The holidays are over and thousands of college students leave the creature comforts of home to head back to college campuses. Perhaps while at home, they attended one or two worship services with the family or perhaps even a Christmas Eve Service. It was good to be home and back in that familiar setting of worship but something, someone, had changed. Where do we go from here?
This may be a scenario not so different from what our churches throughout the conference see repeated year after year. We raise up a class of seniors, watch and celebrate their graduation from high school, and for many of our congregations, cross our fingers (and toes) that they will come back. Many of us in the traditional church “wait” for them to come back.
This is no longer the case in Carrollton, Georgia.
Located in a small college town, Carrollton First UMC and the Wesley Foundation at the University of West Georgia both agreed that they were simply losing ground while “waiting” for the kids to come.
Beginning this past fall, CrossRoads On The Square was born. The ministry combines the resources of the United Methodist Church and the connection and campus presence of the Wesley Foundation in the not-so-familiar setting of an upper room at Max n’ Henry’s Restaurant (sounds like another upper room we have read about). Located on the square in downtown Carrollton, Max n’ Henry’s is a favorite hang-out for hungry college students. Meeting with the owners of the business, we quickly realized that we could offer great food in a unique setting as an unusual ministry opportunity.
Once a month, students gather upstairs for FREE food (we had to include this), fellowship, worship music, and a great message related to life issues.
While still in its infant stages (four gatherings in four months) the soft launch has averaged more than 20 college students each night, many without a church home.
The uniqueness of this ministry has facilitated a sense of community and belonging for an age group that historically asked the question after high school graduation, “where and what now?”
Students are part of the leadership team and have helped in the dreaming and implementation while Rev. Karen Kagiyama (Wesely Foundation) and Rev. Mike Broome (Associate Pastor, Carrollton First UMC) work on timely messages and relationship building with the kids. While their styles are different, both share a common bond, a bond of United Methodist Connectionalism, colleague trust and a desire to see lives radically changed for Christ.
A local attorney, Jim Camp, leads worship and provides a steady flow of traditional and not-so traditional music. Already, many of the members of Carrollton First UMC have taken notice of this new way to minister and some have begun offering regular prayer support and even a few financial gifts (someone has to pay for the free food).
Not only are they reaching the college students who come but, the staff of Max n’ Henry’s (college students themselves) realize they are part of something different, whether it is providing the platters of food or helping with setting the chairs and tables…and yes, some can be found standing in the back or bobbing their heads to the music. Even the owner brings her two year old who loves to listen to the music.
?The ministry employs traditional communication tools such as the church bulletin, monthly messenger, weekly electronic newsletter, facebook, texting and even regular mail (who doesn’t like to get mail). Both pastors carry CrossRoads invite cards and hand them out regularly.
“I always use my card as a discussion starter when doing business in town and being served by a college student," said Broom. "They are hungry and looking for something. One steakhouse waitress was so excited that she asked for more information and when she visited for the first time a month later, she brought along three friends. That is God at work.”
Her response to receiving the card and invitiation: “I just told my friends we needed to find a church. We are coming.”
And what about those students who go away to college and come home on the weekend or for breaks? Carrollton First includes them in all communications as well, inviting them and offering them a setting that relates more to what they are finding at college. Carrollton First has taken the ministry one step further by collecting the contact information for all of its college students and providing it as a monthly bulletin insert to the congregation, encouraging the church family to “remember” our kids and to “reach out” to them.
The next phase of this ministry is to begin small groups that will meet off schedule for deeper accountability and discussion.
The Holy Spirit is moving in the lives of young people and no longer are the people of Carrollton 'waiting' for college kids to come home.