First United Methodist Church

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Student Connect Group: Blog 4

Hey church family! If you’ve read one of my previous blog posts, I hope you can tell that I am really really passionate about student connect groups. There are so many reasons, but the strongest reason is that I believe student connect groups are the future of our church and for our student ministry. Here are a few reasons why:


As schedules become more and more saturated with sports, school, and extracurriculars, it becomes harder and harder for families to make Sunday morning or evening church a priority. Student connect groups meet at any time and on any day and also give a huge opportunity for students to grow in their faith. This gives our sphere of influence as a church a massive opportunity for growth.

Sometimes it can feel weird talking about growth when it comes to the church. But we aren’t selling widgets, we are spreading the love of God. We should always hope for that to grow. There are students who are being ministered to by Elevate who will never darken the door of our sanctuary. I think that’s a pretty cool thing. The message of Jesus will never change, even if when we hear it does.

New leaders and hosts

What is hard to understand is that the “work,” of the church is a real faith formative process. Even if I am the student ministries director, I am also charged with ministering to families and volunteers. The best way we get to do that is through giving varying and plentiful leadership opportunities. As our student connect groups grow, so will our chance to have more people serve and in different capacities. God will call us, as a church, to find new people to serve; people who never thought they could serve, to make an enormous Kingdom impact.

As our base of leaders and hosts grow, so does our opportunity to give the gift of growth and development in the spiritual lives of our people.

Let me be specific- if you’re reading this and think you could never ever be a leader or a host… I’m probably talking about you. I have enough people who feel confident that they can lead. Jesus is calling those who think they couldn’t in a million years.

You can’t lead in a million years: the need is much more immediate.

Faith that is owned

Too many students are going to college with their parents’ faith in their backpack, thinking it will survive to adulthood. They learned about Jesus in the way their parents knew him and they hope that this context will apply to their lives as independent adults. Time and time again, this proves to be false.

You see, we need a faith that makes sense for us, personally. Our faith needs to be something that we own- something that we work on ourselves. When hard times come, we have to be able to take our faith apart, examine the different aspects, and put it back together. We can’t do that if we didn’t build the faith ourselves in the first place. Third-grade bibles are not enough. Confirmation is not enough. Only the intense and powerful work of a small group community will do this work.

When our students were baptized into the church, we pledged that we would live a life according to the example of Christ, so that they would walk in the way that leads to life. Would you join us in student connect groups? Would you fulfill your vows in a way that will lead to a radical faith, formed by young people that will lead to their walking in the way that leads to life?

I hope you do.

Michael LeBlanc, Director of Student Ministry

Embracing the Vision: Commissioned to Serve 

Commissioned to Serve 

We are halfway through our sermon series Reveal. As you know, in this series we are discussing our new vision. In this series, Pastor David shared: 

  • Our mission as the church to make disciples
  • Conveyed what it means to be a vibrant family
  • Shared the necessity of us being gracious hosts.

Last Saturday morning, all our ministry teams and lay leaders joined on campus for a morning of vision-thinking, passion, and commissioning as we prepare for the great work that the Lord is doing in the life of our church.

In this setting, our ministry leaders joined together for the first time as pillars. This was a time of collaboration and relationship building. We determined which ministries fit within each pillar based on a series of conversations, feedback, and understandings from the ministry teams themselves, Leadership Council and the pastors. Along with that feedback, we looked at the breadth of the Long Range Planning goals and how our pillars support the specific goals we have for our church’s future. Finally, we looked at our strategic initiatives and opportunities for our ministries to cross-collaborate for a fresh perspective.

As we live into this vision, we’re often asked – “Well, what does success look like?” With our new structure, success ‘looks’ like:

  • Deeper and broader lay ownership
  • Greater collaboration
  • NOT perfection
  • NOT speed

With our ultimate mission of making disciples of all people, we look to a future where we live into the vision of being – “a vibrant family built on God’s grace, who share a passion for the Word of God, living and serving in the image of Jesus the Christ.”

Join us this Sunday as we discuss what it means to be Passionate Seekers!

