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Cutting-edge youth center puts teenagers on ‘The Right Track’

FRANKLIN, Tenn. (BP)–Teenagers looking for fun, excitement and a student ministry that cares about relationship are taking the last train to ClearView Baptist Church — literally.

ClearView, a Southern Baptist congregation in the southern suburbs of Nashville, Tenn., recently opened a 13,000-square-foot, high-tech youth center that has a 90 percent replica of a locomotive coming through the wall. The entire center, located on the third floor of a new education building, is designed to resemble three generations of train stations, from the 1930s to the 1950s.

And now the church’s $450,000 investment is beginning to reap spiritual dividends, ClearView youth minister Mike Tisdal said.

“Our ministry is based around relationships,” he said. “The kids bring their friends and they feel welcomed, accepted. It’s contagious.”

Tisdal was called as ClearView’s first fulltime youth minister more than 18 months ago. Since then, the youth program, called “The Right Track,” has grown from 40 kids in Sunday School to nearly 200 — and is still expanding.

When Tisdale came to ClearView, he said pastor Bret Robbe told him “the sky is the limit.” With support from the staff and the church, Tisdale set out to create a cutting-edge youth center.

His first help came from Paul Haines, a church member and former set designer for Universal Studios. The train station idea came from Haines. From there, church member Chris McCollum, a local contractor, poured through books of old railroad depots to build an authentic replica.

The completed project includes exterior brick walls, doors fashioned to resemble boxcars and a 1950s diner called The Station. The diner includes booths, stools and a working jukebox that was given to the student ministry by church members. The diner provides pizza, nachos, soft drinks and even Goo-Goo Clusters, a favorite Southern candy.

But the retro look does an about-face when it comes to technology. ClearView’s youth center is equipped with the latest high-tech gadgetry that appeals to the MTV generation, Tisdal said.

For example, The Station is outfitted with arcade games, foosball tables, multiple video play stations, more than 30 televisions that can accommodate DVD, VHS and PowerPoint presentations and satellite transmissions — and the center has surround sound.

The results of the new center have been overwhelming, students and youth workers say.

“It’s really great,” said Daniel Childs, 15. “We didn’t know what to expect when they first told us about the room, but it’s a lot of fun. It’s easy to invite friends to church.”

Childs said one friend who came to The Station is about to join the church. “It’s really bringing people into the church,” he said.

Kyndall Monroe, 15, said the new youth center is “awesome.” Monroe, however, said there’s a different reason the youth group is growing.

“Everyone here is so friendly,” she said. “It makes it easier to fit in when everyone is so nice.”

Youth workers said the key to ministry at ClearView is building small-group relationships with young people.

“We want this to be a place where kids can hang out, be friends and be accepted,” Tisdal said. “Unchurched kids are looking for a place to belong and we want to be that place.”

“It’s not the facility that’s going to keep the kids here,” said Pam Grainger, a youth Sunday School teacher. “We have to love on kids. When they think about ClearView, we want them to know that there is a place for them here.”

Fellow youth worker Tammy Adams agreed. “When I remember back to my time in youth group, I remember the leaders,” she said. “I remember the people who took time to get to know me. Our goal here is for no one to get left behind.”

Brandon Powell, who occasionally leads the youth group in worship, said he’s never seen a group quite like ClearView. “There really aren’t any cliques here,” Powell said. “It doesn’t matter who you are, they give you love.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: ON THE RIGHT TRACK, CUTTING-EDGE FACILITY and RAIL-THEMED OUTREACH.

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  • Todd Starnes