A Selinsgrove Story: Blessing Our Community through Fellowship of Christian Athletes

Associate pastor Jacob Story and youth director Adam Mowery of Selinsgrove Church of the Nazarene in Pennsylvania joined UCNYI for a conversation about how they used a partnership with Fellowship of Christian Athletes to bless their community–the students, teachers, administrative staff, parents, and even other members of their congregation. Jacob and Adam share valuable insight as to how to build an engaging ministry just by being available and listening to the Holy Spirit every step of the way. Read more about what God is doing through organic connection points right where needs arise in the Selinsgrove community. 

UCNYI: Tell me about this connection that you have with Fellowship of Christian Athletes–how did that partnership get started?

When I (Adam) first started in youth ministry, I felt I needed to meet the kids where they were at, and doing so really started with going to sporting events. If my youth were in a sporting event, I was there. And not just theirs, but any of their friends I met, I was going to their sporting events. And pretty soon, a friend on the district suggested I should volunteer in our local school district. So I’ve volunteered as a supervisor for school lunches for three years at both the middle and high schools. They’re in huge need of people to help out, so I stepped into that role and have been using it to connect with my youth group teens, connect with their friends, and connect with kids my youth have no association with.

By going into the schools, I started thinking, “How could we be more present there, besides me just being there during the school day? How could we have a bigger impact?” That’s when Jacob and I met with the leader of Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) in our area, Bill Morrow.

At first, we were just kind of spitballing ideas with him, trying to kick the tire and figure out what we could do. We felt the Lord leading towards FCA because there’s a big sports culture here, so we felt the Lord was guiding us to start a program at our school. We were hoping to just get boots on the ground at that point because the school didn’t really have any ministry presence other than some small young disciples clubs, and those weren’t really getting much traction. A man at our church, Seth Martin, is a wrestling coach and a teacher at the school. He started a high school discipleship group in the spring of 2023 with about 25 students, and it really added fuel to the fire of what we were already doing. We spoke with Seth about utilizing some of the strong athletic Christians in our youth group to work in the FCA and help get that started. Then, at the end of the school year, he created a big get-together with a bonfire and a cornhole tournament at our church. Something like 60 or 80 kids showed up. It was a crazy number, and we had just thrown it together in, like, a month.

Because of that event, we had a lot of momentum going into this school year. We were able to have FCA meetings every Thursday night in the high school cafeteria with around 60 kids. And that’s even grown! We’re not a small community, but we’re still more rural, so there’s a lot of natural ties with the school system. But God has uniquely opened the doors with our church to be able to minister in the education sector. I would assume about half of the FCA members don’t have a church home, but we’re able to connect with all of those kids weekly through the FCA program. 

We’re not a small community, but we’re still more rural, so there’s a lot of natural ties with the school system. But God has uniquely opened the doors with our church to be able to minister in the education sector.

We have had conversations with the principal of the high school who came to us, crying, saying he had never seen so much love or God’s Spirit moving in such a way within his school. The atmosphere is totally different; a revival has been taking over our youth group and taking over the FCA group. It’s been cool to watch how the ministry has been blowing up from us simply going into the school. The Lord really led us and said, “Just be present. Be with the students and be aware of what they need, and I’ll do the rest of the work.” It’s amazing to see the things that God’s doing.

During the times of the year when student athletes take a month or two-month break, one of our youth leaders started a new believers Bible study that met here at the church to maintain those connections. All he did was put a piece of paper on a table and said, “If you want to know more about the gospel, put your name on this piece of paper.” He was a blown away–15 or 20 kids wrote their names down and came to the study of their own volition. Almost none of them were going to our church, but they came to this Wednesday night Bible study and were hearing the gospel very clearly. Then, once that session ended, we incorporated them into our youth group. A lot of them have grown in their faith as they’ve learned about the Lord, and some of them have already accepted Christ and been baptized. 

If there’s anything that I’ve seen the Lord doing these past couple of years with FCA and the high school in particular, it’s that as long as we make ourselves available to our community, God will take the work to an extreme level. Especially coming out of COVID, kids, parents, and teachers have all felt pretty isolated; they were in need of somebody to talk to who showed that they they were cared for. So we started small and talked to the teachers we knew. We had conversations with the kids where we asked questions and showed them they are loved. And man, they have responded so well to that because kids can see pretty quickly whether you’re being genuine. They can sniff that out from a mile away. But these kids are realizing that they are cared for, that they are loved, and the teachers are realizing that there’s something more out there.

If there’s anything that I’ve seen the Lord doing these past couple of years with FCA and the high school in particular, it’s that as long as we make ourselves available to our community, God will take the work to an extreme level.

Two years ago, the district superintendent of our school system asked one of the team members on our staff if we would be willing to lead prayer every single week in every one of our district school buildings. He wanted us to offer a non-mandatory time of prayer outside of contracted work hours, but if teachers needed a time to pray and be prayed for, he asked that we make ourselves available. We have a separate team that leads that prayer effort, and it’s been meaningful to know that the administrative level of the school system knows it can call on this church because they see how we’re serving the community. 

UCNYI: How have you seen what’s happening in your community impact your church family?

For one, our church members of all ages admire and are challenged by the students’ zeal for worship. After NYC, they let go of a lot of their shyness, and you could see a significant change in their freedom of worship. We’ve had numerous older people come and tell us they are impacted by that vitality. We’ve seen parents taking their faith more seriously because they are seeing their teens take their faith more seriously. They are realizing they want and need to be a part of that–that they can’t just coast along.

Our church also gets excited talking about FCA–we continue to celebrate and rally around this parachurch ministry because it reaches kids who don’t have a church home. And the excitement is contagious. In fact, there was particular youth retreat last year that lit the fire in these teenagers. A bunch of them started thinking of ideas and looking for opportunities to minister and share the gospel themselves. That all happened at the beginning of the FCA relationship, so we saw an awesome combination of God speaking, leading, and putting the youth in the right positions to have those spiritual conversations. 

UCNYI: What would you say to encourage other churches who seek to bless their community?

This cycle of resurgence has been an answer to a prayer of mine (Jacob) for the Church of the Nazarene. With the holiness message and with our background and roots, we have such a unique opportunity to reach people right where they are, especially in the context of meeting a need. Stop looking for ministry opportunities that make sense and start looking for the ones that the community needs. Our lead pastor at Selinsgrove has done an awesome job of talking about that, and we have four other ministries in our church intentionally meeting a need in the community. It wasn’t something that we said, “Hey, this would be a fun activity for the church!” It was something the community was asking for. And it has been fruitful because of that.

This cycle of resurgence has been an answer to a prayer of mine (Jacob) for the Church of the Nazarene. With the holiness message and with our background and roots, we have such a unique opportunity to reach people right where they are, especially in the context of meeting a need.

This emphasis on Blessing Our Community is helping our churches to stop looking only at what they think is a good idea and start looking at what the community is asking for.

I think ultimately what it comes down to is listening to the Holy Spirit. If we’re in tune with what the Holy Spirit is guiding us to do, we’re going to make the impact that he’s wanting. I saw a lot of needs just kind of revealed to me or to other leaders only because we were waiting on God’s timing. All the same, we weren’t afraid to push the boundaries a little bit because we knew what we were being called to.

And don’t try to do it on your own strength! Rely only on the Lord to guide you. When you press into that, walls come crumbling down.