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Aguon puts the word youth back in youth ministry

By Greg Gelpi

To reach the youth it helps to be a youth.

Charles "Tiger" Aguon, 19, became the youth pastor of Morrow First United Methodist Church three weeks ago and in his short stint has tripled the participation in youth activities.

"They were hesitant because of my age," Aguon said of church administrators. "I think it was more that they had to watch me relate to the youth."

Transforming the youth meeting center, known as the 3:16 Room, Aguon has reached youth of his parish by relating to them and addressing them on their level.

Strobe lights, a karaoke machine and Christian graffiti replaced the more traditional d?cor of the room, changes that appear to have garnered support from the youth.

"I think if we had a plain room no one would get involved," Aguon said. "To catch the youth, you have to catch their eye."

And he has caught the eyes of many youths in the church, so many that he must buy more chairs for the youth room, he said.

"There are many people in life making bad decisions," Aguon said. "Someone needs to step up to the line."

His age allows him to "step up to the line" while still being able to empathize with the youth.

Mapping out goals and plans for achieving his goals, Aguon made believers of Pastor Bill Jackson and church staff, Youth Coordinator Jodi Dean said. Enduring interviews with the pastor, youth coordinator and finally an interview with the youth, his energy and enthusiasm won them over.

And he isn't satisfied with tripling the attendance. He set a goal for 50 youths by Christmas, and if he meets the goal, he promised to color his hair pink, one more way he is giving of himself to encourage participation.

"That's a pretty hefty goal for someone who started with 13," Dean said. "I think he has exceeded expectations."

And Aguon has set other goals for the group as well, wanting them to set a "precedent" for other youth groups to model themselves after.

"They need to go beyond our four walls," he said.

Aguon interviewed for the position with brochures in hand and a presentation board, detailing his strategy for the coming months and years.

Morrow First United Methodist Church has had three youth pastors in the past three years, and the youthfulness of Aguon may provide another benefit to the high turnover, Dean said.

He is considering, with much coaxing from parishioners, attending a local school, she said, which would add stability to the church's youth ministry.

Programs, such as this, are what Clayton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracy Graham is looking for. She recently spoke to the Clayton County Ministers' Conference about the importance of giving youths something to do. Boredom often leads to criminal behavior, she told the conference.

Graham reached out to the conference in an attempt to collect information on various programs to keep youths busy and out of the juvenile court system.