Volunteers at First United Methodist Church of Tavares are jammin’ every week, making inroads for Christ with local elementary school students. They share their love of Jesus in lessons about character and have fun with the youngsters at the same time.
The church just completed its third year of Jesus and Me, the JAM program, with about 70 students from Tavares Elementary School. Parents get in on the fun and fellowship, as well, through what the church calls FX Family nights.
“We have weekly Bible lessons with the kids and an arts and crafts lesson that correlates,” said Pam Post, director of Children and Family Ministries. “Our music and drama are also theme-based, depending on what they are studying.
“The primary emphasis is to plant the seeds for these children, about 50 percent of which come from unchurched families. I started FX Family Night after JAM to get the students’ parents involved. We have dinner together and a project. Each month it’s different.”
They painted pumpkins in October, made gingerbread houses nearer to Christmas, had a Christian comedian do some standup and invited an illusionist.
This is not the first time the church has had a JAM program.
Several years ago, volunteer Carol Tamsett recalled it was so successful that it became overwhelming for the volunteers and was shut down. But when Post came to work for the church, it seemed like the perfect time to try it again.
“I would say the majority of the children are not members of our church,” Tamsett said. On family nights, “we have dinner, the kids have done their homework and they have an activity they can do together.”
Pastor Mike Briggs said the program is beginning to attract new families to worship.
“They hang out with us in a real low-key, fun activity and it’s drawn a wide section of people from the church. At a couple of the events, we’ve had folks who are much older and don’t have young children, to young adults and even singles from our youth group coming,” he said.
The potential for growth is there because of the spirit of cooperation that is being established between Post and the school principal. That has led to other opportunities.
“We also have other adults going right in to the schools to help teachers and with projects that the school needs. She has developed a very good working, healthy relationship. If there was a key to the whole thing, it’s that,” Briggs said.
Post said it is about advancing the church’s mission. The church also has a children’s enrichment program, offering care for babies through VPK, which includes a science a math center, an art center and a writing center.
“The purpose is to reach out at least to our local elementary school to plant the seeds, especially for families and children who are unchurched,” she said. “It’s a place to come and learn about Christ and also to get help with homework.”
And it’s also a help to the families because the school district now provides transportation to the church each Wednesday when the kids have early release.
“We don’t use a particular curriculum,” Post said. “Most of our volunteers are retired teachers and our Bible leader takes curriculum ideas from online and creates her own.”
They must be doing something right, she said, because there is a waiting list to get into the program.
“It has been absolutely wonderful, and it takes numerous volunteers,” she said. “We provide snacks and drinks during the program, as well as all the material.”
For now, the program is free, but the church is studying if it can stay that way. There is a cost involved in the materials, lessons, skits and the art work, Post said.
Briggs said the JAM program helps members put their belief in Jesus Christ as their savior into action through the outreach to the community and school.
“We don’t make it difficult for the principal to let her kids come here,” he said. “We have balanced the fact that we believe in Jesus and that’s why we do these things.
“But we are here because Jesus loves this community and what we can to help the school. We’ve done a really good job kind of being honest about our faith, but not making it such that the school can’t relate with us.”
—Yvette Hammett is a freelance writer based in Valrico.