Student Connect Groups: Blog 3

Hey church family! Last Monday, we talked about what a student connect group is and what it is not. This is all apart of my four part blog series on student connect groups. I wanted to write this series not only because our groups are growing so fast, but also because we have a great and massive need for more leaders and more hosts.

This Monday I wanted to share some of the best tips for making a connect group effective. But first, some definitions:

Host: The one who opens the door to the home where the group meets. The host is in charge of coordinating a hosting schedule with other hosts and sharing that information, however often the group meets, with everyone in the group. This is usually a simple text saying “we are meeting tomorrow night at this place and at this time. Also, pick up is at this time.” Vacuum if you want, but you would be amazed how comfortable our kids can get, regardless of the setting. You don’t lead a discussion, you merely set the stage.

Leader: You are the heart and soul of student connect groups. You lead a discussion, sure, but you also shepherd the group through fun time and onto the big work of growing spiritually. You communicate with Elevate staff and make sure they know what is missing and what is needed for your group: curriculum, guidance, covenant help, etc..You might be a high school student leading with another high school student. Maybe you’re a mom or a dad or just a church member who wants to make a huge impact on the students of this church.

Now that we have those definitions out of the way, let’s work through some of the best practices we have found for our student connect group.

Warm spaces

This looks different for each group. For our middle school guys, this is comfortable chairs and enough space to play games every week. A warm space for middle school girls looks like candles and soft music. Even more important than the physical setting of the groups, is the air of welcome our host can offer. Meeting and getting to know parents as they drop off, supporting hosts, and voicing needs to Elevate staff is all ways hosts can make a warm space. Having clear and consistent communication about when and where groups are meeting is a great way to make sure people feel like they belong to these students connect groups.

Leaders make warm spaces by being prepared to lead: whether that’s by writing curriculum well ahead of the time together or remembering prayer requests week to week. Leaders have a unique opportunity to make students feel like their connect group is a family by including everyone in the space.

Open circles

There may come a time when your connect group has people in it who you do not know.

In fact, your group is not effective if your group doesn’t have a few students you never met before. That is because our groups need to be open circles, constantly welcoming people to join.

Now, a special caveat: eventually, our groups close. At 12 consistent students, our group must split and start another group. This is harsh and it will not be popular when it happens. But here’s the thing: these groups exist to grow and create more groups. If these groups were just social, then they would just continue to balloon. But these groups were made, first and foremost for spiritual growth. Splitting groups allows people space to join, without leaving space for students to disappear into a crowd. It allows new leaders and new hosts to step in.

So we provide open circles, over and over again.


I cannot overstate the importance of food. We have had many test connect groups here at church and there is one common denominator with the most successful groups: food. This food can be provided by the host and can be homemade or storebought. One of the many wonderful advantages about working with students is that their palette is not incredibly developed. Make something with love, and it doesn’t matter if it is an old family recipe or frozen taquitos.

Ultimately, groups succeed when they are prayed over and cared about. Join us in prayer if you host or lead a group and partner with us in caring after these groups. In my next post, I can’t wait to tell you about the exciting future for student connect groups.

-Michael LeBlanc, Director of Student Ministry


Student Connect Groups: Blog 2

Hey church family! Last week we talked about why connect groups make sense for our students. If you’re anything like I am and if your church history is close to mine, connect groups are a new idea for you. For me, it was a Bible study. For my parents, it was Sunday School-so what is different about Student Connect Groups?

Change is at the heart

Too often, we can begin to view our groups as chances to hang out or to get our kids out of the house. What is absolutely vital about these groups is that personal life and faith change always remains at the heart of what we do. That means every single week will have a single focus: the growth of the heart of any student who is a part of the group.

This might look like deep and meaningful Bible study. It could also look like three weeks of meaningful study and one week of goofball games. It could even look like monthly service projects with study and prayer at the beginning and the end of student’s time together.

Spiritual growth looks different for everyone, but there needs to be growth for a group to be a student connect group. There are other groups that do socialize much better than we do, anyway.

