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This is the driving mission behind Empowered Youth Ministries at Oak Park Pentecostals in Richmond, Indiana. Guided by the vision to create a nurturing space for teens to forge deep connections, foster love, and explore their spiritual identity, the ministry underscores the belief that the teenage years are not merely a wait for adulthood, but a crucial phase for discovering one’s purpose in Jesus Christ.
“We have over 150 teens on our roster and bring in about 40 to 50 students each week,” says McKenzie Westland, Worship Ministries Director. “We have a little bus that we take out on multiple trips to bring our kids to the church for worship service, recreational time, and a hot meal.”
One of the cornerstones of the ministry is the annual youth camps held in Fortville, Indiana. The junior high and senior high camps provide an immersive experience where faith and fun collide. Students attend worship services, enjoy recreational hours, and compete against one another in dorm wars – a spirited competition that sparks camaraderie.
“Many of our kids come from broken homes,” says McKenzie. “So, seeing them at these camps praying with other students, opening up to each other, and sharing one another’s burdens really shows the power of God’s touch on them and their lives.”
Dedication to growth extends beyond local camps. Oak Park’s Empowered Youth Ministries embraces opportunities for larger-scale impact, such as the National Youth Conference in St. Louis, a gathering that brings together around 50,000 young people from across the United States. The journey involves much more than the destination; it’s about empowerment, connection, and giving back.
“Our youth group signed up to participate in a global service opportunity during the National Youth Gathering,” says McKenzie. “We created emergency disaster kits for people in need. It teaches our kids the importance of giving back and being a part of something bigger than themselves and giving back.”
However, for many of these teens, such experiences were once distant dreams due to financial constraints. Oak Park’s neighborhood faces economic challenges, with numerous families struggling to make ends meet. Enter the Center for Congregations Resource Grant, a source of transformation that has enabled Oak Park to send their students to these camps and conferences without being weighed down by financial worries.
“A lot of our kids don’t think they’re ever going to have an opportunity like this because of the conditions that they’re living in,” says McKenzie. “To not only be able to take our students to camp, but also see them come back with this newfound passion for the Kingdom of God and the desire to make lifelong changes for the better is absolutely incredible.”
These experiences have not only deepened the faith of Oak Park’s youth, but of the congregation as a whole. McKenzie notes a remarkable shift within the congregation spiritually upon the students’ return from camp. Their deeper desire and passion for the things of God has pushed the congregation as a whole to reach for more. Reflecting on the journey, McKenzie highlights the Center for Congregations’ crucial role in making these endeavors possible.
“The Resource Grant was such an easy process and the staff was so helpful,” says McKenzie. “The Center for Congregations really backs ups what your congregation is wanting to do, and they want to see it accomplished just as much as you do.”
As a grant-writing novice, McKenzie felt empowered by the support and guidance provided by the Center for Congregations team of resource consultants. Particularly influential in this process was Resource Consultant Shellie Riggs Jordan, who walked alongside McKenzie during the grant writing process.
“I told Shellie that this was my first grant, and she said, ‘Not a problem, we’ll tackle it together,’” says McKenzie. “She helped walk me through the process, provided feedback on my grant proposal drafts, and answered all of our questions. A few weeks after submitting the application, Shellie called to personally congratulate us on receiving our grant.”
The story of Oak Park Pentecostals and their Empowered Youth Ministries is a testament to the possibilities that open up when congregations dare to dream beyond limitations and partner with organizations like the Center for Congregations. For other congregations seeking resources and assistance, McKenzie’s advice is simple: “Push past that initial fear of the unknown and go for it. Find an organization as awesome as the Center for Congregations and partner up with them. 10/10 recommend!”