News Articles

Columbine tragedy prompting new avenues of youth outreach

BOULDER, Colo. (BP)–As the summer break for high school students kicks into high gear, veteran youth minister Tom Coffan is planning an intensified teen outreach at East Boulder (Colo.) Baptist Church.
In the past, the youth group sponsored “Tuesday Night Thing,” an activity-based meeting that led to Scripture discussions. But Coffan doesn’t want to repeat events that may primarily reach those from a church background.
Among the plans he reviewed with two college-age interns was a street hockey tournament, which would appeal to a wider audience. That is one lesson that emerged from the April 20 tragedy at Columbine High School in Littleton, he said.
“What Columbine did was underscore our need to reach disenfranchised students,” said Coffan, who has been in youth ministry more than 30 years. “I want to reach the kids on the fringe, along with the rest of them.”
The pastor and his interns spent two days escorting youth culture expert Walt Mueller, director of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding in Elizabethtown, Pa., around the metropolitan Denver area. Mueller met with pastors and led two meetings for parents, teachers and youth workers.
Coffan said Mueller’s seminars have already created an impact. Talks are under way about asking Mueller to return for an extended seminar. His church also plans to form a parental support group, with Mueller’s materials used for discussion.
“Walt is a terrific analyst of youth culture,” Coffan said. “He’s up to date. He knows what he’s talking about so he’s credible with students.
“He isn’t giving simplistic clichés … . He can lead students to say they’re looking for a relationship where promises aren’t broken and people don’t use them, and show them Jesus is the answer to that desire. We would like parents and youth workers to take that approach.”
At Ken Caryl Baptist Church, located about a mile from Columbine, interim pastor Rob Norris expects Mueller’s visit to have a “huge” impact.
“As a parent, I struggle with what my kids are interested in and what they’re being influenced by media-wise,” said Norris, also the director of missions for the Denver Association of Southern Baptist Churches. “I want to be able to relate to them the best I can. The more we understand the better off we’ll be.”
In addition to hosting Mueller, pastors in the Littleton area met recently with a group from Jonesboro, Ark. The Southern pastors shared their insights about dealing with the long-term effects of tragedy. Four students and a teacher were murdered at a middle school there in March 1998.
From both sets of meetings, Ken Caryl has learned to be diligent in its follow-up, since everyone deals with tragedy at their own pace, Norris said. The job at Ken Caryl includes interacting with 13 Columbine students.
“The main thing we’re advising the church to do is to stay in contact,” Norris said. “To advise kids who are most at risk. For kids at Columbine and Ken Caryl, our youth pastor has his thumb on what kids are most at risk. We’re staying in touch with them and their families, making an effort to call them regularly.
“It’s made our people a lot more aware of young people,” Norris said of the multiple bombings and shootings that shook the school April 20. In the past, those who didn’t know any teens didn’t think much about them, he said.
About a month after the tragedy, an adult Sunday school class served the youth group juice and doughnuts and gave them a monetary gift for their program.
“Those kind of things are happening a lot,” Norris said. “I’ve seen a lot more adults talking to youth in the halls, giving them a hug and saying, ‘We love you. We care about you.'”

    About the Author

  • Ken Walker