It was a February Friday night in Danville, VA. The air was electric with excitement, the gym was full of people, and only the PA system could cut through the ambient noise. Students were snaking their way through the crowd in their typical three-to-five-person groups looking for a spot to sit down in the bleachers, as the walls around the basketball court began to bear the weight of the overflow crowd. You’d be forgiven for thinking you were at a basketball game between archrivals—but the basketball games were over, the victories had already been determined, and this crowd had come for something different.
As chaperones spread around the perimeter of the gym-turned-meeting hall, an energetic master of ceremonies came to the center of the room, welcomed the masses, and tried to bring order to the chaos. He introduced himself as Pez. I immediately imagined one of my favorite stocking stuffers from childhood. But this was no diminutive candy dispenser; this was Pez, The Instruction Giver. To many in the crowd, he was no stranger. While he spends most months of the year as a college student and athlete, he uses his summer months to minister in youth camps. It was at such a camp that the students at The Tabernacle in Danville became acquainted with him. His zany efforts soon gained traction, and the audience quickly became focused on his instructions. One might say—and pardon the pun here—he had them eating out of his hand. But Pez wasn’t the point of this gathering. This event had been brought about by a group of youth pastors who wanted to do something big for their community.
Three months earlier, Allen Payne, student pastor of The Tabernacle, approached me about his desire to connect with other SBC of Virginia youth pastors to do an area-wide youth outreach. I was able to connect Allen with two other youth pastors (Roger Jones of North Main Baptist Church and Ross Riley of Shermont Baptist Church), who had been working on a regional DiscipleNow (DNow) event for a couple of years. Together, we four SBCV next-generation ministers began to plan the event that was now unfolding before my eyes.
In the beginning, we weren’t sure how many churches would be willing to partner for this. Although Danville is a city full of churches, the churches don’t always want to cooperate on events. Fortunately, there was a good bit of evidence that the time was ripe for an area-wide student outreach. The three Danville youth pastors began reaching out to other pastors and youth pastors. Planning meetings grew to over a dozen ministers, and many more said they were on board. The event would be called Fifth Quarter (not original with us, to be sure). It would take place on a Friday after area basketball games were over.
We had selected a speaker and had made arrangements to fly Pez into town as our emcee. Various churches volunteered to buy door prizes to encourage youth to come, pizza had been ordered, parking lot attendants had been enlisted, and the night seemed to be all set. Initially, we thought the gym could easily hold 300. That number sounded like a longshot to me. I was going to be happy with 150. As the day approached, we began to get excited about the possibilities. A simple Facebook advertisement for the event was shared over 2,900 times. Needless to say, we began planning for an overflow crowd.
Then came the night of the event. I was standing there looking at a crowd of 565 students representing 85 different churches. I walked around and asked youth pastors and chaperones their thoughts on what was happening.
“I think it is great that [the community] sees a church that is packed on a Friday night…that different people from different churches can come together,” shared Ross Riley.
Casey Stowe from Bridgetown Church responded, “Unity…I think it is so awesome that every church in the city of Danville and the surrounding area can come together.”
Tyler Morris, also of Bridgetown Church, quickly agreed. “…The amount of kids and the amount of different churches represented tonight is good for unity in the church as well as outreach outside the church.”
Wayne Porch, a parent and chaperone from The Tabernacle, was serving pizza to students as they entered the event. He said to me, “Kids in Danville are always complaining, ‘we have nothing to do.’ …The youth in Danville have needed it for a long time…we’ve always been kind of segregated into groups…especially by schools and by cliques, and even by churches. And even though we know people in each church and each clique, until we get together in an outing like this, you know, we’re not together.”
Kevin Begley brought his youth all the way from Grace Baptist Church in Virgilina. Standing before us was the evidence of what cooperation can bring about—a room full of students from all over the region. “There is so much competition between churches, and that’s got to stop,” Kevin explained. “That’s just got to stop!”
As the games drew to a close, Pez introduced the speaker for the evening, Dr. David Wheeler, North American Mission Board missionary and Liberty University professor of evangelism. He spoke about the difference between toxic religion and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I estimate that over 60 students stood up in front of their peers, confessing to living a “toxic, religious” life. Then each picked a person sitting nearby and repented to that person and committed to going forward living for Jesus. Several others responded that they needed to be saved. Then they came forward to receive counsel and pray with an adult.
What a night and what a demonstration of what God can do through leaders and churches who are willing to work together! It reminded me that the Church of Jesus is one team, and He works in mighty ways when we come together to serve Him.
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