Nondenominational youth ministry continues to thriveTeens for Christ is a unique youth ministry. Unlike most Christian organizations that minister to young people, Teens for Christ isn’t operated by a particular church or denomination.
By: Randy Hanson, Hudson Star-Observer
Teens for Christ is a unique youth ministry.
Unlike most Christian organizations that minister to young people, Teens for Christ isn’t operated by a particular church or denomination.
The independent, nondenominational organization was started in 1976 by Bruce Cicchese, then the owner of an insulation business in Delano, Minn.
Thirty-four years later, the ministry has grown to serve some 500 teens a week who meet in Bible clubs in several western Wisconsin and Minnesota communities.
Four years ago, Teens for Christ built an 11,200-square-foot, state-of-the-art ministry center next to Hwy. 35 on the south side of Hudson.
“The Lord has blessed us. We’re still surviving – and thriving,” said Jim Cicchese, son of the founder and now executive director of the ministry.
“I think the fact that we are experiencing tremendous growth is remarkable.”
The ministry has 13 paid staff members (full- and part-time) and an annual operating budget of about $500,000.
In addition to sponsoring the Bible clubs, Teens for Christ holds Bible quiz tournaments, leadership training programs and monthly youth rallies. The ministry also leads mission and fishing trips and summer camps.
The ministry’s Institute for Teen Evangelism is a nine-month program that gives students the college-level Bible classes and other training needed to enter youth ministry.
The ITE classes are held at the Ministry Center. The students – high school graduates from around the country – also get on-the-job training with Teens for Christ.
The ministry’s Web site, www.teens4christ.com, says the organization is dedicated to four major purposes: 1. The gospel of Jesus Christ; 2. Helping teens to grow spiritually; 3. Guiding teens into discipleship with Christ; and 4. Placing teens into local congregations.
“Some churches feel threatened by us. They feel like we are competition – and we really aren’t,” Bruce Cicchese (pronounced Chick-eh-see) said while giving a tour of the Ministry Center in late December.
Teens for Christ encourages the young people it reaches to get involved in a local church, Cicchese emphasized.
When you consider the thousands of teenagers in the area, many of whom are un-churched, “there certainly is room for all of us,” he added.
Jim Cicchese, Bruce and Shirley’s middle son, joined the staff after graduating from high school in 1987.
He continued with the ministry while earning bachelor’s degrees from Liberty University and UW-River Falls, as well as a master of divinity degree from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.
Jim Cicchese majored in journalism and minored in physics at UW-River Falls.
He was promoted to executive director of Teens for Christ when his father stepped back from full-time ministry a few years ago.
Other key members of the Teens for Christ staff include Associate Director Chad Peterson, a Northwestern College of St. Paul graduate; the Rev. Paul Martin, dean and lead instructor of the Institute for Teen Evangelism; Jeff and Diane Wright, longtime leaders of the junior and senior high Bible clubs in Stillwater, Minn.; and Mark and Danette Gibson. Danette Gibson is Bruce Cicchese’s sister.
The Bible clubs that meet weekly in a dozen western Wisconsin and Minnesota communities remain the backbone of Teens for Christ, according to the ministry’s informational brochure.
The clubs, with the exception of the Hudson club, meet in homes.
The Hudson club, led by Jason Blackford, meets from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Mondays at the Teens for Christ Ministry Center. Attendance has been running at about 50 teens.
The schedule is flexible, Jim Cicchese said, “but we try to have at least 45 minutes of wild fun” followed by a Bible message.
Bible quizzing is another major focus of the ministry.
The various Bible clubs form teams that memorize scripture and compete against each other on their knowledge of the Bible in monthly tournaments.
The best Bible scholars from the ministry join teams that compete in a national tournament.
A case in the Ministry Center lobby displays the trophies that Teens for Christ teams have won at regional and national tournaments. Its best finish recently was third place at the 2007 tournament.
The new Ministry Center that opened in 2006 was built almost exclusively by volunteer labor on an eight-acre parcel donated to Teens for Christ by local builder Todd Bjerstedt.
The site is located just outside the Hudson city limits in the town of Troy, on the south side of Tower Road between Old Hwy. 35 and Hwy. 35.
The building houses the ministry’s offices, an auditorium that can seat 250 people, a prayer room, a classroom, a library and a commercial-quality kitchen.
“It was definitely a challenge for us,” Bruce Cicchese said of the building program. “Without the wonderful volunteers we had, we would never have completed it.”
The Ciccheses said area churches are welcome to use the Ministry Center grounds for activities. The property has a ball field, basketball court and sand volleyball court.
The kitchen and auditorium of the building are available for a fee.
The teens from Faith Community Church, which Bruce Cicchese attends, use the facility for their Wednesday night gatherings.
Other groups, including a karate class, rent the building, too. The Ciccheses said it’s used six, if not seven, days a week.
The Ministry Center was designed by Frisbie Architects so it can be expanded on three sides, Bruce Cicchese said.
“As you can see, we’re busting at the seams already, but we planned for it.”
Note: This story has been abridged for the online edition. The full story is available in the January 28 print edition of the Hudson Star-Observer.