By G. Jeffrey MacDonald
Youth in Titusville, Florida, have long had slim pickings for things to do on Friday nights. They can bowl, wander aisles at Walmart, or kick around on the streets, where drugs and fights are easy to find.
But for the past 18 months, they’ve been embracing an option that shows what neighboring churches can accomplish in youth ministry when they work together.
Bldg 418 is a Friday night open house for young people, ages 12 to 18. It’s hosted by St. Gabriel’s Church, which received a 3,200-square-foot office building at 418 Pine Street as a donation in 2009 and renovated it with volunteer help from other churches in town.
Now those same churches continue to work together, jointly organizing Friday night gatherings in a way that guards against anyone feeling overworked, burnt out, or territorial about youth groups.
“These are God’s kids, man, and he wants them to come to him,” says Lucas Brandenburg, youth pastor at St. Gabriel’s. “There are thousands of kids in Titusville who don’t have a relationship with Christ. For us to be fighting over five or eight or 10 who we think are sacred kids would be ridiculous.”
Bldg 418 fills to capacity every Friday as 110 kids, mostly in middle school, gather between 7 and 11 p.m. They play basketball and football in the parking lot, challenge each other in video games, and lounge around a makeshift café, chatting the night away. Admission is free. Pizza slices, sodas, and candy cost $1.
“It’s the cheapest thing in town,” Brandenburg says. “Parents can send their kids with $5 and they’ll have a great night.”
For the first year, Bldg 418 focused only on creating a fun, safe space. Since January, however, each week’s gathering has also included up to 15 minutes of teaching time in which youth pastors from local churches share testimonies or discuss lessons from Scripture.
Leaders come from diverse theological backgrounds: Episcopal, United Methodist, Presbyterian Church in America, and nondenominational. They offer thoughts on serious topics for teens, such as suicide and cutting oneself as a distraction from emotional pain.
Bldg 418 doesn’t detract from local church youth groups. On the contrary, youth who come on Friday nights are invited to attend events at various churches on other days and nights. Many have accepted the invitations from pastors they’ve come to know on Friday nights, Brandenburg says, thus adding to the ranks of church youth groups.
“Through Bldg 418 you can get plugged in with other churches and everything they’re doing, and I’m fine with that,” Brandenburg says. “I’m not interested in keeping you away from anyone else.”
Were it not for Bldg 418, St. Gabriel’s wouldn’t have a youth ministry program because the congregation consists mostly of retired people, Brandenburg says. But because some kids like to get together during the week and dig deeper into faith, about a dozen from the Friday night fellowship turn out on Tuesdays for his Bible study.
It’s in small groups that Brandenburg sees lives being changed. Regular participants in his Bible study include a 16-year-old boy who has little parental involvement in his life and has quit drugs since stepping inside Bldg 418.
G. Jeffrey MacDonald