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Local youth groups selected for nationwide study

Two local Presbyterian church youth groups will participate in a nationwide study of effective youth ministries.

Youth groups from Northmont United Presbyterian Church in McCandless and Hebron United Presbyterian Church in Penn Hills are among 46 Presbyterian youth programs accepted for the study, called “The Study of Exemplary Congregations in Youth Ministry.”

The Pittsburgh Presbytery nominated Northmont and Hebron for the study, which involves 330 youth ministries from different denominations that have been recognized for being particularly effective.

Kristen Venne, assistant project director for the study, said it is sponsored by seven Christian denominations — Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Southern Baptist, Evangelical Covenant, Assemblies of God, Presbyterian Church USA and United Methodist.

They requested nominations of youth groups that, according to the study’s Web site, “are successful in shaping the faith lives of youth” in order to “discover what practices and key elements surround these youth ministries.”

Each denomination gathered nominations of affiliated congregations from the local governing body, university professors or seminaries that had youth group activities. All nominations — about 550, according to Venne — were sent to an advisory council, which set a cutoff point based on a number of criteria determined by research scientists. Any group that exceeded the cutoff point was selected to take part in the study.

Northmont youth director Lisa Tweardy said she thinks her youth group is outstanding, and she is excited about the opportunity to participate in this study. The church, which is along Perry Highway in McCandless, has about 800 members. The youth group has 70 to 80 members, divided into junior high and senior high levels.

For the first phase of the study, Tweardy filled out an extensive questionnaire designed for a youth group “that produced mature teenagers.” For the next part of the study, a group meeting will be conducted with Tweardy, church personnel and some youths who participate. The information gathered by the study will be put into a publication.

Tweardy, 29, of Bellevue, said she works hard to “build a relationship with (group) leaders and the kids” by going to school games, concerts and other activities in which the teens are involved. By building this relationship, she said, she “earns the right to be heard,” so she is better able to teach the students about their faith.

Youth group activities include service projects, church volunteering and other missionary work, such as leading Bible studies, working on church committees, serving as deacons in the church and participating in the Sunday services.

Angela Morrone, 17, said she thinks Northmont United Presbyterian Church’s youth group is “really fun,” and she is glad to see it is getting national recognition.

Morrone, of McCandless, is a junior at North Allegheny Senior High School and has been involved in the youth group since she was in seventh grade. She said she enjoys helping with the junior high section of the youth group and teaching a Bible study group. Morrone also said she enjoys learning about faith from Tweardy.

According to Hebron youth director Jerry Zielstra, that group is just beginning the study.

The Rev. Douglas Rehberg, Hebron’s pastor, said he thinks a large part of the group’s success in creating mature young adults can be attributed to Zielstra, who has been involved with Hebron’s youth organization for 15 years. Rehberg said the youth ministry helps young people “get their relationship with Christ solid through the Bible.”

The 750-member church has about 270 members in its youth ministry, which ranges from preschool to college programs. A number of after-school programs, mission programs and other activities are offered. Recently, students sponsored an Easter celebration and egg hunt for community children younger than 12. Junior and senior high students are able to take part in “The Rock,” a Sunday evening program that offers bands, talks and additional social opportunities.


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