Russ Forbes calls the high school program he helped launch last fall at United Presbyterian Church “707.”
Why 707? Some secret Bible code?
Not exactly. It’s the time the group meets two Sunday evenings every month.
“The kids really dove in to be a part of what’s happening,” Forbes said. “They’ve invested time and energy ― and they ask really good questions.”
Forbes, who with his wife, Laurie and others also leads the church’s youth group, wanted to offer youth throughout the community ― not just Presbyterians ― fun opportunities to learn about the Bible and a chance to get their questions answered as honestly as possible.
He knew from experience that kids enjoy friendly competition ― even if the prizes are less than fabulous.
He also realized an effective way to reach youth is through the devices they’re already holding in their hands ― smart phones and iPads.
So during a typical 707 meeting ― which begin at 7:07 on the dot, thanks to everyone’s cell phone clock being synchronized ― Forbes will first toss out a few Bible trivia questions. Some youth will flip through their Bibles to try to be first to answer (Forbes discloses the book and chapter to give these youth a fighting chance) while others use a search engine or even text their friends in search of the right answer.
Answering questions correctly results in something Forbes calls “worthless points,” or WPs. It’s unclear to the youth ― even to Forbes ― what will be given to the youth with the most WPs at the end of the year.
Recently, he’s had youth donate 10 percent of their WPs to someone who doesn’t have as many. On other occasions, he’ll award a point to the youth who’s talking when a timer goes off ― or who asks a particularly good question.
“It’s all kind of random,” he said, smiling.
Youth are invited to text or email their theological questions to Forbes throughout the week. Adult leaders attempt to answer those questions during 707.
While some queries are relatively easy to answer, others fall into the “Did you ever hear a message from God and know for sure it was God talking?” category.
Most 707 meetings are held at church, but sometimes the group meets in people’s houses ― even one time in a family’s barn that, helpfully, featured both a widescreen television and a bottomless tub of popcorn.
Youth say they’re glad to be part of the fun.
“707 has a laid-back feel to it. It’s not a strict environment,” said Eric Slaughter, 16, a UPC member.
“I like the games. It gets you interactively involved with the Bible,” said Eileen Westfall, a Lone Tree High School senior who attends St. Mary Parish in Lone Tree.
“This is something everybody should be doing,” said Harry Miller, also a senior and a member at St. Mary. “It really makes me think.”
“I just like being here,” said Tyler Gosnell, another senior, “and sharing my faith with all my friends.”
Mike Ferguson is a member of United Presbyterian Church in Lone Tree, Iowa, and a reporter for The Muscatine Journal, the newspaper where Mark Twain got his start. He is a regular contributor to Presbyterian News Service.