Young Life throws one heck of a party on Monday nights.
The Christian outreach ministry gathers an average of 50 teens at Kidz Play on Doggett Road in Forest City and rocks the house with music and games for an evening that culminates in testimony and appeals for a commitment to Jesus.
Leader trainee, Neely Holland said, "I don't see how people live without it."
With a church about every three miles and often more than one, some might wonder about non-church-based ministry to teens here.
"Our goal is to get them into church," Hayden Trull said of the ministry that has been in Rutherford County for seven years, but only in the past few months has hired Trull as a full-time employee.
He said the roughly 50 youth who show up Monday nights at 7:11 are about half involved in churches now, while the other half are not.
Adult leaders so far have come from Salem United Methodist in Bostic and Second Baptist in Rutherfordton.
Adult leader Rachel Petit said she is there because, "When I was a teenager, a woman in her 30's mentored me; and her exposing me to the Bible has changed the course of my life." Petit has three children of her own, all pre-teen, and attends Second Baptist. She calls Young Life, "a place where teens can feel loved."
Trull said the ministry was started in 2013 by East Rutherford High School guidance counselor Donna Baldwin, "because she knew how it has a reputation for changing lives."
Trull said the local group rarely deals with problems of alcohol, other drugs or teen pregnancy. "Mostly it's normal emotional stuff, sometimes a bad home life."
Prior to a recent song fest, the group gathered in the parking lot and played a jumping and shouting game that involved clapping hands and passing recognition from one to another. It was pure fun.
As the group moved upstairs into a clubhouse atmosphere, the individual members passed under an archway of uplifted arms from the adult leaders. There is a lot of shouting and smiling and encouragement.
On the wall of the clubhouse are hand-lettered signs that read, "Perfect in His eyes," "God is pleased with me," "Always accepted by God," and "God carries the weight."
The wall also features blow-ups of black and white photos that show huge groups of young people who are either smiling or mugging for the camera. The atmosphere speaks fun and emotional support.
The high energy of the parking lot game moved into the upstairs meeting where the group sang, "You want my love. You want my heart. And we will never ever be apart."
The goal is conversion. Trull said, "When a kid feels safe enough, we have the talk."
His brother, Ethan, initiated him into Young Life when he was in college.
"As long as we agree about the importance of Jesus, we don't worry much about doctrine," Trull said and referred to the fact that teens come from and return to Catholic and many Prostestant denominations.
Young Life is an international ministry based in Colorado Springs, CO. Its local budget is $70,000 and Trull had to raise $19,000 personally before he went on staff here.
The local group works closely with Thomas Jefferson's high school, which has provided him office space and he holds 7 a.m. prayer and Bible study meetings for kids at the school. Trull is also the school's baseball coach.
He calls the environment in the ministry, "nonjudgmental."
Among the main goals of the ministry is to reach out to "teens who have been alienated from church."
Trull is currently a seminary student at Fuller Theological Seminary hoping to earn a masters in youth ministry and culture. He's 25 years old.
"These days I hear from kids who are 23 who I mentored when I was 20 and they were 18. It's very encouraging to hear what a difference Young Life has made in their lives," Trull said.
Holland said she still has friends who are resisting the message of the Gospel. "I tell them about Jesus, but if they don't want to hear it, I'm still their friend."
Rutherford Young Life can be found on Facebook and Instagram. Trull said there is always a need for financial support and adult volunteers. The high energy meetings get underway on Monday nights at 7:11. What about that unusual hour?
"It's easy to remember," Trull said.