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ZOE Ministries Breaks Out of So-Called Traditional Youth Program Mold

Celebrating its 10th anniversary recently, the West County outreach focuses on inclusion and Jesus.


The Greek letters Zeta, Omega and Epsilon make up the Greek word “zoe,” which is translated “all that life is intended to be.” At ZOE Ministries in Wildwood, Mo., staff members are convinced kids are missing out on that view of life.

“When I started ZOE I set out to show kids that there is something better than an unfulfilling life lived with no mission,” said Phillip Hunter, 37, founder of ZOE Ministries. “Even kids who were in church still seemed to be bored.”

Hunter graduated from seminary  in 2003 and came back to St. Louis in hopes of starting a youth ministry that un-churched kids would want to attend.

ZOE is different in the fact that it’s a para-church ministry and not a typical youth group.

Most kids who attend ZOE are either in a different church than Hunter or no church at all.

What gets these un-churched kids to stay at ZOE with no parents making them come? There must be flashing lights, free food or crazy dances, right?

Well, aside from the occasional crazy dance, ZOE claims the secret is actually no secret at all. Jesus.

“Christ is all that this life is about. It’s no wonder that kids aren’t driven in life if they don’t know Christ. We believe that Christ is the only one who gives purpose,” said Emily Lambert, 21, who worked at ZOE from 2011-13.

ZOE is looking at youth ministry differently than most youth groups, although Hunter would never want that label on ZOE.

“For me youth group was so awkward and it was way too much about fitting in with the cool group. At ZOE we want anyone and everyone regardless of their ‘cool’ status,” said Hunter.

ZOE isn’t a “comfortable” youth ministry for the students by any means, either.

ZOE has taken its kids to Central America the past three summers for mission trips and they serve downtown with various organizations such as Sunshine Ministries working with the homeless of St. Louis.

ZOE has had an incredible 10-year run in west county of St. Louis. They’ve definitely had their haters and naysayers in the past, but for Phillip Hunter it’s all worth it.

“Biblically speaking, we are getting to see kids go from being dead to alive. There’s a problem when someone is raised from the dead and people aren’t excited,” Hunter said. “When kids say ‘no’ to the worthless things that most high school life offers, their so-called friends get upset. Often it’s the kids’ first chance to really believe in what they are doing; dying to themselves.”

Matt Hunter, Phillip Hunter’s younger brother, has since taken over ZOE and Phillip serves as a supervisor of sorts as he has taken a full-time position at West County Community Church, also in Wildwood.

ZOE celebrated its 10th anniversary August 2013.

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Travis Page

Travis Page is a senior broadcast media major from Lake Ozark, Mo. Page is a staff journalist for MBU Timeline and writes for MBU as well as spending most of his time on campus behind a camera. When Page isn't on campus, he spends most of his free time leading worship for various churches and events around the Midwest. Page will continue his worship ministry after college with his wicked awesome wife-to-be, Emily.


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