All posts in “Heartbeat”

Meet Clayton Ganziano

Clayton Ganziano has served First Free Rockford for two years as middle school coordinator. Now he’s also coordinating Rooted, our young-adults ministry. Clayton and Hannah just celebrated their first wedding anniversary.

We talked with Clayton about church youth groups, what kids are looking for … and how middle school and young adult ministries actually have a lot to do with one another.

 

What did your faith look like, growing up?

I grew up in an EV Free church. My family was very involved there. But once I was in high school, my older brother and I just didn’t connect well in the youth group. So we tried a lot of different churches, places that our friends were going or that we had heard about.

The Chapel, a multi-site church in the Chicago area, had just opened a campus at my high school, McHenry High School. We checked it out as a family and it was a place we were OK with going. My mom wanted us to get plugged into the youth group, but I didn’t want to go. That was a whole lot of new people. It was a bigger church and that youth group was going to be big and overwhelming.

The group met in Grayslake, so for the McHenry campus, the students would gather at a Burger King. Then a church bus would pick everyone up and drive them to youth group. So at my mom’s insistence, I tried it one night. As I’m sitting in Burger King, this lady walks in. And she’s like, “Hey, are you getting on the bus?” And I’m like, “Yeah … who are you?”

Clayton Ganziano with Student Ministries Director, Meredith Domanico.

Well, she was Meredith Domanico, who’s now here at First Free (director of Student Ministries). She had just become the youth pastor, and she caught me totally off guard. So in my head I’m thinking: Just go away. Just go away. C’mon, more people come in, because then she’ll go talk to you instead.

But after that first night, I felt like it was a place where I wanted to be. There was this wave of people saying, “I see you and I want to know who you are.” That was a brand-new experience for me. At our previous church, my family had grown up there, so everybody knew who I was. But a lot of people didn’t actually know me. People didn’t take the next step in trying to find out who I was. They just assumed, “Well, I know your family, so I know who you are.”

 

What changed about your faith after that?

I lived a large part of my early life thinking I needed to know all the answers. So when my friends would ask me, “How do you know God is real?” I needed to know the answer. And if I didn’t, I thought I would look like a fool and I wouldn’t win them over.

Heartbeat meets mid-week to play games, worship and study God’s Word together.

I had all the head knowledge. My church growing up emphasized knowing the Bible – and I know that’s extremely important. That’s what I’m trying to communicate to students today, how important that is. But at a point for me, I thought I knew everything, but I didn’t understand at all what it meant. I could tell you the gospel, but I didn’t know what it meant to live it out.

I don’t want to live my life like that, as if other people’s faith and eternal destination depends on whether I know all the answers. The question actually is, am I open to journey with other people? I would always ask our leaders questions and they didn’t always have the answers. I appreciated the genuineness of somebody looking at me and saying, “That’s actually a really good question. I don’t know the answer. I have my thoughts. But why don’t we together look at this? Let’s open Scripture, let’s go in prayer, and actually sit and process this question.”

 

How did that experience inform your ministry today?

Students come to me or our leaders with questions now, and a lot of times we could give them answers. That’s great, but that’s not real for me. I didn’t sit in that process of discovery and learning.

I don’t want this just to be a place where they know Bible trivia or they can recite Scripture. Those are good things. But if that is all we are going for, then what’s the point? I want them to be able to truly wrestle with: What does this look like for me? What does this look like in my life? And then to really make their faith their own.

 

Is there a main impression you want students to have when they attend Heartbeat?

I know there are so many students who go to school and they feel like nobody sees them, nobody notices them. And there is this desire to have friends and be part of a community. What does that look like for us to take intentional steps for them to do that together?

Clayton Ganziano teaches Heartbeat middle school students during their mid-week gathering.

I want every student who comes through our doors to know that they are loved. That’s a need they already know about. They want to be in places that love them and accept them. Not, We love you once you do this, or accept this, or believe this.

I want this to be an easy on-ramp for them to invite their friends from school. Not necessarily to Wednesday nights, but to their small group — for them to find a place as friends that they can actually belong, too.

And I want students to be comfortable asking questions. I tell my students every time, if there’s something I said onstage tonight that makes no sense to you, come talk to me. Or ask your leader in your small group. If a student says, “OK, you just said this and it doesn’t make sense,” that really excites me because I know they were listening.

 

What have you been tinkering with, format-wise?

Previously the kids were split up by age and gender. This year I wanted to mix it up a little. I’ve heard from past classes: “I know who the girls are, but I don’t really know them. I don’t feel comfortable talking with them.”

I want to see a group that isn’t founded on a friend group here or a friend group there, cliquing up. Like, our guys are really close together and our girls are really close together but they don’t know how to cross over. I want it to be a group that knows you can know and love somebody without it being, Oh, you’re my girlfriend if I talk to you.

Obviously there will be some topics where we do put the girls together and the guys together. We do have clear boundaries on certain things. But, looking at the rest of their lives, they’re not going to live segregated as guys and girls. There is such a bigger understanding of things.

