When a global pandemic changed the plans of a Tuscaloosa-area church last year, the students at Coaling Baptist devised a plan for an outdoor worship and recreation space where they could gather.
Prompted by COVID-19 concerns, the students initially met under a carport. They enjoyed outdoor Bible study and found that they could invite friends without the usual connotations associated with asking them to enter a church building.
“We did that for several months, and then we moved back into the facilities as things got better,” said Travis Seagle, student pastor at Coaling Baptist. “But a lot of them still wanted to do some stuff outside … and there are some folks who are still uncomfortable meeting inside. So we began with an idea of doing an outdoor area.”
The church had a patch of land that wasn’t included in future building plans, so Seagle asked if the students could utilize it.
“We began pulling together resources from a variety of different places to make that an outdoor space,” Seagle told The Alabama Baptist. “The students began giving ideas of some things they would like to have, such as volleyball and 9-Square-in-the-Air and a GaGa Ball pit.”
The group – with a weekly worship average of some 35 high schoolers and 25 middle schoolers – dedicated several Saturdays and other days to the manual labor of constructing components of the space. Adult volunteers pitched in too.
“Men from the church saw what we were doing and said, ‘Hey, you guys need lights.’ I agreed with that, but I wasn’t planning on spending that kind of money,” Seagle recalled. “They said, ‘You need them,’ so they put some lights up for us and really made it an all-purpose event space where we can use it at night or any time we need it.”
This year, as his birthday approached, Seagle asked people to give toward the outdoor worship area instead of giving him a birthday gift.
“We got about $2,500 that way,” he noted.
The space includes “a well-built stage,” Seagle said, as well as bleachers, which came from a church that was no longer using them for baseball. The students helped refurbish them.
“We bought new wood, and the students painted the bleachers and made them sturdy,” Seagle said, adding that the seating can accommodate about 100. The student ministry had outgrown its indoor space, he noted, so now they have room to spread out.
“We have more bleachers on the way that we bought from the county from an abandoned ball field. When we get those, we’ll refurbish [them] also to make even more space,” he said.
And if COVID-19 numbers threaten to prohibit indoor church gatherings in the future, Seagle said Coaling Baptist “would still have an alternative space to meet there on campus that would require little to no setup.”
A highlight of the process was when a 7th grade girl whose father is a contractor was onsite to help.
“She was showing some of the older guys who are juniors and seniors how to use the power tools and how to do things correctly. It was great seeing her use skills she’d seen her dad use to help with this,” Seagle said.
The church already has used the outdoor space for a missionary commissioning service — one of their college students served at Mission Arlington this summer.
“We’ve had some great student services out there, and we hope that we’ll have many more,” said Seagle, who has been at Coaling Baptist for 16 years.
‘Serve the people of God’
The church is planning a community worship service for students in the area the Sunday before school starts.
“We’re going to have a time of worship and some food and a time of prayer,” Seagle said.
Before the community worship service, students from Coaling Baptist plan to prayer-walk the campuses of local schools.
“I think in the days that have come to pass lately that it’s important for us to be flexible, and I think our students have grasped the importance of flexibility as we do ministry and as we serve the community and serve the people of God,” Seagle said.
“Flexibility is so important, and it’s so awesome that the Lord has allowed us to have this space, the church has allowed us to have this space, so that we can be flexible in the days to come.”
Students at Coaling Baptist are eager to “show the world as we live for Christ that we’re not set in our usual boxes and set in our usual Christian caves, but are willing to go outside of the norms to do whatever it takes to tell people about Christ,” Seagle said.