By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
MONTGOMERY, La. (LBM) — Verda Baptist Church had struggled to reach the next generation before Braden Martin arrived as pastor in November 2017.
He led them to pray first, and in 2018 the congregation of 80 felt led to start an AWANA club (evangelism and discipleship for children) that has drawn nearly 50 kids every Wednesday evening, since inception, and also sparked a revival within the body of members.
“When I got here, Verda had virtually no youth or kids program outside of Vacation Bible School, which was shocking since we are within steps of the school and have numerous school board employees, including the previous and new Grant Parish superintendent,” Martin told the Baptist Message. “What once was Wednesday night prayer meetings consisting of me, my wife, our baby girl and a handful of others has turned into an average of 47 kids and 18-20 members who help out every Wednesday night while a few of us gather in the sanctuary for prayer.
“Having this many members each week come in and get to work is just amazing to see,” he continued. “We are all so busy, we all work hard during the week, sometimes we are just burned out and still they come. That’s the rise or fall of any good program, faithful participation — the willing surrender for Kingdom work. Any of these adults working here will tell you their heart got attached quickly. It no longer feels like work for most of them.”
Martin, at an early age, was exposed to AWANA classes and felt Verda Baptist could benefit from the same biblical training he received as an elementary-aged Christ follower. After taking his adult leaders to meet with AWANA directors at Philadelphia Baptist Church in Deville and Cotile Baptist Church in Boyce, the stage was set for the program at Verda Baptist.
Months of prayer and training led up to the congregation’s first AWANA meeting, when 12 adult leaders welcomed 25 children in September 2018. As the weeks passed, participation by adults and children also increased, with more volunteers stepping up to serve as sometimes as many as 70 kids attended AWANA classes.
Importantly, spiritual fruit has been harvested because of the AWANA program.
As the first year of AWANA ended, a handful of children had come forward to restore fellowship with Christ; and, three families of five AWANA participants, who had never attended church before, started attending Sunday mornings with the Verda Baptist congregation.
Cindy Graves, the AWANA director, said she has seen a number of the adult leaders grow more passionate, in general, about ministry and sharing the Gospel.
“They see the excitement on the kids and it’s infectious,” Graves said. “They want to know how they can serve anyway they can, whether it’s financially or teaching a class. We have had a lot of people step up who haven’t served before and now they are all on board about sharing the love of Jesus with these kids and their families. “
Martin expects God will move mightily when AWANA begins again in the fall.
“I anticipate we will double in attendance on Wednesdays after this year (if we work hard and pray harder) and I am expecting to see a carry over into the church,” he said. “That will be a new challenge. The kids who are unchurched will bring parents who are unchurched. Our job is to share the Gospel with them.
“Year one was all about getting kids here,” he said. “We prayed and worked hard and that happened. For year two, the hope and desire will be more spiritual fruit to harvest.”