“Friday Night Lights” is not only the title of a movie or a television show. It is also an understood phrase referring to what happens in many American towns that rally around high school football. In Oklahoma, this is a fall fixture.
For years, home football games bring out the community, not only of families who have sons on the team or daughters cheering on the sidelines, but also those who have embraced their hometown and feel unified with their neighbors.
Football games also are the hangout settings for many students, no matter their level of athletic interest, and many of them do not go home soon after the game is over. This is where “5th Quarters,” postgame church activities, can be an effective outreach ministry.
“I always found, and still observe today, that 5th Quarters are an invaluable part of student ministry,” said Andy Harrison, student ministry specialist for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. “I think they can be effective anywhere, but especially in small towns and communities. It is a great tool for building community and supporting the culture of student life with a fun and positive event. With a little creativity and a focused intentionality, 5th Quarters can yield great opportunities for sharing the Gospel and seeing students come to Christ.”
Typical functions and offerings at churches include inflatables, dodgeball competitions and plenty of food. Devotionals are offered by the youth pastor or a special guest speaker. But one of the most significant activities is also the easiest to afford. Student ministry leaders are interacting with young people.
“It’s a gathering that is fully encompassing all the students in the school, whether they are athletically-minded or arts-driven or if they are ‘gamers’ or skateboarders, whatever background they are. We are doing something that they can engage in and giving them a place where they can hang out,” said Tyler Rudek, student pastor at Guthrie, First Southern.
The Guthrie Blue Jays have been a successful Class 5A football team that have hosted many home games during the playoffs, so Guthrie, First Southern has had many opportunities to host 5th Quarters over the years.
“We will have about four or five 5th Quarters a season,” said Rudek. “It’s become a tradition, part of the routine, where they will go to game, hopefully get to celebrate a Blue Jay victory, and then come to our 5th Quarter. First Southern is only three blocks away from the football stadium. We are in a great location.”
Rudek said the whole church family participates in a 5th Quarter, and volunteers range from young adults to senior adults. “It takes a ‘small army’ of many church members,” he said. “It’s a churchwide participation. They don’t stay the whole night, but they help in different ways.”
Members of Guthrie, First Southern help with student check-in, building supervision and cooking meals. Many help contribute with food and bottled water and donate gift cards for prizes.
“Students hang out and participate in a wholesome environment instead of a party scene,” said Rudek. “This is a safe place, a place where you can come feel loved. Through that, we have been able to gain these relationships where a few have started coming to church with an end goal of building toward (a student) living a life for Christ.”
Tim Martin, student pastor at Lawton, First East, echoes Rudek’s philosophy of 5th Quarters. “We definitely use it as a front door ministry to our church. It is a time when students will definitely come to church because their parents feel it is safe. It is a place that offers a positive environment after football games.”
Martin mentioned a young man in the Lawton area was murdered after a football game a few years ago. Instead of choosing to attend a 5th Quarter, the young man went to a party outside of town. “(The incident) reminded me that these students are going somewhere, and it’s always been big on my heart that the church should offer alternatives for students.”
Lawton, First East also offers interactive functions, including inflatables. Martin said they used to offer Christian films, but he noticed today’s young people would rather spend time interacting, even with Sunday School teachers and student ministry leaders.
“The agenda is to love on students,” said Martin. “These kids desire that. I’ve seen them invite their friends so they could meet their teachers.”
Using 5th Quarters as a front door ministry, Martin has seen how these Friday night functions have helped increase church attendance. Young people are more inclined to come back another time, even on Sunday morning.
“A lot of students come through our doors. They have never been in church or have little exposure,” said Martin. “We have seen many of them return. Students feel more comfortable inviting their friends. No question, a lot of kids who have come to a 5th Quarter have transitioned to other programs that our church offers.”
As the “Friday Night Lights” continue to flicker this fall, remember in many towns at many churches, young people are being exposed to the Light of the world.