Bible scholars need not apply

At the same time, these groups aren’t seminary classes. This is not where your kid will come to understand the meaning of Balaam’s donkey in a socio-political context for Renaissance-era Bolivia. These groups will be focused on the practical life application of God’s Word in their life. They will learn how to use scripture to help answer life’s deepest and hairiest questions.

They won’t memorize Leviticus (nor do they have to) but they will learn what Leviticus has to say about listening to our parents (that’s a big one). Stories about Jesus will come alive and gain meaning as they sit with their friends and mentors and talk about their struggles. A very old book will be made relevant as they share honestly and openly about how school is hard, dating is confusing, and the thought of college is scary.

Why houses?

Confession: as your youth director, it would be so much easier to have these groups meet at the church. The church never goes on vacation, I can reserve room months in advance, and there is a legitimate basketball court here. I can put up signs and know exactly what each kid will get out of the experience.

So why do connect groups have to meet at homes?

Because Mrs. Webb made the best cookies around.

When I was in high school, we had a small group that met in Mrs. Webb’s house. I didn’t know Mrs. Webb at all, and I had never said more than two words to her. But when the small group met in her house, I spent time in her living room, growing in faith, and eating far too many chocolate chip cookies. I also learned that other adults in my church cared about my faith formation. I felt safe, I felt loved, and most importantly, I felt like the church was a true community because of Mrs. Webb’s hospitality. So when I got to college and felt homesick or adrift, my mind naturally went to church as a safe home base. In a time when more and more of our students are graduating from faith when they graduate from high school (never to return, statistics show) we need to leverage every chance we have to show our kids that church means home.

And also, as a host, our people get to grow in their faith as well: a fringe benefit for sure!

So as we explore what student connect groups are and understand what they are not, let us grow in courage and find our call to lead or host a group. We have students who are dying to grow in their faith and cannot wait for our invitation to grow. Don’t know how to host or lead a group? No fear– check out my next blog for how to make this happen.

-Michael LeBlanc, Director of Student Ministry

A Vibrant Family

A Vibrant Family
As a vibrant family, we are energized and we are growing. We understand that life is filled with beautiful moments but also messy times. One of our duties is to not simply equip others, but to take that a step further and equip others to serve. We do this by providing our community with connection and engagement. Our vibrant family is one that offers support and prayer for all.

By definition, vibrant (adjective): full of energy and enthusiasm; bright and striking; vivid, brilliant, strong, rich, colorful, bold. Illustrations of vibrant and vivid imagery fill the literary elements of the Bible.

  • Rainbow in the Clouds – After a storm passes and we see a rainbow, we often experience this sense of energy and enthusiasm that the storm has lifted and the sun is out once again. This colorful symbol tied to Noah’s story and the biblical story of the Flood is another illustration of vibrancy within the text of scripture. “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” (Genesis 9:13-16, NIV). The rich, diverse, and expansive colors of a rainbow, too, speak to vibrancy.
  • From Crimson to Wool – Another vivid example of bold imagery is found in Isaiah as he shares a message of God’s promise and miraculous grace given to this fallen world. “Come now, let us argue it out, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18, NRSV). Again, we see rich and dynamic references speaking to vibrancy.
  • Light and Darkness – Consider the contrast of light and darkness. This imagery is seen throughout the Bible. We read at the start of Genesis, in the creation story, this vibrant contrast of light and darkness. This theme is carried throughout scripture. The Old Testament promises of the future coming of the light of salvation and the light of God. This promise is fulfilled through the death and resurrection of Christ in the New Testament. “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12, NRSV). This striking, strong, and bold distinction of light and darkness speaks to vibrancy.

