Six months ago, 14 students went with Jacob, Jessica, and Luis over spring break as they led a mission trip to Ellensburg, WA. We conversed with students on campus, explored the surrounding area, and prayed for the community that was there and the community that was to come.
Six months ago, none of us expected what happened last night.
In the spring, we discussed closing off parts of the 320-seat auditorium so that it wouldn’t seem so “open” and “empty” when 150 students (an optimistic estimate for a new church plant) showed up for the first service. College students wouldn’t want to go back to a church that feels cavernous in comparison to the amount of people there. We also brought up the possibility of focusing on building a community through villages (our small groups) and launching our first official church service later on in the fall or winter.
We went back to the Palouse after that week and started praying for the upcoming year and envisioning what it would look like for everyone.
In May, several members from our team moved to Ellensburg and started establishing connections with students and faculty on staff at Central Washington University. The first Sunday in June, they held a preview service and invited everyone they’d met. When Keith saw that 80 students showed up to support Resonate Church after being on campus for only four weeks, it was quickly decided: we would be launching the first Sunday of the quarter.
Our team kept pursuing students relentlessly, spending long hours on campus handing out candy and flyers, throwing the biggest parties in town (getting a $513 ticket for being too loud, in the process), and praying that people would actually show up on Sunday, September 28th.
Last night, it all paid off bigger than we planned.
We got there to set up all of our equipment three hours early, at 3 PM. By 5:00, we were done putting everything together, so we gathered together as a team and prayed — the calm before the storm. Matt Lyon, one of the students who transferred to Central Washington University for the sake of planting a church here, prayed that “there would be so many people that show up, that the auditorium couldn’t hold them all. That there would be people sitting in the aisles because this community’s hunger for God is greater than 320 seats.”
Sure, Matt. I envy your conviction and your faith in big prayers, but I’m also a fan of not setting your expectations too high, because that’s when you get disappointed. I was just hoping it wouldn’t feel too empty in there.
At about 5:30, a steady trickle of people started showing up. Great, we weren’t complete failures. There would actually be people there!
At 5:45, that trickle had turned into a rushing stream. People were coming up the stairs in droves, 20 or 30 people at a time. This place was actually going to feel pretty full!
At 6:00, we opened the doors, and the floodgates were released. High-fives, handshakes, and hugs filled the entrance as person after person after person walked through the double-doors into the theater.
At 6:05, I looked into the theater and started going to all our friends who had come from Pullman to support us.
“Make sure you all go in last. We actually might run out of seats, and we want the Central students to be the ones who are able to sit down.”
Six months ago, none of us expected this:
Not one empty seat in the house. We had about 30 people – mostly those from Pullman – standing in the back or sitting in the aisles. The final count tallied 387 people there, and roughly 300 of those were Central students. It was wild.
I’ve been going to churches my whole life. I’ve been to small churches, mid-size churches, and huge churches.
But I’ve never been to a church that was louder than last night. That was more excited than last night. That was more ALIVE than last night.
God had done the impossible. He took a group of normal people, and did something very abnormal. Launching a church with 387 people on a college campus rife with an apathetic, sex-crazed, partying culture isn’t supposed to happen.
History would have told us to wait and slowly build our community as we ease into a church plant.
History would have told us that college students are a lost cause. That hardly any of them would actually choose to go to church if their parents aren’t there.
But His story told us different.
His story told us that all things are possible through Him, and that all we needed to do was trust that He would show up and provide.
Lots of things are changing right now. My responsibilities are changing — going from primarily a college student to primarily a church planter. The venue is changing — we’re moving from the SURC theater that seats 320 to Hertz Hall, which seats 500.
Last but not least, the culture is about to start changing at Central Washington University. Students are about to have their lives wrecked by the best possible things that could happen to them. They’re about to experience the hope, love, joy, peace, and grace that comes from having a relationship with their Creator.
We’re certainly on an adventure over here in Ellensburg, WA, and no one knows what to expect next, but we’re eager to find out.
See you next week in Hertz Hall, CWU.