“You’ve got to come by Wednesday night,” Brownwood High School Principal Bill Faircloth told me about a month ago on a visit to his campus about another matter. “You’ve got to see it for yourself.”
Even folks who have church obligations on Wednesday evenings like to start heading home when 8:30 or 9 p.m. rolls around. Now imagine (or, if you can, remember) what it’s like when you’re a teenager. Would you be excited about going back to your school campus at that hour to participate in a religious service?
For as many as 150 Brownwood High students, that’s exactly what is happening.
It was called simply “FCA” when I was in high school, and meetings were reserved for a limited — and I mean, a limited — number of athletes in school. It was one of those initialized organizations that other students might not know what the letters stood for unless they were members, or as I was, on the yearbook staff. The “Christian” part of its name was glossed over, usually, and it seemed that the students who might be interested preferred to stay with their own church brand of religion. The ones who had no church affiliation didn’t care.
Today, students are a much more willing to use the organization’s full title.
Principal Faircloth told me how Brownwood High’s chapter had grown from about three dozen in attendance at the start of the fall semester to almost five times that number, forcing leaders to relocate from a classroom to the school’s new gym.
“It’s amazing,” Faircloth said. “And it’s totally student-generated.”
At the meeting I attended, dozens of students had already arrived by the time I got there, and Kirk and Darlene Wall were presiding over a table where sausage wraps were being served. Local churches are taking turns feeding the students at these weekly meetings, and it wasn’t until a few days later that I learned that the church I attend had already been scheduled for a week this month. That saved me the effort of suggesting it.
After everyone who wanted to eat had done so, the meeting began, opening with a series of inspirational songs. More students continued to arrive and take their seats in the gym.
Then two students offered a brief devotional, first reading from Scripture, and next explaining how they saw it relating to their lives as teenagers in 21st century America. It was as much an exhortation for modesty in dress and morality in behavior as anything — certainly a message young people aren’t hearing or seeing from many of celebrities to whom they turn for entertainment. It wasn’t a sermon like they’d get at church, but that’s not what they came to hear. Hopefully, many of them listened carefully and took it to heart.
“Everybody in town knows the name of the head football coach at their local high school,” Kirk Wall told me. “I wonder how many could tell you the name of the coach of Fellowship of Christian Athletes?”
Most folks indeed know the name of Steve Freeman of the Brownwood High Lions. The FCA coaches are Nikki Heath and Jeff Rhoads.
The crowd of students seated in the bleachers were then invited to the gym floor where they divided into groups of 10, and events continued. A few dozen lingered in the stands, but it was easy to get an informal head count. That night, it was easily above 130. I couldn’t stay much longer at that point; other duties back at the office beckoned.
“I asked Coach Heath how many of these kids are unchurched,” Kirk told me. “It’s tough to get a definite count, but she thinks maybe 20 percent of them don’t go to a church, never hear the Bible read, never hear a message like this.”
Perhaps they’re in a family that doesn’t see the need to attend a worship service, and has other things planned at those times. Perhaps they are part of a family that wouldn’t support them if they expressed the interest in church.
Perhaps their home life is much worse.
This interest in FCA is apparently not limited to the Brownwood campus. On a week night this month, 3,500 students from throughout the county — representing 18 different church organizations and nine schools — gathered at Gordon Wood Stadium for “Fields of Faith.”
“I don’t know how to explain it,” Kirk said of the growing interest these students are showing in matters of faith. “The only thing I can say is that God is doing something here.”
Gene Deason is managing editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Friday. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.