Discipleship: Nothing lights up the face of Pastor Darren Keithly as much as talking about the kids in his ministry. Keithly serves as the new family pastor at Effort Church in Palmyra, VA. He leads age-graded ministries from the nursery to youth. Keithly and his wife Amy moved their family back to Palmyra recently. Previously, he taught resource and ESL classes at Fork Union Military Academy for 14 years while he attended Effort Church. While at FUMA, Keithly felt called to enroll in seminary at Liberty University and prepare for the ministry. Once he completed his master’s degree, he and his wife served at two different locations before returning to Effort Church.  

The church offers Effort Christian School and Preschool to their local community with classes for toddlers through fifth grade. The county schools are all virtual, so the school’s fall, in-person attendance has increased tremendously. Pastor Keithly speaks at their chapel services; this is one of the ways he supports their work with the students. Effort Church employs many safeguards to protect their students while providing a safe and in-person option and the community is responding to these changes with increased enrollment. 

Although Effort Church offers in-person corporate services, the children and youth ministries still operate with modified activities and meetings. The older students have met outside and have been able to see one another personally. And the ministry to children and their families has taken an exciting digital turn. “Effort Kids” broadcasts on the church’s Facebook page. Keithly streams live on Wednesdays with a message simple enough for children, but one that is deep enough to challenge and encourage the parents. “There is so much joy in watching children worship,” he said. There is a freedom found in their expression that can be lacking in adult worship. The typical children’s service includes all the elements of adult worship experiences with the addition of games and crafts. Keithly smiles as he recounts the importance of all people entering worship as children. 

“We must remember this has been a hard season for all of us, including the children,” remarked Keithly. He desires to bring joy and connection to the children and families in his ministry through creative activities. In the spring, he challenged the families to share pictures of sidewalk chalk art for Easter. Each piece of chalk art featured a cross, and the winning family won a pizza dinner to enjoy together. The families have enjoyed a scavenger hunt and will join together for an outdoor movie in the future. Effort Christian School also held a Trunk-or-Treat event at the end of October.  

The audio/visual needs of the family ministry are led by Pastor Keithly and staffed by volunteer youth and adults. He uses a Plex server and Roku stick to funnel worship videos to all the classrooms for children and youth. After winning a recent Bose Church sweepstakes, Keithly received the Bose S1 Pro portable PA system with an S1 Pro Backpack to support the sound and technical needs of his ministry. The loudspeaker will help with outdoor youth events and school chapel services. 

Keithly has taken this time of online ministry with his young congregants to update the worship space they use on Sunday mornings. The physical space and furnishings have received upgrades in preparation for their return. A new television will play worship videos for their services. He hopes to continue adding other technical elements that support the children’s worship space. Possible future upgrades include various microphones for those who lead. He expresses thankfulness for live streaming capabilities and the ability to meet outside. Although live streaming offers little feedback from the audience, Keithly sees the value in being able to connect with the Effort Church families.