Mustard Seed Ministry

When Jesus spoke about growing the kingdom of heaven, His image couldn’t have been more surprising. It’s like a mustard seed, He said. Not much bigger than the period at the end of this sentence. But with time and attention, He told His followers, the seed will become shade and shelter. A refuge. Home.

Young Life’s Small Town / Rural initiative is in the business of mustard-seed ministry, planting leaders in the hearts of small communities that dot the mission’s landscape. But this is no slow-growing tree. Through Young Life’s Jumpstart program, small-town ministries are springing up and flourishing where nothing was before. And in Buffalo, Mo., where there’s fertile soil, the roots are already growing deep.

“Let's do this"

The traditional model of starting a new Young Life ministry involves hours of meetings, prayers, phone calls and fundraising stretched over a period of two to four years. A decade ago, Don Stuber, field director of Young Life’s Small Town / Rural initiative, wondered if there was another way.
“Did you ever drive by a school that does not have Young Life and wonder how can we get it here?” The answer, according to Stuber, is an all-out intensive effort to rally support for Young Life in a community. Stuber and his team have a name for this ministry blitz: The Jumpstart. “It’s 300 phone calls and 30 meetings in one week. We narrow the focus and condense it down. You can sense the flow of Holy Spirit momentum. And the key is ownership. You need people stacking their hands together saying, ‘Let’s do this.’”

With this model, months of contact work needed to establish the ministry are compressed into a week. This mission blitz opens wide the doors to conversations with parents, educators, community leaders and
business owners.

As a result — if done well and God willing — the goal of establishing a committee and leadership team happens in a shorter amount of time.

Pete Fritsch, Young Life area developer in Missouri, said the Jumpstart model is “a significant breakthrough in offering Young Life to a community.” And now he’s trimmed the timeline even more ...

In 2010, in his quest to reach more small towns in Missouri for the mission, Fritsch implemented the “mini-Jumpstart” model, concentrating the weeklong work into one intense day.

Last spring, with a half dozen mini-Jumpstarts successfully implemented, Fritsch and his area development team spent a day in Buffalo, Mo. The result, he said, was “a beautiful convergence of all the ingredients we’ve learned over the years, and now we’re offering these ideas and methods to communities of all sizes.”

Small town, big mission field

In March 2012, Fritsch and his team of Young Life staff, committee and leaders from nearby communities made a big impact in a town of slightly more than 3,000 souls. With Young Life’s relational ministry as his compass, Fritsch focused on equipping the most obvious, indigenous leaders he could find there: teachers.

The team focused on Buffalo Prairie Middle School that day and began at 7 a.m. with prayer. Fritsch said, “We prayed God would draw people in and make it what He wanted it to be.”

Then through a series of one-hour meetings, their team met with 50 different parents, business owners, social service providers and educators, asking them all the same question: What do your kids need? He listened. Then he shared the vision of Young Life.

The team capped off the day with a mini-club, where 107 middle school students experienced the “beautiful pandemonium” of WyldLife for the first time. Folks from Buffalo led the club with the help of Fritsch’s team. In all, 45 adults participated and said, “It was unlike anything anyone had ever seen. It felt like the entire town had came out to experience Young Life.”

Fritsch explains that packing all their efforts into one day is simply a more efficient way to offer Young Life to a new community. And while the method may look different, the goal is the same: community ownership and participation in the ministry of Young Life.

“The heart of Young Life is the special relationship that leaders develop with disinterested teenagers,” said Fritsch. “That’s at the core of everything we do.

“In every community, there are Jesus-loving, kid-loving people who are already connected to kids. Many teachers are Young Life-minded people even though they don’t know Young Life yet. We invite the body of Christ in the community to come alongside these heroes and do
ministry together.”

After club, Fritsch and his team met with the adults who witnessed the events of the day. When asked if they wanted to pursue bringing Young Life to their town, Fritsch said it was a unanimous “yes.”

Room to grow

Bill Monday, local bank president, said being a part of bringing Young Life to Buffalo was an easy decision.

“As we went around the room getting input from individuals I could clearly sense a common thread among everyone and, most importantly, I could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in the room,” he said. “The initial response and acceptance from the kids was exciting, as it appeared that WyldLife was going to fill a void in the lives of
these kids.”

The collective “thumbs up” signaled them to move forward. Joe Chenoweth, a nearby Young Life staff person, then began training their leaders and committee. He also helped them raise $13,000 using the same one-day Jumpstart model in their fundraising.

Since the first club, Buffalo has had five more WyldLife clubs, ranging from 80 to 100 kids attending. Tim Garber, assistant principal at the school, said WyldLife has taken off smoothly, and he is looking forward to the future impact the ministry will have on the campus.

“So far WyldLife in Buffalo has been a huge success,” he said. “The students are eager to attend, and I have noticed several adults making positive connections with the students. I am excited to see how God continues to use this to impact young lives for the kingdom.”

Shirley Hickman, an empty-nester volunteering with WyldLife, is grateful for a way to connect with the students in her community.

“The leaders feel like they are reaching a mission field in their back yard,” she said. “There isn’t anything else in the community that is reaching these kids.”

There is one thing we know for sure about Young Life ministry: it works. Whatever form is used to put the ministry in place, the end result is changed lives.

Fritsch agreed: “Everybody we talked to in Buffalo considers Young Life a pure gift from the Lord.”