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Instituting Orange in two different church environments, both of which were over 100 years old, has allowed me to be a part of shifting some of the ideologies, methodologies, and aspirations of churches seeking to serve our next generation. In 2011, I was looking for a curriculum that took the truths of the Bible and connected them across several age groups to strategically make disciples of Jesus Christ. Before mastering the Orange lingo, I was excited that First Look introduced my infants, toddlers, and preschoolers to the love of God. I was amazed over the intentionality of 252 Basics to help children discover God and why they can trust Him. I was impressed with how XP3 went even further to help students grow in their passion for Christ and their love for others.

I knew that instituting First Look and 252 Basics was just the beginning. As the team embraces the curriculum, we are able to partner with parents through Parent Cues and GodTime Cards and connect them with the same small group leaders who care enough to show up every week.

Methodologically, we moved from teaching random Bible stories to intentional discipleship lessons. The traditional Sunday school model teaches the most popular stories, at the most appropriate times of the year, hoping that things stick. However, Orange takes three basic truths and repeats them over and over again to ensure that the phase emphasizes the lessons that are most important as they strategically move from the cradle to college. Methodologically, we are less interested in teaching the stories, we are more interested in teaching about the love of God that is shown through the stories!

Ideologically, the environments changed from being Sunday-focused to being life-focused. Through Orange, we’ve come to realize how involving parents and the entire church community in discipling children and youth provides an awesome village for their development.

Our aspirations have also changed. They have moved from biblical memorization to scriptural application. We aim to help our students go beyond memorizing the lesson to applying the truths in their daily lives. We now seek to form relationships with every young person that extends our interest and care beyond Sunday morning.

In the two environments I served and serve, we started with Orange as another curriculum, initially thinking that would be enough. However, Orange is more than a curriculum to be taught. It is a proven strategy of discipleship to be implemented. If you stop at the start, you may miss the rewards that come with the hard work of implementing an entire strategy that is working to change the way we disciple a generation.

#NextGenLeaders #PaulaForte

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A building is best built on a sturdy foundation. A sturdy foundation without a viable building is not worth much. They are both worth more together. That is the image that comes to mind when one thinks of Next Gen Ministry! A Next Gen leader is an individual, within a local congregation, that is responsible for the discipleship programming and spiritual growth of children & youth, birth through twelfth grade. Ideally, this person is a main decision-maker and is in the top tier of the church’s leadership design. Many churches understand the need to have a children’s ministry and a youth ministry, each with its own specified leadership, but without the Next Gen leader, your church might be missing an important piece of the puzzle to make effective and efficient ministry happen for your young people. Not sure why…below are SIX REASONS why every church needs a Next Gen leader! Effectively Assign Space: If you are like most congregations, space on Sunday morning is scarce for children & youth worship environments. It is the responsibility of the NextGen leader to ensure appropriate worship space is assigned and used for all age groups. Build Security: The Next Gen leader serves as a mutual connecting point for children, students, and parents. Every level will have different volunteers, and may even have a different director, pastor, or ministry leader, a common face can assist during moments of transition. Eliminate Competition: There is nothing like having a children’s ministry leader and a youth leader who don’t get along. The Next Gen leader may not be able to make them besties, but they can be the voice of reason when tensions get high! A Next Gen leader can help to eliminate competition between children & youth ministries by reminding everyone of a mutually agreed upon vision. Fair Budget Allocation: Budgetary concerns can be better split across age-groups. If one person has a snapshot of the needs of all the areas, with one ultimate goal in mind, they can better appropriate where the money needs to go. The need can be addressed based on short-term and long-term vision rather than sporadic events or projects. Vision Connectivity: How can you be sure that your children are ready for student ministry? How do you know what faith skills your youth have already been taught? If one person knows the answer to both of those questions, then you have someone to ensure a point for growth connectivity. Children & youth ministries can connect rather than the two operating totally independently of the other. Faith-Development: While religious habits can be emulated at any level, skills that allow for a healthy analysis of our faith are developed over time. Just think, we are able to prepare our children better for middle school, when we know what they learned in elementary school. The same thing is true for faith development. Student ministry leaders don’t have to teach basic faith practices if they know their students got it as children. Student ministry leaders can now focus on helping their students live out their faith in the marketplace. Children’s ministry leaders don’t have to overload “everything Christian” in 5 years of ministry but rather can focus on teaching our children the basics knowing that student ministry will help them own, practice, and mature their faith as they become young adults. The size, budget, and culture of one’s congregation will help to determine how your children & youth ministries are set-up. Some congregations have paid staff at each level while others are led by volunteers and still others are some combination of the two. Whatever the set-up and staff allocation, having one NextGen leader, that is responsible for the connectivity of children & youth ministries is an indispensable set-up and investment that our younger generation deserves.

#PaulaForte #NextGenLeaders

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While I have been a huge fan of the TV series, “Being Mary Jane,” almost 48-hours later I still find myself struggling with her “It’s okay to be #2” speech to a group of high school girls. While I understand this show is aimed at capturing the reality of black single women, has our opportunities for a healthy, viable, loving, (and because we are discussing the context of the show, not for debate) and heterosexual relationship become so hopeless where NUMBER TWO is the best my sisters can aspire to reach. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 100 Black women, for every 87 Black men. By the time we rule out those impacted by the prison industrial complex, those who are homosexual, and those who prefer to date any other woman BUT a sistah, then the chances of being NUMBER ONE, may look a little bleak. But remember what the prophet Jeremiah says: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29: 11, NIV) God’s plan to prosper you, give you peace, completeness, and safety, does not include fights with your married lover regarding whether or not he is sleeping in the same bed with his wife or the ignored text messages reminding you of your second place status. God’s plan to give you hope should not be lost in the self-deception of “perks without the work” that being NUMBER TWO necessitates. And God’s plan to give you a secure future, includes you not worrying about when you reap the seeds of adultery that were once sown and your place of the mistress turns to the forgotten SECOND wife. My sistahs, no matter what Mary Jane says on television, life is not a BET Drama Series. NUMBER TWO will NEVER get the same notoriety or respect as NUMBER ONE. God’s design and plans for you are better than the second slot. Don’t settle for NUMBER TWO, when you were created to be NUMBER ONE. In the same vein as the 1990 drug commercials, no one ever grows up and says I want to be someone’s second choice! Aim higher, God’s plans for you do!

#PaulaForte #BeingMaryJane #TeenGirls

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