Pine Hills Youth Group gives students a place to relax

Every once in a while, a group of students come to school wearing the same shirt. Most of the time, these shirts say or reference “Youth.”

This is not a coincidence.

The group of students wearing these shirts have gone on a retreat or trip with Pine Hills Church’s youth group and have come back home with the shirts as souvenirs of their experience.

Pine Hills Church, or PHC, is a relatively large church on Carroll Road less than half a mile from the school.

Tuesday nights, from 6:30 to around 9 p.m., PHC’s high school youth group meets for games, worship, a lesson, and small group.

Junior intern Preston Sawyer makes some announcements for the youth group. Photo by Blake Mast

Junior Daniel Riecke gave a brief overview of Pine Hills youth group.

“[It is] a collection of teenage Christ-followers who have a drive to love others and serve Jesus. All in all, PHC youth is a bunch of Christ followers who want to walk alongside each other in this life, and bring as many people to saving faith in Jesus as possible.”

Fellow Junior Bridget Bane affirms his statement.

“[Pine Hills is] a place where students come together in fellowship to worship and learn about Jesus, while encouraging and hanging out with each other,” she said.

Junior Preston Sawyer enjoys youth group as well.

“[It’s] awesome to have people around me [at PHC youth that] I can bond with, regardless of interests and popularity,” he said.

Pine Hills is a place to truly wind down and relax.

Riecke picked his favorite part of PHC youth.

“My favorite part of the youth [group],” he said, “is the sense of family and community we have. We are always very accepting of newcomers and always are there for the regulars. No one is left behind and everyone is loved while we all pursue a closer relationship with Jesus.”

Of course, there are differing opinions on the best part of PHC.

Junior Casey Bane puts his favorite part of Pine Hills quite simply: “Seeing all my friends there, worship, and small groups.”

Freshman Henry Burgette thinks the ability to connect with his peers is the most valuable part of youth group as well.

“Group time is where you can open up to your small group and be a part of the youth group,” he said.

The youth group takes part in worship together.

Everyone wants to be part of something, and PHC youth is not only easy to be a part of, but everyone is a valued part of it.

There are many youth groups around the Carroll High School area. Riecke acknowledged one of the biggest reasons to go to PHC:

“Something that makes Pine Hills special is that there is no difference of value from person to person,” he pointed out. “Everyone is cared about and loved in the same way as the next person, no matter who they are or what they’ve done in their past. Jesus loves everyone no matter what, and the students involved in the ministries at Pine Hills take on that same kind of loving characteristics.”

Unfortunately, nowadays there are not many places people can just walk in and be involved and accepted immediately. Pine Hills Youth is different and accepts others no matter what. The students there make it clear that everyone is invited, and that Pine Hills tries it’s best to dispose of cliques.

“[Pine Hills] provides a safe environment for anyone and everyone who is willing to take it,” said Kaylee Drury, senior and intern at PHC.

Places to rest and have fun, like PHC youth, are in high demand, and there’s no limit on how many people can be at Pine Hills on any given day.

Fellow intern Sawyer said, “Pine Hills has a crazy amount of spiritual maturity. Compared to other groups, Pine Hills is so mature and so friendly.”

Sawyer made sure to remind everyone that there is no competition between youth groups to see who is better. All youth groups serve the same general purpose, and hopefully, possess the same accepting and loving characteristics of Pine Hills.

“It’s not a competition,” he said, “so you should go where you find it is most comfortable.”

There are so many memories of Pine Hills youth that stick in the minds of the students that go there. But everyone has a favorite or two.

Casey Bane says his best memories of PHC are the Fall Retreats. Whether it’s late-night games or simple chats with friends, students are sure to make lasting memories.

Riecke’s favorite memory comes from this past year’s fall retreat.

As more people come to youth group, more people get in line to play 9-square.

“One of my favorite memories from youth group was our Fall Retreat this past November,” Riecke said. “Two students made the decision to take part in [baptism] and got baptized in the freezing cold water of Lake James [around midnight]. One of these amazing kids is one of my best friends, and I was never prouder in one moment than when I was standing in Lake James, watching my brothers get baptized and choosing to dedicate their lives to serving the Lord.”

But not all memories come from these special trips. Drury said her favorite memories come from Christmas time.

“My favorite time of youth group is most definitely Christmas time. The Christmas parties go hard,” she said.

When youth group starts each night there is basketball, 9-square, and ping-pong to play until around 7 p.m. Students can also observe these activities as well as talk with their friends.

At 7, the high schoolers make their way towards the worship area to sing a few songs. For some people, this is their favorite part of the night because it allows them to fully relax and forget everything except the songs and the lyrics.

After the songs, the lead youth pastor, Jessie Hanna, starts teaching the lesson. Some days he will start by telling a fun story or playing a short game that ties into the main lesson, while other days he will get right into it and starts fulfilling one of the main reasons most people come–the sermon.

Following the sermon, the students make their way to their small group areas. Whether it’s in front of the gym’s stage or in the infant care room, the students enjoy this time to share thoughts and to grow relationships.

Usually, there is food involved in small group time too.

Each group is divided into in accordance with age and sex. Junior girls, for example, meet in a different location than junior boys.

Junior Jackson Bradley waits for a pass during a basketball game.

The small groups start off with a couple of icebreakers, ranging from “high and lows” from the prior week to debates on whether Spider-Man or Batman would win in a fight.

Once the transition from the icebreakers is made, there is an open discussion about Jessie’s sermon. No one is required to participate, but students often jump in regardless.

After the discussion, a student wraps up small group by leading the group in prayer. People can make prayer requests if there is anything, in particular, they would like prayers for. Small group ends around 9 p.m.

With small group over, students are free to mill around or play the activities from the beginning of youth group. Anyone can leave anytime they want, but typically, the church is mostly cleared out by 10:15 p.m. at the latest.

There are no sign ups needed to attend this (almost) weekly event and coming once doesn’t put any obligation on you to come again. If you have fun and feel comfortable, feel free to make your attendance at PHC for youth group a habit.


Current attendants of PHC encourage students who have never been to come and check it out.

Everyone sits while listening to youth pastor Jessie Hanna.

Casey Bane gave good reasoning on why students should come to youth group on Tuesday nights.

“There is no reason not to go,” he said. “Everyone is very inclusive, so by the end of the night you’ll have a lot of new friends, and you won’t regret it. I promise.”

Riecke, like the others, encourages others to investigate Pine Hills for themselves.

“I would recommend coming to Pine Hills Youth Group to any high school or middle school student, as you will enter into a family like no other,” he said.  “You will be loved and taken care of by the adult leaders, our youth pastor Jessie, and the fellow students a part of the youth group. We enjoy having fun and exploring what it really means to be a Christian, [what] God says about us individually, and how much Jesus loves each and every one of us. Come by on a Tuesday night sometime and you won’t regret it.”

Sawyer said, “Pine Hills is a family. It’s just an amazing place to find rest and fun, regardless of your background, choices, and beliefs. If you need people to talk to, some place to belong, or if you’re interested in the whole Christianity thing, come check it out. You’ll have a blast, and if you are open to it, you’ll experience something truly special.”