Students from Central Gwinnett High joined in with meal preparation alongside Central Baptist Church members this football season. CBC/Special
LAWRENCEVILLE – Because of their location next to Central Gwinnett High School, Central Baptist Church sparked an idea that found new growth this year. The small body of believers, whose church is situated in the heart of one of Atlanta’s suburban communities, started feeding the football team.
The Wednesday night program rebooted this fall after the church took a new approach in connecting with the students, giving them a space to spend time.
Steven Greene, pastor of Central Baptist, recalls, “Because of our location we get a lot of students crossing our property every day. I had run into a group of them a couple times and asked them if they’d ever been in our church and they said ‘no.’ Then I asked them if they had ever been in any church and for the most part it was a ‘no’ all around. So I offered to open up for them on Wednesday afternoons right after they got out of school.”
As the open-gym idea grew popular among the students, another idea grew within the church.
“We went from about five kids the first week and it’s grown to as much as 50 or 60,” Greene says, “that’s really how we got a youth ministry at this church. Because we started opening up the gym on Wednesday afternoons.”
The youth ministry soon inspired yet another outreach. “We were asked to consider helping to feed them one day after practice,” adds Linda Ford, long-time member at Central Baptist.
“Them” ended up being the school’s entire football team. The church quickly organized a system to feed not only the students coming to the open gym but the team at Central Gwinnett.
The outreach continued before the Black Knights fell last Friday night in the opening round of the playoffs to Milton, the defending state champion.
A larger purpose
Each week, a group of ladies from the church handled the logistics involved in feeding so many. Two teams alternated every other week planning the menu, buying the food and preparing the meal. Soon, the church members weren’t the only ones preparing the meals. Restaurants, community members, and students started helping in the kitchen.
As Greene notes, “We’ve had two restaurants fully provide dinner on Wednesday. We had another provide a good discount when we bought dinner from them. Recently, the football players’ parents stepped up and volunteered to cook a meal.”
Kay Cook, another church member who volunteered to prepare the meals on Wednesday nights, says, “There are some students who come in to roll the silverware, and they come into the kitchen and help open cans and chop vegetables. That’s a big help for us.”
But there’s a much larger purpose in all of it. More than seeking to satisfy the students’ hunger for food, the church seeks to satisfy their need for the Gospel.
Coach Henry Stewart, known to many as “Coach Stu,” is a member of Central Baptist, the leader of their sports ministry, and a coach for the Dacula Elite basketball team under the Gwinnett Basketball Association. His connections and community involvement factored significantly in getting the sports outreach program off the ground. For him, “the goal is to tell them something about God. Our biggest prayer request is for kids to be saved and to be disciples of Christ. That’s our ultimate goal.”
For Greene, the goal is much the same. “Many of these students are not Christians and we’re trying to share the Gospel with them. We’ve been doing that one-on-one during the meals. In addition, our youth leader, Jackson, gets up and shares a Bible study with them,” Greene says. “I would estimate that 80-90% of the students that come regularly to our gym are not believers. And I would probably say about half of the football team are not believers.”
A change throughout
Though a daunting percentage, the Central Baptist Church family rallied around the program and continues to serve and share faithfully. The ministry has not only changed the lives of the students; it’s changed the whole perspective of the church.
“It’s hard to convey how much this has made a difference. From the youth ministry to the football team, this whole thing has transformed the mindset of the church. There is such a mentality for outreach and looking outside of the church and making a community impact,” says Greene.
“Sunday worship is different,” he continued. “Day-to-day in the church is different; everything about it has caused such a huge, huge transformation.”
When asked what she loved most about the ministry, Cook responded, “It’s satisfying to know that I’ve helped a small piece of the kingdom, to know that I’ve planted seeds with these young people. You never know when that seed is going to grow and they’re going to open their heart to Jesus.”
“We are making a difference in the community,” emphasizes Stewart. “We are absolutely making a difference. I feel like we’re on the right track and we’ve got to keep doing what God wants us to do.”
And for the past few months, that included preparing Gospel presentations with a side of delicious food.