Rockin’ youth at local churchBy Matt Echelberry
Have you ever heard of an obstacle course being set up inside a church? How about having a snowball fight in the sanctuary? At Crossway Assembly of God, that’s exactly what was going on within its walls on Jan. 12, as part of its 2013 kick off for Rock House.
Almost one year ago, three youth leaders at the church started Rock House, an event hosted every Saturday from 2–6 p.m. and open to any kids in the community. They offer activities and food, always free of charge, and there is a different theme for each event.
The brains behind all of this are Paul “Hop” Cassady, children’s leader, and Tommy Payton, youth pastor. For each event, they think up unique, spontaneous ideas to incorporate and then build a theme around them. Cassady’s wife Connie, also a youth leader at the church, helps them as well.
Rock House’s theme for Jan. 12 was “Winter Wipeout.” The sanctuary, a surprisingly expansive room, was turned into an obstacle course reminiscent of the television show “Wipeout” on the ABC network. And the staff was not shy about using any and all resources to create it: A line of pews were used as a balancing beam, and as participants crossed it, bags stuffed with soft materials that were suspended from the ceiling swung at them. Sections of the stage were used for an oversized climbing wall and even downhill sledding. Other rooms and corridors were utilized as part of the course as well.
Originally, Cassady said the plan was to bring in actual snow to use for the course. Ironically all of the snow melted by that Saturday afternoon, so the group had to improvise. Instead of making snow angels, several bags of flour were used for the kids to spread their arms and legs around in. Later, the floor was cleared for a snowball fight, which they used giant marshmallows for.
Putting on events of this magnitude is an all-day commitment for the staff, as they are usually at the church from 10 a.m. until 8 or 9 o’clock in the evening to set up, clean and prepare the sanctuary for Sunday service. However, Connie commented on why they do it: “Seeing the joy on these kids’ faces and the smiles is great. All of them look forward to [Rock House].”
The congregation at Crossway mostly consists of hardworking, blue collar people. Members have donated money, food and their time, all to make these events a success. For Winter Wipeout, even some of the younger congregation members helped out. As she was decorating, Angel Cassady, 11, said her favorite part of RH is all of the games and skits, which she says “makes the Bible fun.”
Justin Schneider, 12, was helping that morning despite his leg being in a cast. He was not disappointed by not getting to participate in the obstacle course because his favorite part of RH is seeing friends from school, even those who are not religious.
The three youth leaders agreed that they do not want RH to look or feel like church. They want the events to be fun, where kids can just be…well, kids. It could be argued that Crossway is a non-traditional congregation in its approach to reaching the youth audience, however RH has turned out to be a major success.
Events throughout 2012 brought in live bands, youth pastors from other churches and comedians. Crossway tries to hold one major event each quarter of the year, including Summer Breakout and Rocktober. Payton recalled one Saturday in which a game of football was played in the sanctuary. For this year’s Superbowl, he has an idea to hold a “Soup-erbowl.” One of his favorites was “In-tents,” an overnighter in which tents were set up throughout the church.
They have also taken RH on the road with “Rock House Unplugged,” at places like East Park and the Easton Way Apartment complex. “We’re trying to bring whole community together,” Cassady said.
When they initially started RH, it was intended to be a a youth outreach program. Lead Pastor Jim Short explained that many children in surrounding neighborhoods come from broken homes. In general, culture and family life as a whole has changed: Many kids are raised by single parents or grandparents, many families struggle financially and there is a lack of positive activities available in the community.
Short planned to retire from ministry last spring, but when his staff approached him with the idea of filling that void, he said he knew Crossway had a perfect facility for it. Short stuck around to help get RH going and even uses the church’s shuttle van to pick up kids from throughout Galion for each event. He added that a lot of kids from the surrounding neighborhoods come every week as well.
“They won’t forget what they experience here,” Short commented, adding that most other church leaders thought he was crazy to allow Saturday events. However, he is determined for Crossway to stick with it.
Now, Rock House will be held every other Saturday. Previously, there was one session running from 2–6 p.m. but because the event has grown so much, the leaders have decided to split the event into age groups. Kids in grades K-5 will meet from 2–4 p.m., and those in grades 6–12 will meet from 5–7 p.m. They are also developing a group for those 18 and over.
Crossway Assembly of God is located at 200 Gelsanliter Road, across from A&G Manufacturing. For more information about Rock House, call the church at 419–468-9701 or check out the Facebook page under “Crossway Assembly.”