What started out as a project for Pensacola Christian College has turned into a thriving ministry in Lawrenceville and the surrounding areas.
“In 2001, I would just volunteer in apartment ministries. Then in my sophomore year, I started leading a site and led all throughout my college years,” Steve Gibbs, youth pastor at Berean Bible Church in Loganville, said. “When I came back, I picked it right back up here in Atlanta.”
Gibbs’ local apartment ministry spends an hour a week with children at one of several complexes in the Lawrenceville and DeKalb County areas, spending the first 45 minutes or so helping the students work through their homework.
After the opening session, Gibbs and his volunteers go through a Bible lesson with the children. In any given week, Gibbs has the opportunity to deliver that lesson to as many as 200 kids attending events at one of five apartment sites around Atlanta’s eastern metro area.
“You get these connections and God works through them,” Gibbs said. “I don’t know how else they would’ve happened.”
Ready to move
Gibbs manages the ministry with a large group of volunteers, utilizing adult and senior adult members of local churches and several of the youth that he ministers to.
Without the volunteers, and without the accommodation of the local apartments, this ministry would not work.
“You can start with the churches you work with … or the apartment complexes themselves. But the thing is, they have to both come together at the same time. If you start with a church … you can get them on board, but if you don’t have something set up, you’ll lose a lot of your volunteers. They want to move on things,” Gibbs explained.
Realistically speaking, finding volunteers is the hardest aspect of what Gibbs does.
Most apartment complexes are open and willing to having local residents help their children learn and provide this vital after-school service.
Perhaps more encouraging than that, though, is how willing the apartment complexes are to allow a Bible study for their children.
“I’m just up front about it. I tell them that the people who are volunteering are all people of faith and that they all go to church, probably locally. That is very central to who they are and that it’s going to be central to what we do,” Gibbs noted. “Sometimes you have problems and they don’t want you there. For the most part … honestly, they’re okay with it.”
In the time Gibbs has been taking groups to nearby apartment complexes, they have had the opportunity to reach out to countless children from so many diverse backgrounds.
In one respect, Gibbs sees their ministry as a simple, local way of living out the Great Commission.
“When you are going and making disciples, you are bringing people to Christ and showing them how to be like Christ,” Gibbs said. “That’s what the Great Commission is all about, going and making disciples of all the nations. And the nations have come here.”
Seeing the investment
Not only are they having an immediate impact with these children, though, but Gibbs is starting to see long-term fruit coming from their work in the field.
“We had a girl who came to know Christ through the apartment ministry, but we were asked to leave that apartment. We left, but she got my phone number as a senior in high school and she wanted to come to our church. She started coming to our church, and its been neat reconnecting with her,” Gibbs reminisced.
Another young man Gibbs ministered to as a child at an apartment complex later came to the church and was saved just a month before he passed away.
In addition to the kids Gibbs ministers to, he has also seen tremendous growth in the youth volunteers who work alongside him.
“When I take students out, it’s more than just that they get to invest in a child. I see it as a chance to disciple them further. They hear me preach and teach and they learn from me, which is great, but then I take it to another place and they see it done. I feel like that’s how Jesus discipled and … that’s the process I’m looking at.”
Some of the students who have volunteered with Gibbs in the past have gone off to college and started their own apartment ministries in those local communities.
Even in the present, the apartment ministry has been a fantastic way to get students involved in service and, eventually, reveal a call to ministry.
Two main points
As much as Gibbs enjoys leading groups to do apartment ministry, he can only be so many places. Lately, Gibbs has started teaching churches how to go out and implement his plan in their own communities, largely independent of him.
“If I’m helping a church get involved in apartment ministry, what I end up doing is I tell them, ‘Do my plan if it works for you, but if it doesn’t, I want you to do what works for you.’ Often, there are people far more creative and organized than me. If they have a better plan, I’m open to it.
“Just keep your main goals in mind. You’re wanting to help kids with their education and you care about the gospel. I try not to waver from those two points,” Gibbs added.
People interested in helping Gibbs with the apartment ministry can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information regarding local apartment ministries and how they can join this incredible work at hand.
“I know this isn’t the only way to do ministry, but I think it’s a great way to do ministry in your local community,” Gibbs explained. “We do have to have a balance between meeting physical and spiritual needs, and this is a great way to meet a need.”
This story is sponsored by the Georgia Baptist Mission Board Student Ministry Network.