 

OK, the predictable question here: Could this approach lead to romantic relationships that kids may not be ready for?

From my experience, I think that was even stronger when they separated the guys and girls more. The more they separated us, the more we questioned why. Who are they?

I want to get to a normal where it’s OK to go talk to a girl or a guy. You don’t just talk to a girl or a guy because you want to date them. It’s OK to have a friend of the opposite sex. Just because I go talk to you doesn’t mean I’m interested in trying to date you or marry you one day. I just want to know who you are.

And I see that in our students. Some are a little flirty and we know those kids. But for a lot of students, they just want to get to know people. I don’t want to have to be shy or weird around you because you’re a guy or a girl. I want them to get a better idea of what it looks like to respect the other. For our guys, what does it look like to actually be a friend and be a gentleman to the girls?

 

Now with some staff shuffling, you’ve taken on the Rooted ministry as well. What’s your focus there?

My hope is for our community to be a place for college-age students and young adults to come and take ownership of their faith. Many people, myself included, grew up in the church living out their family’s faith. But then in these crucial years of beginning to live on your own, you can truly learn, refine and own your faith. We want to be a space where people can come and ask real questions and then journey into those together as a community.

 

Rooted college/young-adult ministry meets every Tuesday in the lower level of the main campus.

 

What are you learning so far?

We all come in with everything we have learned from our families and home churches. We can bring these different perspectives not to change others or prove others wrong, but for better learning. I can only grow when I hear, see and experience others’ views — not just by sitting in things I already believe or by listening to people who think exactly like me.

 

Seems like you could do some easy research by asking the Rooted group what worked and didn’t work for them back in junior high.

One of my questions is always, “What was your youth group experience like? What things have you held on to, and what things do you say ‘That was just traumatizing. I’m trying to forget that’?

A lot of them have shared: The best things, biggest and fondest memories weren’t from a big event night or even retreats. It was just moments, whether scheduled or unscheduled, just being together. There was one youth pastor or one leader who was so committed, just inviting us over to their house or to do things together. And that is the picture I’m holding now in my mind of what true community looks like.

It’s not about bigger, better events. It’s not about making my teaching the most crazy with so many examples or whatever, it’s about the moments where they were affirmed, that they had friends and a place to belong. That they were seen. They were heard. Those are the things that they remember most. So then those are the things that I want to put a lot of our time into.

 

Is there a bottom line for you in ministry?

What I want for our students is to get to a point that, I know that Jesus is real. I know the things he said and the things he has done for me are real, because I have seen and experienced first-hand his followers, his people, living that same thing out to me.

I know I’m here because of people like Meredith and my other leaders back in that youth group — people who didn’t just understand this whole Jesus thing, but made it real. And they allowed me to have that same experience. They just loved me and cared for me. I know Jesus is real because I saw his disciples do that work in my life.

 

Clayton’s Favorites

Music: The Starbucks playlist on Spotify. It’s good music that you can listen to and get work done at the same time. That’s when I listen to music the most is when I’m writing or putting together a message.

Movie: Star Wars

TV show: Parks & Recreation

Food: Pizza (what else would I say as a middle school leader?)

Vacation place: Colorado. I love the mountains.

 

New Faces Meredith Domanico

New faces at First Free: Meredith Domanico

First Free Rockford is pleased to welcome Meredith Domanico as its new Director of Student Ministries.

Meredith has worked in student ministries for nearly 13 years. She grew up in Libertyville and is looking to relocate to the Rock River Valley as she settles in at First Free. Meredith is married to her husband, Matt, and they have a 13-year-old son, Antonio.

She earned her marketing degree at DePaul University and worked in radio for several years. Additionally, she helped manage a hair salon owned by her sister.

In transitioning to church work, Meredith said, “The Lord just opened a door to ministry.” She started volunteering with students in junior high and high school through her former home church, The Chapel campus in McHenry. That work led to her becoming the student ministries pastor, and her love of working with church members in that younger age range has continued to develop.

“What I love about student ministries is it’s such a real environment. There’s such a desire to be known and in the community together, and to be vulnerable and authentic with each other,” she said. “They ask the hard questions. Once they’re comfortable, they take risks, worship without abandon and invite their friends. I love how we have the opportunity to be the place that looks different than the hallways at school.”

Her involvement with church intensified after college. She recalled attending a Saturday night service many years ago and hearing the voice of God say, “You’ve been coming (to church) – now it’s time to give.”

She was attracted to First Free through interactions with senior leadership, and she was looking for a new challenge.

“I was comfortable where I was at. But God doesn’t call us to be comfortable,” she said. “I met with the senior leadership team here, and we clicked really well. I’ve been letting God really direct me, and things kept getting more and more clear.”

She looks forward to helping build and create new directions for the youth program. “I love to mentor and disciple people, just do life together.”

