Just a ten minute drive from Taylor University is a small, unassuming town named Hartford City. While most Taylor students only know it to be home to a popular coffee shop, a small group of college kids drive there every Sunday night to worship, listen to a sermon and encourage one another.
Grace United Methodist Church is a dying church and the place where the college students happen to come together. This is no accident; the program, affectionately dubbed “The Gathering,” is an attempt to revive Grace UMC by bringing a young population in.
Daaron Fleeger, a senior Christian Ministries major, is the coordinator of this program. He has a long history with Grace UMC because he worked there for the past three years as the coordinator of their youth group.
“All my youth graduated, but I was still really committed to the church,” Fleeger said.
He kept praying for the church, hoping to find a way to stay connected with them. When the congregation asked for help to bring more young people to their church, he said yes out of the love and loyalty he had built over the years.
Still, he has a greater vision than just seeing this small church revived.
“The big goal kinda is just to get Taylor kids out into Hartford City because there is such a need there and no one knows it exists,” Fleeger said.
Most college students do not want to go to Grace UMC’s traditional service in the morning, so the evening is the perfect time for a more contemporary service. A handful of college students will stream in the doors around seven o’clock, along with just a handful of people from the church’s regular population, primarily older folk.
Then the service begins: completely run by college students. Fleeger said this has been one of the most beautiful ways in which he has seen God work through The Gathering.
Time and again, he has seen his classmates come with their gifts, asking if they can contribute to the service. Some friends are talented at administration work, while others prefer to lead small groups.
Senior Dani Decker also serves on the worship team at The Gathering. Decker loves how small of a group gets together and hopes it makes a big impact on those who attend.
“Coming back each week has opened my eyes to the power of gathering as a small group in the Lord’s name,’” Decker said.
She said it brings to mind Matthew 18:20, when Jesus says “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them.”
Aiden Todd is another senior who is using his talents with community outreach to serve at The Gathering. He spent this summer praying for an opportunity to help start up a small church service and views this opportunity as an answer to prayer.
“It’s been such a blessing to be a part of this,” Todd said.
The students hope to be a blessing to Grace UMC, but have found themselves being blessed in return.
While Fleeger and the rest of the team would love more students to come to The Gathering, they are not desperate for attendees. Through the faithful few that show up each week, God has shown he will provide more than enough.
“The coolest way I’ve seen God work in it is that pretty much everyone that goes to it is involved in making it run. That’s pretty awesome,” Fleeger said.