Mark Henninger, 39, has been a mentor to sixth-grade boys for the past three years as a LifeGroup leader with Forest Hill Church’s Ballantyne campus.
He has built relationships with them based on trust and he encourages them to think positively, he said. He provides a Christian perspective as they have conversations about school and situations they encounter in their lives. The group has grown to 18 boys.
The group meets Sunday evenings during Advance, the church’s program for teenagers that includes 19 LifeGroups. During Advance, the group studies the Bible, discusses how that topic applies to their lives and answers questions. They also play games and eat dinner together.
Service is an important component of the LifeGroup, as Henninger and the boys endeavor to help their community.
The group served dinner Feb. 20 at the warming station at the Community Center on College Street in uptown Charlotte, where homeless folks can eat a warm meal. The temperature that day reached 7 degrees in Charlotte, breaking a record set in 1896. The boys provided the food, cooked and served the meal, and cleaned up afterward.
Henninger volunteered at the warming station four times last year and is committed to volunteering there six times this year. The boys plan to continue serving there, as well.
“Service is important to my family,” said Bennett Spitz, 12, one of the volunteers from Henninger’s LifeGroup. “My family is fortunate. Both of my parents have jobs. We have the chance to help those who are not as fortunate.
“I want to be like Mr. Mark when I grow up.”
This summer, the boys will travel to Charleston Southern University to participate in community clean-up and beautification projects, help feed the homeless and assist in teaching vacation Bible school.
The boys in Henninger’s LifeGroup also develop friendships with one another outside of church and service projects, which is important because they do not all attend the same school. Through Forest Hill’s Advance program, they participate in game nights and special events such as trips to Winterplace Ski Resort, NASCAR Speedpark and Great Wolf Lodge.
“LifeGroup is a place I can go and just be me. I can talk things out with Mr. Mark and my friends,” said Bennett. “I am closer to God and to my friends.”
A director of construction operations for a home builder, Henninger lives in the Providence area of South Charlotte with Jodi, his wife of 17 years; their sons Zach, 13, and Blake, 11, and their daughter Mackenzie, 6.
Henninger and his wife started attending Forest Hill Church 10 years ago and were baptized together seven years ago. Three years ago, Henninger began leading this LifeGroup.
“Once I understood the message of grace through faith, I wanted to do everything I could to glorify God and give back. I know I can’t repay it, but I can try to lead a life closer to what Jesus lived as an example to us. I was praying to God and asking him to use me however he saw fit,” he said.
The Henninger boys participate in the Big Kids program at Forest Hill.
Kimberly Spitz, LifeGroup director of Big Kids at Forest Hill, was amazed by their deep questions about Jesus and their faith.
“I asked his son, Blake, where he learned so much about Jesus. He told me his dad had devotions with him at night,” said Spitz, who chose Henninger to lead the boys’ group.
“Mark has always shown his love for the Lord through his sense of humor and practical application of the Bible in these kids’ lives. He has a contagious spirit that encourages and loves these kids,” Spitz said. “On any typical Sunday, I would find the boys huddled around Mark listening to him as he challenged them to be a follower of Christ.”
Allison Osman is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Allison? Email her at email@example.com.