Just as this vibrant imagery helps to give life and personify the gift of Christ, so too can our vibrant actions help share the message of Christ in our community. Here are two examples of our vibrant family doing just this:

1. Growing Bolder is an organization dedicated to spreading the message of the power and possibility of aging by smashing stereotypes about getting older. Their motto is that you are not “Growing Older” but “Growing Bolder.” Each year they give out Growing Bolder Awards to honor the men and women who inspire those around them by being a powerful reminder to all of us that we can enjoy lives filled with passion and purpose at any age. Read about our very own Louis Allen Williams II:

The winner of the Spirit to Care Award presented by Florida Hospital is Louis Allen Williams II. Our winner has made caring his way of life through his countless volunteer positions. He’s a tremendous blessing to our community as a volunteer at the Orange County Regional History Center, the Orlando Museum of Art, the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, the Enzian Theater, 33rd Street Jail Ministry, Bicycle Blessings Ministry and CERT (Community Emergency Response Team). He’s a Florida Hospital Layman Clergy and serves the Tuskawilla First Methodist Church through its Food Bank, Men’s Group and Christian Blessings Bible Study.

2. Studio 150 ministry lives into this vibrancy through movement and dance! Here are some of the highlights in the news during 2017: Dance as a Ministry and Creative Positions Benefiting the Church Family. Whether it’s weekly dance practices, dancing in worship services, performing for the senior thanksgiving luncheon, or enjoying their holiday party and sleepover – these dancers keep us on our toes!

Looking towards this summer, Studio 150 is geared up to host the summer dance camp to serve lower income children with healthy movement, healthy lunches, and healthy nutrition education. Let’s congratulate our team for this recent grant announcement (Awarded Grant for 2018)!

Student Connect Groups: Blog 1

Hello church family — I wanted to write a few posts about our student connect groups. I wanted to write about them because not only are the groups really new to our family, they are also really growing and connecting with a group of students and families we have never met before. God is blessing this ministry, and I thought it was important to share my heart for the new adventure.

So why connect groups? Briefly, connect groups are groups of students (less than 12) led by a non-staff member, meeting in a home, all pointed towards the discipleship of everyone in the group. This model works for us because of our deep theology of small groups being the best way to grow in our discipleship is with small group community.

God as community

Our first biblical glimpse of the aspects of God is God in community. We see this in Genesis:

Then God said, “Let us make humankind[c] in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” (1:26, emphasis mine)

And so we see that first glimpse of the Trinity- God is communion within God’s self-shows us that as we reflect God, we also thrive in the community.

Jesus as a small group leader

As a youth director this old adage has given me courage when things get hard: “so your youth group is small tonight? Take heart- Jesus’ youth group only had 12 kids, they never got his illustrations, and one of them wanted to kill him.”

It’s funny, but it is also true. Jesus, during his short time on earth, constantly found ways to work with a small group of believers. His disciples (and the women who traveled with him) were his confidants, his friends, and the people he chose to personally pour his life into. From these 12 (plus women) that the entire world has heard the message of the Gospel.

Thumb through any gospel and you will see dozens and dozens of instances where our Lord chose to do miracles, tell stories, and generally live life– all in the context of small groups.

Wesley and the cell group

The Methodist movement was a small group. Charles and John Wesley were at Oxford and found that a deep spiritual faith wasn’t happening in their larger church setting. So they sought out a deeper faith formation in the context of what we would call a connect group. They met with one another and asked the simple question: “how is it with your soul?” They would also hold one another accountable for the things they identified in their lives as sin. They grew together. They grew so much, that here we are today, calling ourselves “Methodists,” after their “methods,” of growing together.

And so our connect groups have deep historical roots, but what does that mean for our students today? How can we ensure that our connect groups remain relevant in our time, which is so different from Jesus’ and Wesley’s time? Well, be sure to check back next Monday for the next installment of this series.

Grace and Peace,

Michael LeBlanc, Director of Student Ministry

Welcoming the Vision

As we welcome 2018, we as a vibrant family here at FUMCWP are also welcoming a new church vision. Over the past couple of months, we’ve been sharing stories from our different ministries. These stories serve as a way to open our eyes to the varied works of Christ within our own community and how we truly are a vibrant family built on God’s grace, who share a passion for the Word of God, living and serving in the image of Jesus the Christ.

Starting this Sunday, Pastor David is leading a 6-week sermon series “Reveal” where we will unpack this new vision. Each Sunday we will delve into different aspects of the vision and what it means for us. If for some reason you can’t make all 6 Sundays, as always, we will post the sermons on the website for you to view.

We are looking forward to this Sunday and kicking-off 2018 together.