Westminster Presbyterian Church was looking for a way to be a neighbor in its new community, “for a practical hands-on mission, right here,” said Brad Rogers, director of the Stateline Kids Club.
After 150 years of serving a vibrant, growing faith community, Westminster moved to a new facility on the growing east side of Rockford, Illinois. Soon the staff and congregation recognized that many more young families and professionals—an unchurched population—from the Rockton-Roscoe-South Beloit area of northern Illinois were attending their church.
They began asking how they could best serve. “Whatever this became, we knew we wanted it to have the DNA of Westminster. Our members already had that missional mentality, so this is a natural outflow,” said Rogers.
In June 2008, after receiving an exploratory grant from the Presbytery of Blackhawk, they got to work. The feedback they got from the community was “start with the kids.”
Thus began the Stateline Project. After much work and even more prayer, they applied for a mission program grant to make their practical hands-on mission come to life. Westminster was one of five Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) new church developments that received $25,000 each in mission program grants from the Evangelism & Church Growth ministry area of the General Assembly Mission Council in the fall of 2010.
Stateline Kids Club was started as a Wednesday evening children’s ministry inspired by Acts 2:42. Each of its four program parts—Bible Time, Recreation Time, Family Time, and Worship Skills—is designed to help children practice Christian relationships and to learn to treat everyone as a child of God.
Currently, the program ministers to all children between kindergarten and 5th grade, but additional programs are planned.
Parents are encouraged to be involved, and they often get as much from the program as the children. In fact, Westminster has also started a parenting class.
While not all the families are members of Westminster, their attendance “has increased our ability to reach out to the community and make a difference,” said Rogers.
The only cost associated with the program is for meals, as dinner is part of the Family Time portion of the program. “We never turn anyone away. If they can’t pay the tuition, we waive it,” said Rogers.
The community has stepped forward and helped as well. A parent who was active in a nonprofit organization asked how to help. Upon finding out that some families couldn’t pay, without hesitation the organization offered to write a check.
They use Facebook to communicate and promote the program. Rogers believes social media is a useful tool, but word of mouth is still the best. “The person-to-person approach, reaching out and connecting, can’t be beat.”
Just two years out of University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, Brad Rogers is stimulated by the work. “This has been formational for my ministry. I would rather spend forty hours in the community than in a secluded office. Wherever life takes me, I will know that pastors need to spend as much time outside the church as they do inside.”
Because this program could not exist without the faithfulness of the Westminster congregation, they held a commissioning service on Palm Sunday to commission members who live in the Rockton-Roscoe-South Beloit community to be missionaries for their faith community.
“Without the volunteers, without the servant hearts at work, the Stateline Project would not exist—99.9 percent of its success is because of Westminster’s members,” says Rogers.
Some whose lives have been touched and changed due to Westminster’s outreach are not even part of the program, but they are part of the community.
One such gentleman Rogers met at a coffee shop. It didn’t take long for the new acquaintance to share his cynicism and hardheartedness toward anything religious. “I just let him talk and share his hurts. He had legitimate reasons for his pain,” said Rogers. But after meeting sometimes weekly, for almost two years, Rogers sees how grace has influenced this once bitter, calcified individual who is now on the path to discipleship.
At a community expo held the weekend after the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, Stateline Project set up a booth and invited attendees to put together hygiene kits. They more than met their goal of 200 kits.
“People don’t care what you believe until they know what your faith means practically,” said Rogers.