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A Bridge to Adulthood

5 minutes with MATT AALSETH

March 22, 2017

Several years ago a Lifeway Research poll discovered that 70 percent of students who regularly attended church as teenagers had left the church by the time they were twenty-three. Matt Aalseth, director of youth ministry in the Pacific Southwest Conference, wants to see that trend change, so he started a program called Emerge.

What is the purpose of Emerge?

Some students who graduate from high school are unable or unready to start a four-year college degree. We created Emerge to provide a bridge for those graduates. Our tagline is “Move out, go to community college, get ahead.” Our goal is to help launch students into healthy and successful adulthood through a cohort model that includes mentoring, leadership development, life skills, and a strong spiritual foundation.

Matth Aalseth – director of youth ministry in the Pacific Southwest Conference

How does it work?

A group of eight to ten students move to another city to enroll in a two-year associate degree program at a community college. This past fall our first cohort of
nine students began in Sacramento, California, and enrolled in two nearby community colleges.

Families from Rock Harbor Covenant Church in Rocklin are hosting the students in their homes, providing both room and board. Students volunteer ten hours a week at the church or at Common Grounds Covenant Church in Sacramento. Additionally, every Pacific Southwest Conference youth event includes an Emerge component. Emerge students serve at these events and also have their own mentoring, worship, and learning time. Their participation in these events provides a positive example for younger students of staying involved in the church while in college.

Each Emerge student is paired with a mentor from the church, and the entire cohort meets weekly with their campus pastor, Justin Tomscak, who serves in this role part-time. Justin disciples the students, and together they are all working through curriculum on managing personal finances and leadership. Every morning they read the same Bible passage and interact with each other online with that portion of Scripture.

How much does it cost?

Each student pays $5,000 for the year. That fee covers discipleship materials, retreats, meals, and also helps to support the campus pastor. By next year we hope to wrap the students’ tuition ($1,100 a year for California resident community college) into the total cost of $5,000.

How is the first group doing?

This group loves each other! They look forward to being together. On our first intensive retreat we went to a Zombie Escape Room. They were scared out of their minds but they “got out” of the escape room and had a blast. They celebrate birthdays and other milestones together. The students absolutely love Justin, who is a highly relational teddy bear. He listens to the students and genuinely loves them.

What are your plans for Emerge going forward?

The idea is spreading. We are actively working on a Los Angeles and Bay Area cohort to start in the fall. The Pacific Northwest Conference youth ministry is on the threshold of starting its own Emerge program with a kickoff retreat in May, followed by a month-long internship experience in July.

On the lighter side, what do you do for fun?

I am really fascinated by folding kayaks, which are made of light collapsible metal and have fabric skins. When folded they end up about the size of a golf bag.
I own two kayaks and love the flexibility of being able to throw them in my car and go anywhere! I like to kayak on local lakes, having sworn off ocean kayaking after getting flipped by some large waves.

For more information go to emergeprograms.com

About the Author

  • Diana Trautwein is a retired Covenant pastor who offers spiritual direction from her small study or by Skype. She lives on the central coast of California with her husband, Richard, where they attend Montecito Covenant Church. They have three grown children and eight grandchildren. She enjoys taking her elderly mom, who suffers from dementia, out to lunch every week. She blogs at Just Wondering (dianatrautwein.com).

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