How Night to Shine and Special Needs Ministry Have Become the Heartbeat of a Church in Tallahassee

April 1 3 Minute Read????

How Night to Shine and Special Needs Ministry Have Become the Heartbeat of a Church in Tallahassee

Hello April 1st, 2024

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The staff at Genesis Church in Tallahassee, Florida, first heard about Night to Shine over ten years ago when a member saw it online and brought the idea to leadership. The church had just started to focus more heavily on special needs ministry, and Night to Shine was a perfect catalyst to help it grow.

Ten years later, Night to Shine has expanded into something the staff at Genesis Church could never have predicted; their special needs ministry has become the heartbeat of their church community and a vital passion of their congregation.

Lead Pastor Scott Hunter remembers that as soon as they heard about Night to Shine, they knew they wanted to be a part of it. “I was like, Lord, please let us get to be a part of this because it's our heart. We just discovered that the more time that you spend with people who have special needs, you just fall in love with them, you can't stop,” he said.

Night to Shine was a perfect way to serve and rally around individuals with special needs and their families as a church community.

“We were trying to figure out, how do we wrap our arms around this community and love such a beautiful community of people? Tim and his foundation allowed that to happen,” he said.

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How It Started vs Where It Is Today

The first Night to Shine at Genesis Church came about quickly, with only two months to prepare, but it was a huge success. They were able to celebrate 200 honored guests at their first event!

“I remember standing on stage and looking out thinking this is the greatest thing that we've ever witnessed,” Pastor Scott said. 

This year, Genesis Church hosted 613 honored guests, triple the number of their first year! This goes to show that God’s goodness and ways are always bigger and better than anything we could possibly imagine.D Photo 3.jpgRachel Ritter, the executive pastor and executive director of Genesis Church Night to Shine, also remembers thinking how huge their first Night to Shine was, having no idea how God would grow it over the next ten years.

“We thought it was just this enormous, magnificent evening, and we didn't realize that it was just the beginning. It was like the seed that was planted into what would grow, not just with Night to Shine, but even what we do here in the Tallahassee community.”

Genesis Church’s special needs ministry didn’t stop at Night to Shine. What happened on that Friday before Valentine’s Day inspired them to do even more for the special needs community and their families, way beyond just one night a year. Their experience with Night to Shine inspired them to create a nonprofit community called Shine Tallahassee to serve more image-bearers with special needs year-round.

They saw a huge gap and unmet need as many people with special needs in their community aged out of other programming. Shine Tallahassee was designed to cater to that 14 and up demographic, offering monthly events and programming. This eventually led Genesis to open a day-program, Monday through Friday, for individuals with special needs called Rise and Shine Day School. All of this blossomed from their “yes” to hosting Night to Shine ten years ago.

“It's gone from seeing our guests once a year to seeing them every month, to now seeing them every day, Monday through Friday, at our day program and then on Sundays at church. It’s become a way of life. Once you say yes and you step into that, you can't imagine not doing life like that,” Rachel said.

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Night to Shine Honored Guest Understands His Value As Royalty

Adam Evans is one of Genesis Church’s honored guests and has attended all ten years of Night to Shine. He loves the event and looks forward to it every year.

“I went to Night to Shine for 10 years, every single year. So it makes me happy,” Adam said. “I'm a child of a King.”

He’s kept all ten of his crowns from Night to Shine in his bedroom. His favorite parts about Night to Shine are dancing, singing karaoke, riding in the limo, and walking the red carpet. Adam said Night to Shine makes him feel special and reminds him of his God-given worth and value.

That is the whole goal and purpose of Night to Shine – to help individuals with special needs see and know their precious value as a beloved child of God and an image-bearer.

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A Volunteer’s Point of View, Blessing Others Blesses Us Too

Night to Shine doesn’t just impact the lives of the guests, it also touches the hearts of the volunteers.

Nicole Whitfield has volunteered at Genesis Church’s Night to Shine for seven years now. She says her life has forever changed as a result. She fell in love with the community of people with special needs and now works full-time at Genesis’ Rise and Shine Day School in addition to volunteering at Night to Shine every year.

Nicole explained that Night to Shine provides a glimpse into God’s heart.

“You just see that this is how God created us to be. He wanted us all to love on each other and give to each other and share joy and happiness with each other. And that's really what the world could be. I think for that one night every year, it's like the world is exactly how God created it, and it's awesome,” Nicole said.

Pastor Scott shared that people see Genesis Church as a place where they know their child with special needs will be loved and accepted, and how, sadly, that’s not always the case for many families. 

Many parents have told him they’ve been turned away from churches in the past because of the lack of resources for people with special needs.

“They never, ever question that they're gonna be taken care of and loved here...They understand who they are and Whose they are. And it all blew up because of Night to Shine, it's crazy. It's absolutely crazy. But that's how God works,” Pastor Scott said.

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How Special Needs Ministry Has Forever Impacted Genesis Church

Pastor Scott said that on Sundays, there are individuals with special needs everywhere! Genesis Church’s special needs ministry has become not only a place of refuge for many families but part of the very heart of the church.

“Just to be the smallest part of something so big... And it has changed our entire community… It is the heartbeat of our church. It is the passion of our people,” Pastor Scott said.

Rachel said she sees Genesis Church’s special needs ministry as a way to love like Jesus.

“I think it's really important for churches to find some way to connect with the special needs community because it absolutely changes your life, and it allows you to be in these moments of being the hands and feet of Jesus,” Rachel said.

They encourage other churches to consider hosting Night to Shine and investing in special needs ministry.

“It is our honor, and it is our humblest job in the world to serve this community the way that they should be served, the way that they don't get served… What we thought was like, hey, this would be a cool event turned into the passion and the driving force of everything that we do around here,” Pastor Scott said tearfully.D Photo 2.jpg​​​​​​Night to Shine began as an opportunity for Genesis to expand their special needs ministry, but what it has become ten years later is a key part of their heart, mission, and identity as a church family. We are so grateful for their “yes” over ten years ago to host Night to Shine and celebrate people with special needs in their community. 

Our goal at the Tim Tebow Foundation for Night to Shine is for individuals with special needs worldwide to have the opportunity to experience and know God’s immense love for them as a valuable, chosen, worthy, beloved, and precious child of the King. This year alone, Night to Shine was held by 725 churches in all 50 states and in 56 countries around the world! Praise God!

Our hope is that one day, there will be a Night to Shine in every country and community to celebrate God’s precious children with special needs as the kings and queens they are. We want all God’s children around the world to know their inherent value and worth as an image-bearer.

We encourage you to volunteer, participate, and refer your church to host Night to Shine in 2025 so that more kings and queens can be celebrated for who they are: God’s royalty.

Join the worldwide movement and refer your church to host Night to Shine 2025!

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