NORCROSS - Greater Atlanta Christian School President David Fincher said he has the same goal as many Atlanta area youth ministers: to help raise the next generation of Christian leaders.
To bridge the gap between the students' school and churches, GAC officials invited youth ministers Tuesday to attend junior and senior high school chapel services and eat lunch with chaplains and administrators.
About 50 ministers from metro Atlanta churches, with service experience ranging from nine days to more than 25 years, dined on chicken, wild rice and green beans while they talked with school staff members.
"You're always welcome here," Fincher told them, "and it's all right if you bring a Bible."
Many youth ministers said they relished the networking opportunity.
Wes Patterson, a youth minister at Shadowbrook Baptist Church in Suwanee, said several of his students attend Greater Atlanta Christian. In his line of work, Patterson said it's important "to meet them where they are."
"Students who know we're involved will then open up and allow you to minister to them," Patterson said.
Linda Koerner, who works in youth ministry at St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Lilburn, said she was encouraged by Fincher's story of how he woke up at 2:30 a.m. on the first day of school and was on campus by 5:45 a.m., walking the school grounds and hallways as he prayed for the students.
"We're praying together for the kids," she said.
Brian Offutt of the North Atlanta Church of Christ in Dunwoody said the schools and churches are "all on the same team."
"We're all working together to help form the students more into the image of Christ," he said.
Developing a connection between the school and the churches could also help when the students face a crisis or tragedy on campus, Fincher said. School officials could then call the ministers to help counsel the students at the school.
Suzette Price, who works with her husband, Perry, at the Snellville Church of Christ, said churches sometimes don't immediately know if students are hurting or if they are excited about something. Keeping in contact with the school will let church officials know if their resources are needed before their weekly meetings with the children, she said.
Terry Davis, GAC's junior high school chaplain, said he thinks it's important to develop the partnership with the youth ministers and to honor the work they do with the children during the summers.
"They light a fire in the students during the summer," Davis said. "We take that fire and keep it going."