How to reach university young adults who want to do church in a new way.

By Paul Seebeck
Associate, Mission Communications, Presbyterian Church (USA)

LOUISVILLE — Four months ago, Pastor Brent Johnston walked into the office of his recently hired youth and young adult ministry director with a Presbyterians Today magazine. “It was open to an article talking about a movement in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to create 1,001 new worshiping communities in 10 years,” says Chris Hansen. “He asked me to read the article and check out the 1001 website and watch the videos on the  1001NewWorshiping, YouTube page. I went there and saw a story about a church that wanted to reach young adults where people actually were on Sunday morning by creating a coffee shop

Johnston walked back into Hansen’s office the next day. “What’d you think?” he asked. “We need to find where we’re going to build our coffeehouse,” said Hansen. “We’ll build it in our chapel,” said Johnston, aware that the church had talked about renovating the chapel, which has sat empty for years due to water leakage.

First Presbyterian’s session approved the idea at its next meeting, even freeing up a memorial fund as an initial investment in the new worshiping community. “It launched faster than any of us imagined,” says Hansen. “The 1001 vision caught fire. I was like, ‘We didn’t have enough meetings, did we?’”

The Synod of the Lakes and Prairies got involved, encouraging them to apply for Collegiate Ministries grants as a way to help get the new worshiping community started.

First Presbyterian Church is just south of the University of Nebraska in Lincoln (six to eight blocks). “With our physical location, it made sense for this new worshiping community to reach out to young adults,” says Hansen. “I started meeting with some of the students on campus, who got excited; I even found an interior design major who helped us design the coffeehouse space.”

Many of the young adults told Hansen they were interested in this worshiping community, if it did church in a new way. “They didn’t want to come listen to a sermon, but they were looking for a place where they could have conversations about faith to see if and how it might be relevant to their lives,” says Hansen, “so we’re creating a Sunday night worship service where we watch video clips or listen to some music, then have a conversation about how the Word relates to it.”

When HeBrews 2:11 holds its first evening worship service, Hansen expects more than 50 young adults to pack the coffeehouse. During the week, HeBrews 2:11 will be a place for young adults to study and hang out.

The space will also be used as a midweek gathering place for young adult small groups and Bible studies and as a Sunday morning worship venue for middle and high schoolers.

Hansen says the naming the new coffeehouse was “a God thing.” “The young adults wanted to call it HeBrews, and the building number was 211,” he says, “so I flipped [a Bible] open to Hebrews 2:11 and found a verse that I think speaks perfectly to what we hope happens in this space — for more of God’s family to gather and grow.”


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