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College Students Blend Academics and Service in Rural Churches

Grace Leone

Students at Grove City College serve local congregations in various ways. We’ve talked about short-term mission trips here, but there are other fruitful ways students serve rural churches. Through service-learning projects, students employ their coursework in a unique way. Utilizing coursework and resources the college provides, they come alongside pastors and build greater engagement in rural ministry.   

Serving through Coursework 

In the Fall of 2020, Timothy Sweet partnered students in his Content Marketing course with five churches participating in PRM. Throughout the semester, students worked on providing the pastors with a content marketing strategy, and a digital implementation of content that could be used in a variety of ways. “The students genuinely cared about their work product,” Sweet comments, “not just to fulfill an academic requirement, but because they knew that their work could have real-world and ‘real-kingdom’ impact.” 

Erin Greer, who worked with Pastor Pratt, describes her project for Methodists United in Faith. “My final product was an updated website filled with relevant and engaging content—pictures, videos, and contact forms. The experience was exciting for me because I had the opportunity to work with a real client, and help her church have a website that could be really useful for them.” Methodists United in Faith had a preexisting website that Erin could build on, and “it was extremely helpful to put the things taught in class into practice by tailoring the content already made into a format that would be organized, relevant, and helpful to the church community.” 

Delaney Stull participated in Nate Mucha’s Visual Communication Design class that also partnered with PRM churches. She worked with Rose Point Reformed Presbyterian Church. The focus of the project was branding grounded in strategic, human-centered design. “Our goal was to work with a client and create new branding, including logos, fonts, and colors that they could then implement for their church. We met with Pastor Brown over Zoom to learn about the church and get feedback on different approaches. The most memorable part was the final presentation, where we all got to show him what we had been working on, and see his reaction to the new branding for his church. It was such a rewarding project.” 

Real-Life Challenges 

Effectual communication between student and pastor throughout the process was crucial and facilitated useful real-life experience for the students. “This project taught me so much about working on a group design project and responding to client feedback and reactions. That alone set this project apart from so many others,” Delaney comments. “Rose Point Reformed Presbyterian had no branding or logo when we started, so this required us to get a lot of feedback that we could work with and use to revise our work. Pastor Brown was so accommodating and appreciative, but we really appreciated the times he said something wasn’t right for the church, or that he liked another option better.” 

The process was not easy, but it thrust the students into authentic, tangible situations. Erin comments that "the most challenging aspect of the experience was making sure I could create the best possible content for the church. Pastor Pratt was very gracious in giving me a lot of free reign with the design and content of the new website. And I didn’t have a lot of previous experience with creating website content, so it was a great challenge for me to fulfill both the requirements of the class and the wishes of Pastor Pratt and the church.” 

Grove City College student Erin Greer was able to combine academics and service as she crafted a new website for pastor Janet Pratt's five-church UMC charge, Methodists United in Faith

It took dedicated work and open communication to arrive at conclusions that worked for everyone. “One experience I remember,” Erin recalls, “is that Pastor Pratt wanted to highlight each of the churches and ministries they offered on the website. Previously, all the churches and their information were located on the same page. I knew that this format was not as efficient as it could be based on the theories we had learned in class. So, it took some time, brainstorming, and talks with Pastor Pratt to create separate pages for the churches that still tied them together as one church, with different locations and congregations.” 

Impact 

The fruits of the students’ labor were greatly appreciated by all the churches, some of the pastors even seeing the students as an answer to prayer. Erin’s website for Methodists United in Faith was immediately set to replace their previous one. “Pastor Pratt also requested a training for her and her administrative assistant,” says Sweet. “I conducted this training over Zoom along with Erin. The other pastors have expressed gratitude for the work and have even taken steps on their existing sites to make improvements based on what they saw in the students’ work.” 

Broadening Perspectives  

In the end, the experience was more than an academic requirement checked off the list for the students, or a useful product for the pastors and their churches. The students were given an insider’s perspective to the responsibilities that pastors shoulder and the work that ministry requires. 

The most memorable part was the final presentation, where we all got to show him what we had been working on, and see his reaction to the new branding for his church. It was such a rewarding project.

GCC Student, Delany Stull

Students were shown parts of ministry that they may not have been exposed to otherwise. “I thought it interesting how Pastor Brown wanted the branding and logo to represent the congregation specifically,” Delaney comments. “He wanted to get the opinion of others before making big decisions. His humility in these situations made us realize how much he valued and depended on the community at his church.” Erin comments about new knowledge she learned: “It was really cool to learn about how Pastor Pratt manages five different church locations while still uniting them as one church. I’ve never heard of a church conglomerate before, and it was a process learning how their ministries comingle and promote a church community that serves the local community.” 



Grace is a writing intern for the PRM and a senior English major with writing and design minors at Grove City College. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.