Keeping Christianity cool

La Crescenta Presbyterian has created a new youth group called Overflow, which organizers hope will inspire high-school teens to bond with college students and encourage them to stay active in church at a time when they might otherwise wander away.

Spearheading the growing group is youth director Cameron Hackett, who joined the church last year. If it weren’t for a mentor he had when he was a college student, he might not have found his way to Christianity at all, he said.

“We want kids to slow down, connect with each other in worship and realize the decisions they make in their high school and college years are the foundation for who they are going to become,” Hackett said.

Hackett also credits a quote he heard from Chap Clark, a professor at Fuller Seminary and author of 17 books on adolescents, for the idea behind Overflow. Clark said that 80% of young adults will continue in their Christian faith if they have four or five vested non-parental mentors while in their teen years.

“My own journey had a lot to do with close relationships and mentors, so I know this to be a key component and what we want to achieve with Overflow,” Hackett said.

Hackett said his family was “Christmas- and Easter-only” church goers and he found his path to Christianity while attending Occidental College simply by observing his mentor, who used to loan Hackett a car and offer advice. This motivated Hackett to learn more about faith, he said, and, much to his parent’s dismay, he decided to work for an urban ministry program in Lincoln Heights instead of studying abroad in Spain — and he’s never looked back.

Lauren Gossett, 22, a mentor with Overflow and a graduate of Point Loma Nazarene University, said she has been involved with mentoring younger students since she was a freshman in high school and has seen firsthand the progress Overflow is making with the youth at the church. She works with the high school students in Overflow and a group of junior-high girls on Wednesday nights.

The young people are latching on to Hackett and his carefree style of acting “goofy and silly while not feeling awkward about it,” and this allows the kids to act the same way, Gossett said.

“I tell the kids, being a Christian isn’t easy and your friends might not think you’re cool. Cam and I work together to help these kids open up. The only reason I stayed in church myself was because of a youth pastor that was here before Cam came — so I know it works. I was really lucky to have that.”

An effective way of getting the junior-high-school girls to open up to her about what is happening in their own lives is to read them cheesy Christian romances, Gossett said.

She and the other mentors have to strike a balance between being a friend and retaining an authority position, which is challenging, she added.

Hackett explained that Overflow has three components that will bring the kids back: community, worship and relevant speakers.

Hackett opened up the March meeting with some icebreaker exercises that had the kids laughing and getting to know each other — establishing the community between the kids. Then his wife, Erna Hackett, and her band “The Pretty Boys,” played several Christian rock songs and all the kids joined in singing for the worship part of the evening.

Speaker Latina Williams addressed the attentive young group with personal challenges she had faced and told a story from the Bible, making modern-day comparisons to Facebook and stalkers.

Jillian Kauffman, a 15-year-old student at La Crescenta Valley School said she liked how Williams connected the history of the Bible to a current idea.

“I have heard the Bible story before but connecting it to the present helped me get it in a way I hadn’t before, Jillian said.


What: Overflow

When: 7 to 8:30 p.m. first Thursday of the month

Where: La Crescenta Presbyterian Church, 2902 Montrose Ave.

Contact: (818) 249-6137

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