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?”
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.
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.
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 linkwith 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.
May 19, 2016 / Comments Off on Parenting in a Technological World
Last night in our High School Ministry, Element, we looked at the Christmas story in Luke 2. We focused on how God has come to us in order to save us. He came to GIVE to us life…a gift we did not deserve. So I challenged the students to do 2 things as a result of this Christmas story. The first was to use every opportunity to share what Christmas is actually about: God coming to save us. Christmas is not just about a baby in a manger, but also about the cross. So we have a great opportunity to spread the good news of Jesus this season.
The second thing I challenged our students to do is to give. Just like how Jesus gave to us, we are called to give to others. We have decided that next Wednesday, the 9th, we will be raising money through Compassion International. For just $180, we can provide food for a baby and mother for 1 whole year. For just another $134, we can provide a water well for 4 families. So we have set a goal of $314. This is roughly just $5 a student. And we believe that we can give above and beyond.
I am excited to see our students GIVE. They are excited to give, not for the attention, but because they are excited to follow Jesus in his example. So please pray for our students but also if you are a parent of one of these students, remind them of why we are giving.
December 3, 2015 / Comments Off on Element: Giving
Element High School Ministry is in a series called “Let’s Go Out.” We looked at the topic of love the first week, and this past week, we looked at the topic of sex. We looked at 4 questions and compared culture’s answer to God’s.
What is Sex? 1. Culture says that sex is just PHYSICAL.
God says that sex is becoming ONE.
Here we looked at Genesis 2:21-25 and the beauty of marriage. In this passage, the key theme is “Unity.” Not only was Eve created with Adam’s rib, but they “became one flesh” through sex. Sex is not just a physical act or entertainment. It is bringing two people together to become one. Thus, God created sex to be in marriage and to reveal commitment to one another.
2. What’s at Stake?
Culture says that sex is just for FUN.
God says that sex affects YOU and your future SPOUSE.
Culture says sex is just fun and has no consequences. But God shows us in 1 Corinthians 6:18 that any type of sexual sin damages ourselves. When we sin sexually, we are sinning against God, our future spouse, and ourselves. A little decision can have big effects
3.What do I do now? Students are years away from marriage and thus years away from God’s design for sex in marriage. So what do they do now? We gave them 3 action steps.
–RUN AWAY from all that encourages sex. –PRAY for yourself and your future relationships
-Determine what STORY I want to tell. This last action step came from Andy Stanley. Here is an excerpt of his thoughts:
one day you will have to share your past with your future spouse and you can share 1 of the following 3 stories with them.
When I was a teenager I messed up sexually. I got carried away with someone I was dating. I figured that since I did it once, it didn’t matter if I did it again. So I slept with several people along the way to meeting you.
When I was a teenager I messed up sexually. But when I was in high school, I learned what God’s design was for sex and purity. So I committed to following those standards and have stuck with them. I saved myself from high school on for you.
When I was a teenager I realized that God knows more about sex than anyone. Since he created sex for marriage, I decided to wait. I have saved myself for you. Determine what story you will tell your future spouse. And commit to it.
4. What if I mess up?
God is full of GRACE and His PEOPLE are too.
Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that as sin reigned in death, grace might also reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 5:20
Grace abounds when shame and mistakes and sin rise. Thankfully, no matter where we mess up, we have a God who forgives.
November 16, 2015 / Comments Off on Let’s Go Out: Week 2
We started a new series last night in Element called Let’s Go Out. In this series we are going to talk about what God’s Word says about love, sex, and dating. Over the next three weeks, I want to summarize each lesson here on this blog.
This past Wednesday, we looked at the topic of love. If we don’t get love right, we definitely won’t get dating and sex right. So we want to lay the foundation of what love looks like. And love defined in Scripture will impact not just our dating relationships, but all of our social interactions. So we first defined what love is and then we spent the last half of our time talking about how our culture has twisted God’s definition of love. So here are our points from last night:
What Love Should Be…
Love is DISPLAYING and IMITATING God to others.
