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Incorporating Teens into the Body

Pastor sees the value in ministering to youth and adults simultaneously.

After serving almost a quarter century in youth ministry — including 19 at the same church — Ben Rivera became lead pastor of New Beginnings Church in Jamison, Pennsylvania — a body with no active youth ministry.

Since arriving in 2017, Rivera, his wife, Kristi, and son Benjamin have worked to inaugurate a youth ministry at the church. Today, students are giving through Speed the Light (STL), attending PennDel Ministry Network youth conventions, and ministering in the power of the Holy Spirit.

In 2015, Rivera had been comfortably ensconced at Praise Assembly in Newark, Delaware. The healthy church of 340 had a thriving youth ministry.

But Rivera says God began impressing upon him and his wife about the need to go to a floundering church, or one on the verge of closing.

“Church revitalization wasn’t in our vocabulary,” says Rivera. 48. He started out slowly, built relationships with teens, and instituted a monthly hangout, such as a pizza party or game night.

“I wanted to help the teens understand that although I’m the lead pastor, I’m also their pastor,” says Rivera. “The vision is to create a multigenerational worship experience.”

Rivera wanted the youth to realize they are part of something bigger than themselves. He introduced STL, the Assemblies of God youth missions effort, to the congregation. He engaged both adults and youth, who raised more than $2,000 for STL that first year. Rivera believes adults benefit from relationships with the young people as much as students need the generations before them. He also began promoting PennDel Ministry Network events specifically geared to young people.

“With thousands of teens attending youth convention and hundreds participating in youth camp, students learn they are not alone in their commitment to Christ,” he says.

These efforts have had a profound impact on youth and their families.

“After they attended a few events, I saw a real change in the kids,” says Jason O. Gardiner, 36, whose daughter Janeisia, 15, and son Isaiah, 12, attend youth group. “The things they listened to and watched on TV changed, and they began looking forward to going to church and youth group.”

Last summer, Ben and Kristi’s 22-yar-old son, Benjamin, stepped into the role of youth pastor at New Beginnings.

At a recent youth ice-skating activity he organized, nearly 60 kids from the community showed up; most had never been to youth group. One of the regular attendees had invited friends from her sixth-grade class.

New Beginnings, which has an average of 75 regular churchgoers, now has 20 students going to youth group on a weekly basis. Only seven are from families attending New Beginnings.

As the youth group grew, Ben Rivera began involving students in the various ministries of the church, including praying for people at the altar to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

“This generation of young people want to be involved,” says Rivera. “Our students are leading the way in a lot of areas.”

Mary J Yerkes

Mary J. Yerkes is a freelance writer based in metro Washington, D.C.