A bright smile and lively attitude greet students every Thursday at the entrance to the cafeteria. Joe Mateer, pastor of Epic, the high school ministry at Bayside Community Church, has been a major contributor to the school's newfound sense of pride and spirit for the school, and for some students, he is considered a "role-model."
Mateer is known across the campus and loved by many of the students. His name often comes up in classroom conversation. The students call him "Joe," a measure of Mateer's energetic and friendly behavior.
Junior Kendra Galvan says, "Pretty much everyone knows who he is. People talk about him in my classes all the time. One person will mention his name and, suddenly, the whole class is talking about him."
As passionate as Joe Mateer is about his job as Epic's pastor, it was never his plan to end up where he is today. When he was a student at Lakewood Ranch High School, he was part of the "party crowd," and never wanted to go to church with his family.
"I ended up doing campus ministry in college for four years and last July my friend and now boss, Justin Dailey, asked me to be the youth pastor. It was pretty unplanned," Mateer recalls. As a youth pastor, "I try to connect with everyone, but I target students who are like I was in high school, that aren't interested in church," he explains.
As Epic's new youth pastor, Mateer hopes to shed a new light onto the high school ministry. He has been making some changes to how the ministry is run, including local teenage outreach efforts. In order to create relationships with the students, Mateer joins high school students for lunches.
He communicates with students in a very down-to-earth way, making conversation and presenting the opportunity to join Epic without forcing religion. With the help of a few "24/7 Students" (the college internship program at the church), Mateer is able to visit the cafeteria every Thursday. He makes similar trips to Lakewood Ranch High School on Fridays and Palmetto High School on Wednesdays.
In early February, Mateer went through a process with the School District of Manatee County to receive a contractor and vendor badge which required him to clear a Level II background check. With this new identification badge, he has been granted access to visit any school campus in the county.
In addition to attending the school lunches, Mateer also involves both himself and members of Bayside Community Church in as many sports events and school activities as he can.
"I met a guy named Casey Davis at lunch one day, and I was like we need some school spirit! We met again in the bleachers and the rest is history," Mateer jokes.
During football season, he and the "24/7 Students" set up a tailgate party an hour before every home game to get students excited about showing school spirit. When the game began they made their way to the stands to support the team and promote section E.
Junior Natalie Marshall explains, "He is really enthusiastic and makes kids want to have school spirit."
His effort to promote Epic and his determination to gain student attendance has paid off. Mateer reports, "We have almost doubled since August, but we are just getting started!"
This June, Bayside Community Church is hosting their first ever student convention, titled "the 12 Conference".
"We are expecting right around 1,000 students from all over Florida!" Mateer explains.
This is one of the many events he has planned for the upcoming 2013 year. He has big plans for the ministry, and hopes to maintain close relationships with the students.