If we want to truly love someone, we will treat them as God has treated us. We know that God is love (1 John 4:8) but we also have been given a description of true love. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 says this:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
True love is acting like that description. If you truly love your friend or sibling or boyfriend, you will act like 1 Corinthians 13. And each one of those characteristics is a description of how God has acted towards you. Love in its essence is acting godly.
What Love is Today…
Love is something to excite us TEMPORARILY rather than something to COMMIT to.
Our culture has made “love” out to be something that is just a “fling.” But this is the opposite of a love that always perseveres.
Love is something to GET rather than something to GIVE.
Love in our culture is all about me. It is all about what I can get from this relationship. But this is opposite of a love that is not self-seeking.
Love is something to make us FEEL GOOD rather than something to PROTECT.
Love in our culture is all about crossing physical boundaries and feelings. But this is the opposite of a love that is honoring and a love that rejoices in truth.
If we have a right view of love, we will have the right views of relationships. Love is about showing the other person(s) who God is. So this changes everything when it comes to dating and romance. Next Wednesday we will cover the topic of sex.
Director of Student Ministries
November 5, 2015 / Comments Off on Let’s Go Out: Week 1
In our High School Ministry, Element, we just finished a 4 week teaching series called Did You Hear That? Each week, we would look at one saying of Jesus that is really hard for us to believe and follow. Jesus is not an easy person to follow or believe in. He says some very radical and confusing things. At times we can forget that there is a true cost to following Jesus. We had the opportunity to encourage our students to value obedience over comfort. Here is a little summary of each week:
Week 1: Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven…” In this passage, Jesus reminds us that just because we know the right things to believe about Jesus does not mean we truly know him as Lord and Savior. Our church attendance and our good deeds do not earn us salvation. But those who do enter the kingdom of heaven are those whose lives are full of confession and dependence upon Jesus. The ones who inherit heaven are those who know that they cant get there without the work of Jesus.
Week 2: John 9:1-7 “Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” This story in John 9 is a wonderful story of Jesus healing a blind man. But if we look in more detail at this story, we will come across a difficult truth. In verse 3, Jesus says that this man was born blind so that “God might be displayed in him.” This man suffered for years for the sole purpose of God being glorified in Him. So we had the opportunity to talk about how our own suffering can lead to glorifying God. And one truth that we focused on was this: In times of suffering, don’t focus on the “Why” but focus on the “Who.” In times of difficulty, look to God who can be displayed in you.
Week 3: Matthew 5:29-30 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. This statement of Jesus is difficult because sin is so attractive to us. Sin promises us happiness and excitement and fulfillment. But as we discussed, sin actually separates us from God. In this talk, we focused on the practicality of how to “gouge” sin out of our lives. We may need to take radical steps to avoid our sin. We may need to find new friends, give up our phones, or even change schools. If we desire obedience to God above all else, we will do whatever it takes to reject sin.
Week 4: Matthew 5:10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Sharing the gospel with our friends is hard enough. But now Jesus says that when we share the Gospel, we may be persecuted. If we desire to share the good news of Jesus, we will suffer. We know this because of Jesus Christ and his suffering. He paid the penalty for our sins and suffered upon the cross. When we accept that gift, we then have the opportunity to share it with others. It may bring suffering, but it also brings blessing. We have the privilege to follow Christ in this way.
This was a difficult series but it was a necessary one. I am so excited to see our students continue to follow Jesus, no matter the cost.
Director of Student Ministries.
November 4, 2015 / Comments Off on Did You Hear That?
ATTN: Students & Parents: Due to our speaker becoming ill, we will no longer be hosting the College Prep event tomorrow morning in Element. We will reschedule for a later date. Sorry for the inconvenience.
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.
November 18, 2014 / Comments Off on Heartbeat’s Series: God Is…