Like many N.C. Baptist churches, Brown Creek Baptist Church’s building occupies a rural piece of land on the corner of a state highway and a country road bearing its name.
Rather than driving into a bustling new neighborhood of young families across the street, Pastor Curtis Williams walks across the street to the parsonage where he lives. But despite a lack of these alluring neighborhoods filled with prospective pew-fillers, Williams is leading Brown Creek to fill a mission field down the road at South Piedmont Community College with high school age students enrolled in early college.
South Piedmont is home of the Anson County Early College (ACEC), a school of about 200 high school students. Started in 2005, ACEC was part of the first wave of early college high schools to pop up across North Carolina.
Part of North Carolina’s Innovative Education Act in 2003 that stemmed from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation one year earlier at Guilford College in Greensboro, early college high schools were created as part of our public education system to give an alternative educational experience to high school students who would be first-generation college students.
Targeting students who have the drive to succeed but lack the support systems they need – students who tend to find themselves marginalized in traditional high schools – the early college system places students on college campuses where they complete their entire high school experience. There are three primary differences in the traditional high school and the early college high school:
- The early college high school meets entirely on a college campus;
- The early college high school program is five years instead of four;
- Graduates have the opportunity to earn an associate degree or equivalent vocational certificate by the time they graduate from high school.
This translates into the ability to earn two years of college credit by the time a student is 19 years old – at no cost to the student!
Because the early college movement is so new, it has gone nearly completely untouched by churches. Youth ministries overlook them because they are on college campuses; college ministries overlook them because they are high school students. But thanks to innovative leaders like Williams and churches like Brown Creek who are intent on engaging their communities with the gospel, things are changing.
Brown Creek decided as a church to adopt ACEC. That means that Brown Creek sponsors events where they serve goodies like doughnuts, bagels or other pastries to teachers as an act of appreciation.
Church members help proctor tests for the school, celebrate students’ achievements by sponsoring parties each semester and offer prayer partners for each of the faculty and staff and place the onus completely on those employees whether or not they take advantage of it.
They have done the legwork of working through the administration offices so trust has been built. They aren’t seeking ways to break or bend rules; but instead value the administration, and the administration values them. They believe the best way they can saturate the campus with the gospel is by keeping their focus on the long game.
More focused on creating a stable ministry that will last, the church members have eschewed the temptation to go after more flashy, quick wins that are sure to raise eyebrows and strain the trust they have built. In addition, Williams is actively discipling students so those students can have the opportunity to organize under the banner of a recognized student group on campus to make more disciples. He understands these students can have a far more profound impact on the campus than he can, but he also understands that for them to be able to make disciples, they first need to be disciples themselves, connected to and under the authority of the local church. Williams is making disciples so they can make more disciples, and he is doing this in an environment that many perceive to be hostile to the church. During the process, he is taking radical steps to build trust and credibility.
Undoubtedly, Williams and Brown Creek will make some mistakes along the way. This is bound to happen because they are blazing a new trail into a new frontier. In the end, however, churches and early college high schools all over North Carolina will be able to look at a few pioneers like Brown Creek Baptist Church in Wadesboro for a roadmap to healthy and effective bridges between churches and some of the most innovative education programs in the United States. It may look like Williams has built the bridge, but he would say instead that it’s a bridge constructed right from the heart of the gospel.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jonathan Yarboro is collegiate partnerships team leader for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (828) 406-3202.)