When Brad Jones returned to Kingsport as the youth minister at Oakwood Forest Christian Church, he knew he’d have to find a way to connect with the kids in the group.
He found it on a skateboard.
“The church had gone through a rough little down time and there were only a few kids left, but some of them were really big into skateboarding,” Jones said.
Jones, who had snowboarded but never really skateboarded before, decided to reach out to the kids by getting a group together to skate once a week.
“Pretty soon, I noticed that the group of kids that I would skate with started to grow, and it occurred to me that we had a real opportunity to make a difference by reaching out to these kids,” Jones said.
Having heard of similar programs in other places, Jones approached the elders at Oakwood Forest about using a building the church owned for a unique outreach ministry.
And Skate Church was born.
“We had acquired the old Ace Hardware building, and nothing was really going on in it, so I asked if we could do a Bible study and let the kids roll around in there,” Jones said.
“I figured we’d just put a couple of little tiny ramps up and see what happened,” he said.
What happened stunned not only Jones, but the church and the volunteers who helped with the ministry as well.
“It completely blew us away. In a year’s time, it went from just me to a staff of five or six. Within six months time, we were up to about 30 to 40 kids. Within a year, we were up to 60 or 80 kids and had a full skate park built,” Jones said.
“We never in our wildest dream imagined that it would blow up like that,” he said.
An outreach ministry of Oakwood Forest Student Ministry, Skate Church meets most Tuesday nights during the school year from August until December and then from January until May.
Currently closed for an extended winter break because of neighboring construction, during which time work on the building and demolition to surrounding buildings made it impossible to hold sessions, Skate Church is gearing up to re-open in February for its spring session.
“I’m eager to see what the response will be when we re-open,” said Jones. “We can’t wait to get going again.”
The format for the ministry will remain the same, he said, and all comers are welcome.
“We don’t hide anything from them. We call it Skate Church for a reason,” Jones stressed.
“Our main goal isn’t to get the masses saved. It’s to introduce these guys to Christ,” he said.
Skate Church meets on Tuesdays, with doors opening at 6:30 p.m. Youth of all ages are welcome, as long as they’re willing to abide by the rules.
Each skateboarder is required to check-in, sign a waiver and review the rules. Among those rules is that each participant must agree to wear a helmet at all times, regardless of ability.
Then, after some action on the ramps and rails, the group pauses for refreshments and its nightly Bible talk — a short Bible study often featuring a guest speaker. Once that’s over, participants can continue to skateboard until 8:30 p.m. when the facility closes.
“Even on a regular week, when there’s nothing special going on, we still have 40 plus,” Jones said, “and they come from all over. We have people from Mount Carmel, Abingdon, Greeneville.”
The facility has sections for both beginning and advanced skaters, and is designed as more of a street-type course, where kids can experience the thrills of outdoor skating without damaging any type of property.
“We actually have a little pro shop set up in there, where they can get parts if they need them. We have a limited number of rentals available,” Jones said.
“I own the skate shop downtown, so that makes it easy to get things to them,” he added.
Jackie Hite is one of the volunteers who can’t wait to get back to the ministry and the kids she’s come to care so much about.
“My child, Cameron, started skating a very young age. Skateboarding just started be coming more and more popular. The older he was getting, the more and more kids there were,” Hite said.
When Jones started skating with the youth after church, Hite witnessed the interest it generated and was more than happy to volunteer her time to help make and keep Skate Church available to the youth.
“We try to have a positive impact on the kids in a safe environment. Kids at this age, the kids that we’re targeting, they generally come and they’re looking for something anyway,” Hite said.
“It gives us the opportunity to get the word out and to get His message to them. For many of them, this is the first place they’ve heard about God,” she said.
Even after her son, now 16, moved on to other interests, Hite decided to stay involved with Skate Church and is, like Jones, eagerly awaiting the opportunity to re-open the doors to a whole new wave of youngsters.
“It’s kind of unique — if you look at the demographic of the kids that skate,” Jones said.
The majority come to it and really get into it between the ages of 12 and 14. Once they get over that, from 16 to 18, if they’ve gotten really good, they’ll stick with it, Jones said.
“If they haven’t [gotten really good] or they’re playing football and basketball, they tend to move away from it and then we see them come back when they’re in their early 20s,” Jones said.
“Either way, you always have new kids that are coming up. It seems like every year, when they hit middle school, you have a new wave of skaters,” he said.
“We can’t wait to see them,” Hite said. “We’re really looking forward to getting back in there.”
To learn more about Skate Church and to monitor details about when it will re-open to the public, visit www.skatechurchkpt.com.
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