Insyder: Michael E. Guerra
Youth Pastor Name: Michael E. Guerra
Youth Group Name: Youth Ablāz (pronounced “ablaze”) Student Ministries
Who: First United Pentecostal Church, Pastor Lester J. Green
Where: Jacksonville, Florida
InsideOut: How many students are in your group?
Michael Guerra: About 50.
IO: What is their average age?
MG: Between 12 and 23.
IO: What is the coolest event that you have put together for your group?
MG: We do two youth revivals a year: a “Youth Week” in the spring and a “Back to School Revival” in the fall. What makes these events so unique is the students plan everything. Each time we do a revival we put together a committee of young people to plan the theme, videos, music, outreach, fellowship…basically the whole thing.
IO: What does your group do for outreach?
MG: I’m a big believer in one-on-one interactions. Even though we do some group things (for example, our youth choir has sung at a local mall), I emphasize personal evangelism. We are most likely to win our friends, so that’s where we put the emphasis. We also encourage them to support the church’s outreach program.
IO: What is your group’s claim to fame?
MG: These young people have a passion for the kingdom of God! When we have church, they are the first ones to stand and worship, the first ones to the altar, the first ones in the altars praying with people, and the last ones to leave…whether we’ve had a revival recently or not! They reach out to each other and encourage each other. It’s awesome to log on to Facebook after a Sunday night service and see all of their status updates. Normally they’re STILL raving about the move of God we had.
IO: What do you do to disciple those that join your youth group?
MG: I try to connect new students with another student in our group as soon as possible. When a new person comes in, my wife and I will set up a Bible Study with the student. We invite one of our established students to join us (normally this student also helps to teach the Bible Study). That young person’s job from the Bible Study on is to connect with the new student and integrate him/her into the youth group. If a student feels like he/she belongs, that student will most likely come back.
IO: Is there a “hangout” for your group outside of church?
MG: Chili’s in the Oak Leaf Town Center. They are there almost every Sunday night after church. Many of the younger ones come over to my house to hang out frequently as well.
IO: Do you do crowd breakers?
MG: We normally incorporate them into our youth services. We don’t use them as much as we used to.
IO: When does your group regularly meet?
MG: Every Friday night, unless there is a sectional event.
IO: Do you have a youth choir?
MG: Absolutely. Even the musicians for the choir are part of the youth group. Our choir director, Jennifer Lewis, is in College/Career.
IO: What type of music does your group like?
MG: It’s pretty varied. They’re mostly into praise/worship and contemporary.
IO: If you could narrow it down to one song what would be your group’s favorite anthem?
MG: Right now probably “Freedom.” It’s just about everyone’s right now!
IO: Does your youth group have a worship band?
MG: We don’t have a worship band currently, but we do have an ensemble.
IO: If so, what style of music do they play?
MG: Our ensemble does mostly slower praise/worship type music…”How He Loves Us” and “Hear Us From Heaven” for example.
IO: Is the ministry emphasis of your youth group more evangelistic or discipleship?
MG: It’s a mixture of both. I’ve been concentrating a lot on discipleship lately, and I’m looking to do more with that going into next year. But evangelism is still important, and is still definitely a point of emphasis for us.
IO: Do you have a prayer meeting for youth?
MG: Every Tuesday night we have a focused prayer led by a member of the youth staff, Dwayne Lewis. We have 25 students on average show up, and they get DEEP in prayer. It’s not uncommon to walk into one of our prayer meetings and see young people deep in intercession, or to see our girls huddled up together laying hands on each other.
IO: How many people are on your youth leadership team?
MG: We have an AWESOME student ministry team! My wife (Samantha Guerra) and Amanda Dodd work with Jr. High, Kevin and Deanna Rathbun work with the Teens ages 14 and 15 (and coach our quiz team), Randall and Trish Livesay work with Sr. High, and Miguel and Sharon Rodriguez work with College/Career. We also have three youth workers: Dwayne Lewis, George Hildebrand, and Clint Stinson. George and Clint are 16 and 18, respectively. George has preached youth service for us, and Clint is a full time Sunday School teacher! Although they are not technically part of the youth team, Kristina Steven (College/Career) and Karissa Rathbun (Senior High) coordinate the music for youth services and youth revivals, so they play a vital role as well.
IO: What is your vision for your student ministry?
MG: 1. To connect young people to Christ
2. To connect them to each other
3. To engage them in ministry NOW – If they are going to be the church of tomorrow, they must first be the church of today. We use them in praise singing, music, teaching Sunday School, and even preaching. If they come to me with an interest in a particular ministry, I talk to the Pastor about it (he’s much wiser than me), and then we get them doing it!
IO: What is the question that we’ve missed and what would be the answer?
MG: How engaged is your Pastor with the youth group? I’m excited to say Pastor Green is VERY engaged with our youth. He is extremely supportive of them. He’s always checking with me to see how things are going and making sure I’m using them. He’s even setting aside a service every other month on a Sunday night for our youth to take over. Normally during our youth revivals he and his wife will do split sessions with our youth to talk to them and give them a chance to ask questions on doctrine, holiness, the ministry…anything they want to ask.