It’s 102 degrees Fahrenheit outside and you’re feeling every degree. Another car alarm goes off across the narrow, pothole-ridden street; you pay no mind and neither does the police unit that’s just rolled by. The inhabitants of row houses lined block after block spill out onto their front porch stoops because it’s hotter inside than out. A mother, too young to vote, cradles her infant as she watches her nieces and nephews joyously splash in the opened fire hydrant offering cool relief. No matter where you are in this city, 30,000 other people live and work within a five-minute radius of your position at any given time.
It’s summer in Jersey City, New Jersey, a conurbation just across the Hudson River from the downtown financial district of Manhattan, with such close proximity that the children of many Jersey City public schools gazed out of their classroom windows to see the World Trade Center collapse in 2001. Today’s depressingly brutal heat just adds to the economic and emotional depression that already exists within the city. Many Jersey City urbanites, especially children, don’t see much hope in the future. With so many broken families, so many drug addicts, and so much unpredictability in the world, many in the city wonder where the hope is.
Residents of Jersey City can find hope at the corner of Fairmont and Monticello (pronounced monti-sell-o) inside New City Kids’ Church. This church proclaims the only hope of the gospel by focusing on the children of Jersey City. Its mission is “To plant the seeds of the gospel in a generation of children in Jersey City, to train teenagers for leadership in God’s kingdom, and to love leaders into being the body of Christ.”
Vision Turns to Reality
New City Church was a vision God instilled in pastors Trevor and Linda Rubingh, who planted the church in 1994 through the Christian Reformed Church. Young and old came to worship until a set of circumstances made the pastors realize that God was calling them to specifically minister to children. In 1996 New City established a kids’ church pilot program that modeled its structure after Metro Ministries of Brooklyn, New York.
The structure of the ministry is threefold:
- To introduce kids to the gospel through a church and worship setting uniquely configured for kids.
- To cultivate and nurture the newly planted seeds of the gospel by involving those kids newly introduced to the gospel in various ministries within the church.
- To raise up key leaders from these programs and train them to use their experiences and maturing faith to introduce other kids to the gospel through the same means that they themselves were introduced to the gospel.
The first time New City held its kids’ church service the congregation numbered eleven children. In only a month, attendance boomed to ninety children. New City Kids’ Church (NCK) was officially established and met in the basement of a local church three times each Saturday to accommodate all the children who wanted to worship. Today, the ministry has moved into a wonderfully renovated facility that accommodates the 200-300 children who come to worship each week.
Prelude to Worship
Knocking on doors and moseying through neighborhoods throughout the week, NCK church staff and teen leaders hand out flyers for the upcoming week’s service. The flyer includes information about the theme, games for the children to play that relate to the theme, information about upcoming events, and (very important) questions pertaining to the previous week’s service, which, if answered correctly, could allow kids to participate in one of the games played in the upcoming week’s service. (Games in a worship service should tip you off that this is no ordinary church service.) When the flyers are handed out, families are told to watch for a New City bus or van coming back through the neighborhood on Saturday.
When Saturday rolls around, school buses sporting bright blue and red paint jobs, New City logos, and names like “The Genesis” and “The Gospel Cruiser” rumble through the neighborhoods where the flyers had been passed out. Then the Holy Spirit moves. With the beep of a bus horn, children young and old emerge from their apartments, spill out onto the street, drop games of double-dutch, and, as a united mass, run after the buses, yelling “KIDS CHURCH!” They are all warmly welcomed onto the bus by teen leaders who keep the energy and spirit high by doing things like rapping the books of the Bible and asking questions like, “Who’s going to sing louder, the boys or the girls?” Jet planes couldn’t compete with the decibel level of the response. In no time the bus drops its precious cargo off at the church.
You’re Never Too Young to Praise the Lord
When the buses arrive, the children are ushered off through a high-five line and into the sanctuary, where the service begins. Immediately it’s apparent that this is a place filled with hope and that this will be no ordinary church service. The space is warm and bright, the environment friendly and loving. For many it feels far away from where the bus just picked them up, even though they’ve traveled only a couple miles. Large murals of cartoon characters acting out the fruits of the Spirit adorn the ceilings and walls. They are used to reinforce the biblically based theme for that semester’s kids’ church services. There is also volume—not only in numbers of people but also in decibels. Right before the service all the children scream together a countdown at maximum volume to let everyone know that something special is about to happen.
As the service begins, the New City liturgy unfolds with a beautiful collage of prayer, song, visual object lessons, drama, art, dance, Scripture, and uninhibited worship, all of it directed toward planting the seeds of the gospel in the hearts of youth. The service clips along to hold kids’ attention and is highly participative and interactive. Worship leaders continually engage the kids to fully involve them in the worship. Presenting the gospel message to children in this way involves using many different worship leaders in many different ways.
Thinking Outside the Box
Ask anyone who has attended Kids’ Church for a few weeks to recite the Big Four and they will probably do so with enthusiasm and without hesitation. That’s because the Big Four is one of the highlights at a Kids’ Church service. The lights go down, sirens and flashing lights come on, and a slide comes up on the screen; entitled “THE BIG FOUR,” it spells out in bold letters, “God loves me! I have sinned! Jesus died for me! I must decide to live for him!” Then a teen leader invites the kids to “shout out what we believe!” The kids may not know it, but they recite the Big Four as a creed every week.
Sermons also look a bit different at New City. A standard twenty-minute, three-point sermon on forgiveness doesn’t fly too well when trying to keep young kids’ attention. However, if you break up the points of the sermon and make the points skits, object lessons, puppet shows or games, you’ll easily connect with kids. At Kids’ Church, an acting troupe consisting of newer or younger members may write and dramatize a skit to present the Bible verse or story for that day and present forgiveness as the theme of the service. A teen leader may create an object lesson to demonstrate how the Bible verse shows that we should forgive like Jesus forgives us by using a nail and a cross. Pastor Trevor could dress up as a crazy scientist with a funny accent and explain to his sidekick monkey puppet Buzzface how Jesus’ forgiveness applies to all people today.
This type of outside-the-box thinking helps make NCK’s worship relevant to young children. Using traditional elements of worship creatively helps the staff at New City to effectively plant the seeds of the gospel in the hearts of the children of Jersey City—in a way that they can understand, that is engaging and fun, and that ultimately offers hope in a city where so many feel hopeless.
New City Stats
- 1996—decided to focus on kids.
- 150-250 kids attend every week.
- 1997—started School for Youth Leadership Development (SYLD) for kids ages 11-18.
- Last year had 30 teens in this school; first 2 entered college last year.
- SYLD meets Monday through Friday afternoons; classes are offered in academic support, dance, rap, small-business training, music lessons, computer graphics, video production, worship team, drama, and kids’ church production.
- During the summer offers music training in bass, keyboard, voice, drums, and worship leadership.
- For more information on New City Church, check out their website: www.newcitykidschurch.com.