right, defending Wednesday night ministry. What I will unequivocally defend in youth ministry is a mid week gathering. As a busy adult who has limited time with your student, you cannot stay connected to the details of their lives if you only get the chance to see them once a week on Sunday mornings. Most students are barely awake on Sunday mornings, and you don’t get to talk with them about their problems when they are at the height of dealing with them. One of the most basic advantages to a mid week gathering is that you can catch up on what they are dealing with and walking through so that you can stand beside them in the process.
Along these same lines is the opportunity that a mid week gathering offers in the realm of relational ministry. A gathering after a school day lends itself very well to a time spent with your students in conversation and fun together. Sunday works well for studies, and weekly gatherings do too, but you have to remember that they just left a full day’s worth of schoolwork. A youth gathering during the week is great for getting to know your students, and for them to get to know you and your volunteers.
One of the other distinct advantages of a mid week gathering is that it provides a much less intimidating environment for students outside of your church, or outside of any church for that matter, to join the group and see what this whole thing is all about. Sundays often bring a dress code, an obligation to attend with your family, or a rigid schedule for a newcomer to plug into. Mid week gatherings allow you a place to strip away all of that formality and simply provide a place for students to hangout with friends and meet volunteers who genuinely care about their personal development.
All that to say, a mid week gathering—traditionally the “meat and potatoes” or “gold standard” of youth ministry—shouldn’t be abandoned anytime soon. It provides a vital place in the arena of student development.
But with all of this being said, I will offer one final defense for maintaining Wednesday for your mid week gatherings: larger Church interaction. While meeting on other days allowed our students to invite their other church friends to our gatherings, it did not allow students to ever see anyone else at church with them. While it is important to provide a casual space for students to plug in and relate to one another, it is just as vital to have them see others “doing” church. Students need to see what it looks like to be an adult in the church so that they know what they are moving towards.
So there you have it! Why do we do Wednesday (mid week) night gatherings? Because they allow us to reach and relate to students in unique ways, and let them see the Church at work around them.