NEW BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- School Bible clubs face many challenges these days, ranging from uninterested students to legal questions of whether such clubs are even constitutional.
But the Redbank Valley High School Bible Club in the small western Pennsylvania town of New Bethlehem certainly doesn't face such problems.
Two-thirds of the student body shows up for the 10:02 a.m. Monday weekly meetings. So many kids attend that students claim it is by far the world's largest Bible club in any public school.
The Key? Have Fun
Five years ago when they started, Club leaders hit on a wildly winning formula.
"Being a Christian is fun; it's the best way to go," Danielle Barlett, Bible Club vice president, recalled saying at the time. "So, let's bring some fun into the community."
Since then, these student leaders have spent thousands of hours across the years making sure the Monday meetings entertain and appeal to kids.
"It's not like going to church and just sitting there listening to a lesson. We get games and activities and videos," Bible Club president Ashley Reefer told CBN News
One of the highlights of the Bible Club is skits.
In one of them, the students created a lively, noisy game show where a contestant guessed the price paid for various products. The last "product" to appear was a fellow student, and it was revealed the price paid for him was the blood of Christ.
Communicating God's Love
The Redbank Valley High Bible Club always makes sure to present a loving message to the hundreds of students who throng to the meetings.
"Obviously God is the best person to cling to," Barlett said.
She then summed up the spiritual appeal of the Club's main message to students.
"I think when they're looking for something to cling to, and hey there's Somebody that loves you and Somebody who cares for you, that's the whole deal right there," she said.
"We've actually had some salvation lessons, and people have come to Christ through what we're teaching them," Reefer pointed out.
Maggie McCauley told CBN News about the day the Bible Club had real paramedics stage a rescue by rushing in the school to save a student.
McCauley, who was just 15 years old at the time, then gave a lesson.
"There are different ways that we can save lives physically, but the only way we can really save your life spiritually is by bringing you to God," she said during that lesson.
She then led a prayer for salvation, and to her astonishment, 43 hands went up.
"Kids in a high school accepting Christ in front of all their peers during the school day -- that doesn't happen anywhere else," she said.
Barlett believes public school is the perfect place for such happenings.
"Jesus calls us to go everywhere and to spread His word," she said. "And I know that public school is the best place because you're with all your friends and there's different cliques going on."
"And if we can all come together as one and be the Body of Christ, that's an amazing thing," she said.
Coming to a School Near You?
Many Christian students feel they couldn't do something like this in their school. But the Redbank Valley High Bible Club members point out this is everyone's constitutional right.
Students have the freedom to talk about God and enjoy Him every day no matter where they are, and that includes school, they say.
The Club kids are careful, though, to make sure their meetings don't stray across any legal lines. For instance, no teacher or school official runs these religious gatherings, which might suggest state sponsorship.
"It's totally student-led and we do all the lessons ourselves and the prayers and everything like that," Reefer assured CBN News.
After a while, the Christian kids at Redbank decided what they had was working so well, they wanted to spread their model around.
They've been advising other schools on how to get started. To their delight, Bible Clubs are popping up in nearby communities.
"It's nice to see how the other schools who didn't think they could do it to begin with, now they are," said a jubilant Doug Gundlach, next year's Club president.
Club Bible Giveaway
Back in their own town, the Bible Club decided to really live up to their name by being a constant source of Bibles to all who need them.
Club members worked with others in the community and raised thousands of dollars to buy hundreds of Bibles that they pass out for free at their public school.
Club Treasurer Elena Kunselman has been keeping track.
"We've given out 300 Bibles to the students in the past couple of years," she said.
"You're walking down the hall and you see all these Bibles everywhere," Barlett marveled. "And it's a great thing to see in a public school."
"I pray that we can be a light to others and we can be a good witness," she said while leading prayer at a recent Bible Club meeting.
Bible Club Bursting at Seams
So far, that witness has led to tremendous growth. When the Club first started, it was just a tiny Fellowship for Christian Athletes meeting that gathered in a corner of advisor Joe Harmon's history and civics classroom.
So few students were coming, members decided to throw it open to the entire student body. And it began to grow by leaps and bounds.
Soon the Club had to move to the much bigger band room, then to the theater-sized auditorium.
"Now we're filling up over half of the auditorium," Reefer said.
Of the school's 600 students, 393 showed up for the Bible Club meeting that CBN News attended. It's grown so popular, it's now beginning to attract outside Christian talent to tiny New Bethlehem.
In April, the Bible Club put on an Open House for the entire community that featured the Christian comedy duo, The Skit Guys.
New Bethlehem has fewer than a thousand residents, but more than a thousand people showed up on a Monday night for the standing room only Open House.
Barlett isn't surprised at all this success.
"We're so loving. We're so accepting, and again, it's a small town so we're all friends, we're all family," she explained.
"And once you're talking to somebody and you're saying 'God's really doing some things in my life,' that catches their interest," she added. "And it just starts spreading."
"We know that it is the Spirit leading us," Reefer said. "And it's amazing what He's doing here at Redbank."