Renewal has come to First Reformed Church in Sully, Iowa, in the form of a new children’s ministry called STARS.

(First Reformed Church focuses locally on mission by caring for neighborhood children through its STARS program. Photo by Deb Van Wyk.)

By Wayne Sneller

Renewal has come to First Reformed Church in Sully, Iowa, in the form of a new children’s ministry called STARS.

The church began STARS, which stands for Spiritually Teach and Reach Students, in the fall of 2012 to help children understand the importance of worship and to encourage the creative arts as part the church’s outreach ministries.

Each week we spend 30 minutes on a Bible lesson, 10 minutes on memorizing Bible verses, and 40 minutes on skill badge work. For the Bible lessons, we cover the highlights of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation using a children’s study Bible. Skill badge work includes making games, painting, and learning about God’s handiwork from people in the community as they explain their careers.

STARS has included visits from a beekeeper and a veterinarian to help illuminate the creation story, as well as chances for children to get hands-on opportunities to run their hands through dirt.

On Wednesday afternoons, helpers meet the children at school and walk them to the church. First Reformed is located in a prime spot for ministry and outreach, since it’s one block from the public school. The location offers the great advantage of being able to coordinate activities from the school.

This year attendance has grown from 35 children to an average of 54 children, who range in age from kindergarten to fifth grade. Almost 60 percent of the children do not attend First Reformed, and many of those have no church affiliation.

The STARS ministry has revitalized a struggling Wednesday evening program and enlarged our church’s vision of discipleship, which we previously had difficulty seeing lived out. Our church, located in an established rural community, has shifted from ministering to the majority—people who are affiliated with a church—to approaching mission as “moving in” next door. STARS has enabled us to reach a community of parents that we would never have been able to touch.

STARS is also a team effort. Along with Eloise Vos, the STARS coordinator for the past three years, 42 volunteers have helped with STARS this year. The volunteers rotate from week to week, with a minimum of 12 volunteers each night. Volunteers include high school students through retired men and women of the congregation. In addition, there are helpers in the afternoon school program and folks who prepare and serve the family dinners that the church offers once a month. The congregation has supported the program by providing monetary support equal to that of an RCA mission share. This is about mission being local and also about acknowledging that if we miss this generation, we have missed an opportunity to share Christ with a group of people right under our nose!

First Reformed has always been generous to missionaries and missions. We now are in a place in the community to impact our world for Christ. As Jesus says, “Let the children come to me” (Mark 10:14, NIV).

Wayne Sneller is senior pastor at First Reformed Church in Sully, Iowa.