When the Rev. Corey Nelson became the pastor at Grace United Methodist Church (UMC) in South Louisville six years ago, he knew he was in for a challenge.
“It was a high-crime, high-violence and high-poverty context. Within that, Grace UMC had become ingrown and closed off to the world outside of its doors,” he said.
Today, the traditional church model at Grace UMC has transformed into something extraordinary — all because of the neighborhood children.
“As we expanded our ministry, the kids kept coming until they eventually began to outnumber the adults,” Corey said.
Corey and assistant pastor Jocelyn Church made the radical decision to dissolve the adult-focused ministries and devote programming exclusively to children. Thus, Grace Kids! A Church for Children was born.
To reflect this new focus, the sanctuary was painted in rainbow colors, each representing a tenet of faith. Church pews were removed to make room to play “Gagaball,” a dodgeball-style game, as a way to reinforce the weekly message. A renovated Sunday school room is now “The Hangout,” a snack bar and lounge, giving children a safe place to gather in summertime.
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The church building’s physical changes are only a small part of how Grace Kids! truly became a church for children. Along with Sunday worship, weekly programs include devotions, a hot meal and time to connect. During the summer, Norton Children’s Prevention & Wellness staff came weekly to teach kids how to develop healthy habits, along with mindfulness and stress-management techniques.
In a neighborhood where drugs, violence and crime are all too familiar, Grace Kids! offers a safe haven. Here, children can relax, play and be fed, physically and spiritually, by dedicated volunteers and staff. They are free to be kids, away from the stress and fear that many of them face daily. The church is truly meeting the needs of its children in mind, body and spirit.
As one youth said, “I feel happy when I am at church. Grace Kids! means ‘home’ to me.”
Another said, “The best thing about this church is that they let you know you are not alone.”