‘Gathering’ reaches out to young

FAIRMONT – Across the country, churches are trying to figure out how to get young adults through the doors.

Locally, a nondenominational, nonprofit effort called “The Gathering” is under way. Its mission is to encourage, support and share God’s love with young adults in their 20s and 30s, while making Fairmont, Martin County and the surrounding communities a better place, part of which involves connecting this demographic with each other and local congregations.

To raise community support and funds, “A Night of Comedy” is being held 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Evangelical Covenant Church in Fairmont. The event will include entertainment by professional improv-comedy team Nate and Mike, live music by The Gathering Band and a catered dinner. Tickets are $15. For tickets, or for anyone who can’t attend but would like to make a donation for The Gathering, email info@thegatheringfmt.com or call (507) 848-6964.

The Gathering began in August, when East Chain native Bart Whitman was recruited to return to the area as the fledgling program’s ministry director. Whitman had been working as a youth pastor in the Twin Cities area, when a group of local church-goers approached him and asked his advice for reaching out to the many young people in the community who had stopped attending church after graduating from high school.

“The consultation turned into this service targeting adults when we realized a full ministry was needed,” Whitman said.

His first step was to meet with local churches to explain the mission, which is comparable to Martin County Youth for Christ, except that The Gathering’s target group is young adults age 18 through 30-somethings, essentially picking up where YFC leaves off.

The two Christian organizations are now collaborating, with Whitman reaching out to about 20 seniors who have been involved with Youth for Christ.

What The Gathering has done is provide a way for young adults to meet each other. A few of its regulars have started a band, which plays for occasional praise and worship sessions. An open group that formed as a result of The Gathering is meeting at 7 p.m. Thursdays at Tami’s on the Ave to discuss questions they have faced about their faith, as well as questions they themselves have about Christianity. The Gathering also has a softball team competing this summer.

The first big community event put on by The Gathering was held earlier in February. An art show, presented at Red Rock Center, featured work created by young adults involved with the mission.

“More than 150 people came through in a day and a half, which was great,” Whitman said. “It really helped us in our goal to start sharing the message that there are more young adults here than most people realize.”

Much of Whitman’s ministry revolves not around the group activities but spending time with individuals who need encouragement in their faith or simply someone to talk to.

“It starts with relationships. It’s important that you are really getting to know them, so you’re meeting the needs of those individuals. We don’t expect everyone to get this one-tract program,” he said. “… That’s why the Gathering will always be somewhat difficult to define, a little nebulous, because it’s about getting to know the individuals.”

Since its conception, The Gathering has been setting donation money aside to save up for a coffee shop.

The fundraiser on Thursday will assist with that goal, as well as helping fund operation costs and raising awareness about the group.

“The coffee shop is just a piece of our vision. It would help us meet two major needs,” Whitman said. “One of the biggest complaints we hear when we talk to young adults is that there is not enough to do here, and also that they want to find ways to meet other young adults.”

The coffee shop would function as a business, but it would be considered a nonprofit, with proceeds going to The Gathering.

Besides asking for donations to support its cause, The Gathering is looking for volunteers. Whitman and his wife, Charmaine, are both 30 years old, but there is not an age cutoff for anyone wishing to help with The Gathering.

“Young adults are just looking for someone to show they care about them,” he said.

Anyone interested in more information can call or email the phone number and email address available for tickets, or go online to www.thegatheringfmt.com