Georgia church cooks up food, fellowship for football team

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LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. (BP) -- Central Baptist Church in the Atlanta suburb of Lawrenceville sits right next door to Central Gwinnett High School. The close proximity sparked an idea among the small body of believers -- an idea that has grown tenfold.

The church's Wednesday night program rebooted this fall when the church took a new approach in connecting with students at the high school, giving them a space to spend time.

"Because of our location we get a lot of students crossing our property every day," said Central Baptist's pastor Steven Greene. "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.

"We went from about five kids the first week, and it's grown to as much as 50 or 60," Greene said, "that's really how we got a youth ministry at this church. Because we started opening up the gym on Wednesday afternoons."

Before long, the church's minister of recreation had arranged for the church to feed the school's football team after practice once a week, a tradition that lasted until the season ended earlier this month.

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, church members weren't the only ones involved. Restaurants, community members, and students started helping in the kitchen.

Greene said, "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."

A larger purpose

Stewart, known to many as "Coach Stu," leads the church's sports ministry and coaches for the Dacula Elite basketball team under the Gwinnett Basketball Association. Stewart's connections and community involvement factored significantly in getting the sports outreach program off the ground.

"The goal is to tell them something about God," Stewart said. "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 gets up and shares a Bible study with them," Greene says. "I would estimate that 80-90 percent 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 the job was daunting, the Central Baptist Church family rallied around the program. 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," Greene said. "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."

"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 said, "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."

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