All was not quiet at First Presbyterian Church of Hollidaysburg on a recent Wednesday evening.
Boys and girls were playing tag and kicking soccer balls, while their parents animatedly talked and joked.
Then, it was supper time. A hush fell over the rowdy crowd. At the sound of Pastor Chuck Mont's voice, the children and parents rushed to their seats.
(Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski)
Kenneth Futrell (left) and Adam Naugle race around the game circle at Grace Bible Church. The Awana Sparks group is for children in kindergarten through second grade.
"What are we thankful for that starts with the letter T?" Monts asked.
"Turkey trains tomatoes ..." the kids eagerly chimed in.
The children and adults then quietly bowed their heads and prayed before diving into a meal of lasagna, salad, fresh bread and brownies.
It was the beginning of a Wednesday night Jesus And Me session (more commonly known as JAM to church-goers).
Families gather every week to share a hot meal and camaraderie, followed by Bible lessons for the children and grownup time for the adults.
"This helps us build community and connection that sometimes doesn't happen on Sundays," Monts said.
First Presbyterian Church is one of many churches organizing Wednesday family nights or children's programs.
The intent is to reach children young enough so they will feel connected to and learn about God, and for parents to get more involved in the church.
With a relatively small congregation, First Presbyterian Church is reaching out to young families by providing meaningful programming, such as JAM.
About 15 families regularly attend the program.
A few years ago, the church began offering Saturday night contemporary services. Child care was provided, but no formal Bible lessons were available for the children. To fill this void, JAM began.
"We were doing it mainly for families as a way for nurturing our kids, but it's nurturing all of us," Monts said. "I think it's all about if we don't know each other, it's hard to care to come together."
At Grace Bible Church in Hollidaysburg, the classrooms are teeming with kids Wednesday nights for the AWANA (Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed) program.
The program began 28 years ago and has expanded every year for 3-year-old preschoolers to high school seniors.
"The kids really enjoy it," said Laura Karn, AWANA commander. "It's a really good program for learning about the Bible and God."
Karn and her husband, Nathan, became commanders six years ago, but have been volunteering with AWANA for quite some time. Unlike JAM, AWANA is aimed solely at children and there is a specific curriculum.
Every week, about 325 kids converge on Grace Bible Church, many of whom are transported by church buses. Some of the AWANA children don't attend Grace Bible.
"We don't turn anyone away for any reason," Karn said.
There's Scripture memory, Bible lessons and games. AWANA is a worldwide program that aims to teach children to know, love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ.
First Church of Christ in Altoona also boasts a large Wednesday night program, attracting at least 150 preschoolers through sixth-graders each week, as well as at least 35 volunteers.
"All children are welcome. All children are loved when they walk in that door," children's minister Connie Iscrupe said.
She said the church provides transportation for children, some of whom do not attend the church.
The children are divided into groups and are taught lessons depending on their age.
Incorporated into a theme each week are games, snacks and Bible lessons. Sometimes the children will complete service projects or charity work.
"It's all hands on and it's a program that teaches kids that people need to see Jesus on your inside," Iscrupe said.