HILLSVILLE, Va. – When people talk about signs from God, usually they aren’t referring to "For Rent" signs. But the Rev. Ronnie Collins would probably beg to differ.
After a mission trip to a non-traditional church built into an indoor
sports complex in Macon, Ga., Collins and church members began dreaming
of finding a store front in Hillsville to move its youth ministries.
During the ride home, Collins said he and members of First Hillsville United Methodist Church
began discussing an ideal location for a non-traditional youth ministry.
“We had actually even said a perfect place would be the old Ben Franklin building. We drove back into town and it had a for rent sign on it,” said Collins, associate pastor of the Wytheville District church. “Yeah (that is the Lord at work right there). We are excited and we realize this is a lot bigger than us. We know that God has given us something to do here and it is going to take some work. But I think it is going to be very rewarding.”
Soon after seeing the For Rent sign, Collins approached First United Methodist Church for approval to move its youth ministries into the building. On Aug. 18, the church council approved the idea unanimously.
Located at 522 N. Main Street, Collins said the church’s new youth ministry building will be called FUMC Downtown. The lettering on the building front will even include the phrase “Out of the Box.” Collins said that is because the building will be out of the norm for a Methodist church as it will include a coffee bar, couches, chairs, and a flat-screen television in an effort to attract new members and keep the church’s recent high school graduates and early 20s crowd.
“(The church in Macon) was actually a building that was built for indoor basketball courts, an indoor football field, and an indoor hockey rink. It didn’t work, so the church bought it and turned it into a church. They didn’t change anything. They even kept the name Sportstown. It’s now called the Christ Chapel of Sportstown,” Collins said. “And they were getting people who wouldn’t walk into the traditional church because you are growing up with a generation of people that are not churched. People my age and (Senior Pastor) Ty (Harrison)’s age, by in large, the culture was you went to church. And now that is not the case, so we just started dreaming.”
While the youth ministry may eventually get its own name, Collins said “Out of the Box” will suit it well because it will not be located on Main Street and it wonn’t be your typical church enviornment. Sure, it will have Sunday morning services. And from there, youth will head toward FUMC’s regular services on Fulcher Street.
“It is out of the norm, but it is something that will give the kids something to look forward to. The one thing we kept hearing in Macon is this building doesn’t determine who we are. The building doesn’t make us a church, the people make us a church,” Collins said.
“So the building is going to be used, yes to house the youth ministry, but it is going to be open for other uses as well. I’d love to see maybe a Celebrate Recovery ministry and we’ll have different groups in the church use it as well.”
While the new youth ministry will have a coffee bar, Collins wants to make clear that nothing will be sold in the new building. His office will be located in the building, and he envisions a place where young people can bring in their laptops and take advantage of the town’s wireless internet in a safe environment for fellowship.
“Most of my work is going to be out in the community, being where the young people are and welcoming them into this atmosphere. What we would like to do is Friday or Saturday once a month to start off with, we will have somebody come in and pick and play a little music and we will invite the community youth in to have coffee and things of that nature,” Collins said.
“It will be a place they can come that is safe, somewhere they can come to hang out, somewhere they can come to fellowship with their friends. So that is the dream and our dream is that it will grow large enough that this (building eventually) won’t hold us.”
To start, Collins would like for the building to be open at 9 a.m. on Sunday mornings for youth to have coffee, doughnuts or juice and hang out with their buddies prior to Sunday school-type services. Wednesday night youth meetings will be held there as well, he said.
“That is the plan. We are just going to see how it grows,” Collins said. “We are seeking a lot of our adults as helpers because we know we are going to need the help. And we want parents to know that it is going to be a safe place for their kids. It is an open room and there is nowhere to hide, that is a good thing. But we do feel like maybe it will be a help to the parents to know that there is cameras, to know that their kids are safer. We are still working out the details on how we are going to manage the crowds because I think the crowds will come. Last Wednesday night we had 43 in our youth meeting and that is a pretty big youth group. We just expect it to grow.”
Initially, the new youth ministry will only be used on Sundays and Wednesday evenings. But Collins has a vision for it to be used in the future where kids can hang out during the summer. He also would like to start a “20-something” Bible Study on a week night. He also sees it being used by various community groups and for the church’s book club and other assorted purposes.
“I see it having activity all the time,” Collins said. “We feel like the more people that are in the building, the more people are going to understand what is going on.”
A ribbon cutting was held at the new youth ministry building on Sept. 7. Bishop James Swanson, the Bishop for the Holston Conference, was in attendance. He also preached at First United Methodist Church that Sunday morning for the church’s homecoming services.
Collins also sees the building as a way for the church’s current youth members to be more actively involved with and stay in the church.
“Statistics show that most kids, you lose a large percentage of your graduates once they graduate from high school. They leave the church, so what we are doing, and this is new for us, we are asking our first-year graduates back into the youth groups,” Collins said. “We are asking second-, third- and fourth-year college- students to be here and be mentors to the younger ones. We are also asking several adults to come in and help with the crowds when we have music and coffee and those kinds of things.”
Reprinted with permission from The Carroll News, where this article first appeared on Sept. 3.