In addition to regular Sunday and Wednesday student programming, you can find Meredith during her Around Town Tuesdays sessions at local coffee shops and restaurants. She’s doing them twice a month, and they’re a time for students to gather, do homework, and talk about life, school, Jesus – the format is wide open.

Parenting in a Technological World

FamilySummitNews

We are in the midst of our first annual Family Summit. This is an opportunity for us to come together of all ages to worship and learn together. Our goal is to encourage all families of our church to look to Jesus together. Last night we discussed how we can look to Jesus while parenting in a technological world.

I was privileged to be able to teach the parents on this topic. My primary goal was to give very practical resources to the parents to help monitor and protect their student from addictions and dangers. But before I summarize those resources, I want to remind us of why we need to set up boundaries and rules with technology.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in the house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down and when you rise.
Deuteronomy 6:5-7

As parents and the leading adults in a child’s life; your job is to create an culture in your home that is centered on loving God. In all things, at all times, you must be encouraging your student to love the Lord with everything they have. And that includes technology.

These resources below are suggestions to help protect and monitor your student. You best know your student and their habits, so you decide what is helpful.

Movies and TV:
Have you ever wondered if the show or movie your family is about to watch is appropriate? Well with these two apps, you can not only learn what the movie is about but also what inappropriate content is in the movie. Both of these apps are free!

  • Plugged In: This app comes from “Focus on the Family”. This app gives you a plot summary, the positive elements, the negative elements, and the potential   spiritual elements. This app is really solid for recent movies.
  • IMDB: This app is a big go-to for me. This app shows you all the actors, trailers, and information you could ever need on a movie or show. But the best part is that for each TV show and movie, there is a section called “parent’s guide”. This will tell you all of the inappropriate content in the movie or show. And in some shows, it goes episode by episode.

Built In Phone Settings:
Your smart phone and tablet have settings built in that just need to be turned on. I am going to share two settings in an iphone or ipad. There are several more and here is a link for more information.

(If you are an android user, here is a link with instructions for you. But I would recommend installing another filtering program…like mobicip.)

  • Guided Access: This setting, when turned on, only allows the user to remain in a   single app. So if you have a child who loves to play a game on your ipad, but you are fearful they will accidentally send an email or delete something, turn on   guided access. The only way for them to turn off this feature is to put in your customized pin code. This feature also allows you to set up time limits so that your child or student doesn’t play the game too long.

How to turn it on: SETTINGS –>GENERAL –>ACCESSIBILITY –> GUIDED ACCESS.

  • Restrictions: This setting is a must for all apple devices in your house. Under this setting, you can restrict adult content from being searched on websites. So if your child or student is trying to search for something inappropriate, it will block them. Also, this setting allows you to turn off the ability to download apps, movies, facetime, etc.

How to turn it on: SETTINGS –>GENERAL –>RESTRICTIONS –>WEBSITES

Programs, Filters, and Monitoring:
Laptops and Home Computer Filtering:
If you have a home computer or a laptop in your home, you may want to make sure that there is a program installed to monitor and filter all internet activity.

  • Covenant Eyes: This is a solid program that filters out content and sends you, the parent, reports of what your child is searching for online. It costs $15 a month and is worth it.
  • X3 Watch: This is a free program that works great. It does not filter but it tracks Internet activity and sends reports of inappropriate searches.

Limiting Time on Devices:
If you have a phone or tablet addicted child, then you may want to look into setting up time limits.

  • Screen Time: This app allows you to set up time limits, schedules, and shut down on devices. There is both a paid and free version.

Phone Browsers:
This is the big one. With the continually rise of pornography, we must be doing all that we can to protect our student. If you have a filtering app for their phones, this will protect them from accidental searches and addictions.

  • Mobicip: This is the best one out there. This program costs only $40 a year. And this program sets up content filters, time limits, and sends you internet history reports. I recommend this app even with the built in settings on your       phone…because there are always loopholes.

House Rules:
The last bit of practical advice I can give is to set up technology house rules. Things that you set up that everyone in the family must abide by. Here are a couple examples:

  • Time Restrictions: Maybe you don’t want anyone on their phones after 9pm. Maybe you don’t want to watch more than 3 hours of TV a day.
  • Charging Stations: I would recommend setting up a location where your kids’ phones and devices can be charged overnight. This well help your child be able to get the sleep they need without being distracted by their device. But also, it protects your student from inappropriate searching when no one is looking. Set up a power strip in your bedroom or in the kitchen and you have your charging station.

You know your family best. So if any of this is helpful for you, then great! If there is anything that we can do to help you in this area, let us know. Thanks for helping your family look to Jesus.

 

 

Heartbeat’s Series: God Is…

We are in a new series in our 7th and 8th grade ministry! Join us as we spend 4 weeks together learning more about who God is. We will spend time playing games, discussing in small groups, and learning about who God is. See you from 6:30-8:00 this Wednesday!

*We will not be meeting on November 26th due to the Thanksgiving Holiday.