When Britton Latham was serving as a youth pastor in Huntsville, he kept hearing a story repeated over and over.
“We would graduate high school students and send them out all over the place to college,” he said. “When they would come back, a lot had been gone four years and had never really found community, never really been leveraged for ministry. They had been encouraged but not used, and a lot struggled and dried up spiritually during their years in college.”
But then someone came home with a different story.
“One of my students had gone to the University of North Alabama and came back and said, ‘I found this church that is making disciples and building real community,’” Latham said.
That church — The Well Church Florence — was a church plant of Highland Baptist Church. Allen Tate, who serves as its pastor and now also as executive director of The Well Network, planted the church in 2016 from Highland Baptist’s weekly student worship service, called The Well.
The idea behind the church, and now the network, was to help college students become disciple-makers who build the Kingdom through the local church.
Tate shared all that with Latham when the two met for coffee in 2019. Latham had initiated that meeting because he wanted to express appreciation to Tate for what they were doing and learn more about it.
But something unexpected happened.
Tate said they felt that “the Lord kind of knit us together before we knew each other.”
“His heart burden was the same thing we were attempting to do,” he said.
Latham loved his church in Huntsville, but it wasn’t long before he felt God calling him to start another church as part of The Well Network — Church at the Oaks in Tuscaloosa, which is home to the University of Alabama. After a few months in residence at TWC Florence, he and his wife, Jessica, moved to Tuscaloosa in January 2020.
“We started a launch team that would be interested in planting a disciple-making driven church in Tuscaloosa that would have a focus on both the city and the campus,” Latham said.
They started with six or seven people meeting in their living room, but soon after, the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“We were confident in the Lord’s calling, so there was nothing else to do but press on and press in,” he said.
They started with discipleship groups called huddles, then added community groups called tribes. In January 2021, Church at the Oaks held its launch service at a hotel in downtown Tuscaloosa.
“The community groups continued to grow, and the discipleship groups started to multiply,” Latham said.
Then in August 2021, the church moved to the Bryant Conference Center on the campus of the University of Alabama, and they’ve been meeting there ever since.
“God just continued to bless,” Latham said. “It’s just been an incredible time of fruit.”
This semester, nearly 100 people are leading either a discipleship group, a community group or both, he said. “We started with four people who were ready to lead a discipleship group, and we’ve gone from four people to 100 who are actively engaged in building community and making disciples.”
Latham said when he meets with those leaders, “almost all have someone they’re reading the Bible with weekly who isn’t a believer.”
He said he is thankful for that and for the fact that no matter where they go after graduation, they will have learned how to lead in that way and can continue to do it in the future.
“We will have hundreds of people graduating with a passion for church planting and who know how to do the work,” Latham said. “We’re really fixated on the mission and engaged in it. There’s a collective effort toward building the Kingdom, and God’s doing the work.”
The church also has 11 student interns this semester, all of whom have said they feel a call to missions or ministry of some kind.
“We spend a lot of our time investing in them, training them and trying to help them engage in experiences that will sharpen them,” Latham said.
He said his time in Tuscaloosa has been “a really exciting, fast couple of years.”
“It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but by far the most fruitful thing I’ve ever been a part of for the Kingdom,” Latham said. “It’s just a story of God’s faithfulness — we’re not doing anything special, not inventing some incredible strategy. Every story has been a story of God’s faithfulness, His power and His provision.”