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Service-Learning Opportunities Connect Students to the Local Church

Emma R. Whiteford

When the architecture behind the Center for Rural Ministry’s mission was designed, focus was directed towards creating a sustainable bridge between the college’s resources and the churches’ needs. Service-learning projects were developed as a resulting avenue, created to provide students with real-life projects that utilize students’ unique giftings to bless small church congregations.

What Is a Service-Learning Project?

Service-learning projects connect the learning objectives of established courses and the real-world needs of pastors and congregations in our region. Over the last three years these projects have taken a wide variety of forms as Grove City College faculty and students have listened to the needs of pastors in various contexts.

This semester was no different. From in-depth research to planning a prayer event, two cohorts of GCC students blended learning and serving in ways that blessed both them and the congregations they served. In the process, they were given the opportunity to see and partner with what God is doing through his Church.

Harnessing Research to Support the Local Church--First Presbyterian Church (Waynesburg, PA)

Across the duration of the fall semester, a group of ten students within a Research Methods class, under the guidance of Professor Shannon Barrios, conducted an in-depth analysis of intergenerational ministry for the First Presbyterian Church of Waynesburg, PA, pastored by Mike and Jen Haddox.

Their goal was to offer the Haddoxes and their congregation the information and research they needed to implement intergenerational ministry effectively in their church. Exploring the heart of the church, the students conducted six case studies to examine the successes and failures other churches had encountered in cultivating a thriving, intergenerational congregation. With their research permeated by interviews and conversations with leading church members, the students presented a robust list of recommendations illustrated within a comprehensive presentation and a detailed research portfolio.

Conducted and presented with humility and kindness, the presenters individually greeted attendees and enthusiastically shared the impact that intergenerational ministry has had on their own lives. Furthermore, the student team carved out time to pray for the Haddoxes, and genuinely expressed that, if anything, they hoped their research and presentation might serve as an encouragement to these faithful pastors.

In the question-and-answer seminar following the presentation, the students demonstrated their fluency in their research, and the Haddoxes remarked on their delighted surprise in the professionalism and comprehensiveness of the students’ research, presentation, and portfolio. The finale of this semester-long project put on display the rich impact had on students and on church leaders through this service-learning project model.

Praying with the Local Church--Zion Church of Petroleum Valley (Karns City, PA)

Also unfolding this semester, a group of students in Dr. Donald Shepson’s Worship and Prayer class partnered with Zion Church of Petroleum Valley to design and host a prayer event.  The students were commissioned to develop a 3-hour prayer service that would foster a life of prayer in congregants and pastors who attended from local churches.  This “Praying like Jesus” service featured a combination of scripture, worship, small group questions, and prayer as participants were guided through the Lord’s Prayer with a focus on Reverence, Request, and Readiness.

Sam Hoque, a sophomore student involved in the project, reflected, “It was incredible to partner with people we had never met before and come together under the name of Jesus Christ. There was nothing else to connect us other than Him. Yet, somehow, it felt like we had known each other for years. The times of prayer were full of vulnerability, and the fellowship we shared was incredibly welcoming.”

 “Our learning project was very encouraging because it was great to see how the Lord can work in small rural churches,” shares, Austin Garrett, a senior student also on the team for this service-learning project,  “These often get overlooked for larger churches with a lot of people, but from our project it was so evident that even in a small church the Lord can work in big ways! After this I have realized that small rural churches should be prioritized just as much as any other church.”

Mutual Encouragement and Continuing Opportunities

This symbiotic pairing of student learning and church need provides an opportunity for both parties to serve and be enriched by one another.  Through service-learning projects, GCC students, mentored by faculty and placed in conversation with the local Church, are given a glimpse of how they might build up the Body of Christ with whatever gifts and talents they have.

The service-learning projects are integrated into courses during both the Fall and Spring Semester.  If you are a leader at a church that would love the opportunity to enrich student learning and be served by student projects, contact office@ruralministry.org to discover how you can get involved with the service learning project opportunities taking place over the 2024 Spring semester.


Emma Ruby, raised in central PA, is a writing intern for the PRM and a senior studying English, Christian Ministries, and Redemptive Entrepreneurship with the hope of spending a lifetime doing vocational ministry.