ATHENS, Ga. — The Wesley Foundation, the largest ministry on the University of Georgia’s campus, is attracting 1,200 to 2,000 students per week for their weekly Wednesday night service at Tate Grand Hall.
For many, college is the first time students are away from friends and family, so they seek out communities that make them feel welcome. Wesley understands this desire for community and uses it to garner student involvement, according to their mission statement.
“I did Freshley last year, but wasn’t super involved because I always had something going on Wednesday nights. But this year, I decided to make it a priority to be involved in an on-campus ministry. I love the community and the focus on worship and prayer here…I love Wesley because, despite the size, I feel at home,” commented Leah Hesby, a UGA student who attends Wesley services and is involved with their Grow discipleship program.
Wesley’s Revival: Significant Growth Over the Past Ten Years
There are more than 50 faith-based communities registered at UGA, but the Wesley Foundation has marketed their “brand” over the past decade to garner more student involvement than any other ministry.
“You can feel the Spirit of God in this place…and the reason for it is prayer. Wesley used to be much smaller. This 1,500 student turnout that they have at Tate Grand Hall is not by accident,” said Lauren Pearson, a UGA student involved with North Point Community Church and Wesley’s freshman prayer team. “Wesley’s big revival movement is something they have been praying for for years.”
In addition to prayer, Wesley puts a lot of emphasis on outreach. They sell water bottles, t-shirts, sweatshirts and stickers at every service to promote their modern brand and let people show off the ministry they love. Do not be surprised if you see Wesley regalia being sported around UGA.
Additionally, Wesley has a sign-in process at their Wednesday night services so they can reach out to those who did and did not attend the service that week to invite them back. They also station three to four greeters at every door and offer gifts of mugs and cookies to first- and second-time visitors.
James Shafer, a third-year Wesley intern, spoke about his involvement and experience watching the Wesley Foundation at UGA grow over the past eight years. Watch his video interview here.
How Wesley Outreach Impacts the UGA Community
Since multiple Christian denominations are represented at any given Methodist Wesley service, other on campus ministries, like Baptist Christian Ministry and The Catholic Center, may be overlooked even though they offer the same forms of community as Wesley, such as freshman programs, small groups and worship services.
“They’re gonna try to get you to connect somewhere outside of their weekly meeting,” said Buz Amason, coordinator of the Christian Faculty Forum. “They’re gonna have some kind of small groups or whatever where people can begin building relationships within small groups and places that people can feel safe. I’d say Wesley probably does a good job about both being intentional about it and they do a good job of following up on that.”
Wesley has 80 interns – all college graduates – while other ministries have few or none at all. These interns have the ability to direct their full attention toward outreach while other organizations rely on students – who prioritize school work and serve on ministry boards in their spare time.
The Wesley Foundation Presence on Other College Campuses
Two thirds of the Wesley Foundations established across the United States are located in the Bible Belt, “an area of the United States where evangelical Protestantism plays an especially strong role in society and politics. People in the Bible Belt tend to be socially conservative and have higher church attendance rates than people in other parts of the country,” according to Business Insider. The Bible Belt includes almost all of the Southeastern US, running from Virginia down north to Florida and west toward Texas. Some of the largest Wesley Foundations are located at The University of Georgia and Texas A&M University.
The Future of Wesley on the University of Georgia’s Campus Through Personal Invitation
One of the biggest factors that stimulates growth for large campus ministries is the personal invitation that students receive from their friends, according to Blake Wiggins, the Wesley Associate Director of Encounter and Outreach at UGA.
“We have an emphasis on what we call “invest and invite” which is where we encourage our students at Wesley to invite their friends to Wesley, Freshley or any of the stuff we’re doing, because that is probably the best way for them to get connected to a community. It’s not so much for us being at Tate and inviting them, but instead to be invited into community through the community they already have, whether it’s through classmates, roommates or friends from home,” Wiggins said.
We also interviewed Shelby Hunter, a third-year marketing student at UGA, about being invited to both Wesley and Cru by her close friends and the impact it had on her college experience so far. Watch her video interview here.
By Gabriella Audi and Emma Toland