Hatton is an unincorporated community in central Missouri that hasn’t had a post office since the 1950s. The closest town, Auxvasse, is several miles away and has fewer than 1,000 people. But Hatton does have a United Methodist Church: Pleasant Grove. And that church has a Wednesday night program for children and youth. That program averages about 125 in attendance each week.
This isn’t a new phenomenon. Ask one of the current moms who is at the program how long it’s been going on, and she’s likely to say she doesn’t
know when it started, but she attended there when she was a kid.
“This has always been a big thing,” one of the parents said.
The children are ushered to the gymnasium upon arrival, where they do some kind of physically active game, like Sharks and Minnows, until things get started. It’s a loud, raucous start, with interactive songs. Next, they use GrowTV for a curriculum.
On a November evening, Rev. Paul Klepees taught what the four gospels are and then explained how the book of Acts is the start of the Christian church. He takes apart the Bible verses; what does it mean to be blessed? What does it mean to meditate? He asked the children how they could focus on the Bible and received replies like read it, think about it, come to church and pray. They then went over their memory verse, Ephesians 5:15.
The program uses 35-40 volunteers, but Klepees says it is very scalable if there are fewer children present. The second Wednesday of each
month is a week off to give the volunteers a break. There is no marketing for the program. Instead, it lives and grows by word of mouth.
The middle school and high school youth eat while the children have their program. After the program, the groups switch, with the middle school coming to the sanctuary and the children eating. The program is free, as is the meal.
About 30 percent of the children are connected to the church through Sunday morning worship. But most of the rest don’t go to church anywhere.
“This is their church,” Klepees said.
Most high school youth come from the middle school group, and the middle school group comes from the grade school group.
“The best way to build a high school youth group is to start with a good children’s program,” Klepees said. “Their parents bring them when they are children, and they get in the practice of thinking Wednesday nights are for the church.”