BY DEBORAH HOSTETTER
“Are we going to be known as the cliquish church or for having real community? Threshold church, what is your true calling?” challenged speaker Jimmy Nimon, addressing the congregation on a recent Sunday with a biting message.
Nimon, a Threshold pioneer involved in its formation, hit home with his words as he called out attendees for their lack of outreach, as well as appearing to be geared more towards image rather than substance. Though sobered, the audience received his counsel eagerly and did not hesitate afterwards to introduce themselves to newcomers, as he had requested they do once the sermon was over.
This is just one example from many which shows how Threshold is embracing diversity while building community. Currently meeting at Penn Manor Highschool’s main auditorium (located near Millersville University), this church grew from a pioneer group of seven to what is now bordering on 300 regulars, many of whom
attend smaller group meetings throughout the week.
Known for dynamic hour-long worship services and stirring messages, Threshold has drawn a vibrant crowd of mainly Caucasian 20-somethings, many of whom commute from Lancaster City and its surrounding boroughs. Interestingly, these attendees have been recognized by first-time visitors for their beauty and stylishness. As Naomi Hess, 23, said in reference to her first impression of Threshold, “I just couldn’t believe how pretty everyone was….I was like, whoa, what is this? Did all these people come out of a fashion magazine?”
“Why aren’t there more Hispanics and [African Americans]? It’s so white,” said Millersville University student Anthony Galati, 21, after his first visit.
Hess’s and Galati’s comments reflect those of other visitors. As Nimon pointed out in his message, Threshold first-timers are often struck more by the congregation’s attractiveness then by their friendliness. However, this lack of diversification and warmth is troubling, not only to Nimon, but also to those serious members who want to be known for their spiritual zeal rather then skinny jeans, suede boots and dark pea-coats. Associate pastor Jake Kail, partially in response to this issue, is currently mobilizing Millersville students who attend Threshold. He has invited them to attend a special service being held Nov. 16 on the university’s campus at the Student Memorial Center, with the purpose of establishing connections to other campus ministry organizations at Millersville.
“We are trying to form ties with UCF (University of Christian Fellowship) so we can partner with them and other Millersville campus ministries to reach out to the students,” Kail said on a during a recent Sunday service, as he presented the congregation with the idea of initiating more Threshold activity on campus.
The pastors (though they would rather not be known by that title) Corey Martin, Jeff Nolt, and Jake Kail are what many would call physically appealing men, but they are far more concerned about reaching souls then looking good on Sundays. To paraphrase what Nolt said two services ago, his heart is God’s heart and God’s concern is saving every soul in the world. So he (Nolt) is also geared towards saving the world, one person and prayer at a time.
Visions such as Nolt’s are nothing new at Threshold, which continues searching for ways to reach the surrounding community with its dynamic message.
Whether or not this effort to connect with MU students becomes fruitful is anyone’s guess. Colleges are assumed by many to be those places where most students let religious affiliations fly to the wind. A recent survey by Lifeway Christian Research reported that over two-thirds of young people involved in church in high-school will to some extent forgo church activities from ages 18 to 22.
After all, college is an area where young people are presented with more freedom to make their own choices, especially in regards to church attendance. And for those students whom choose not to attend available services, there are a variety of reasons. Busyness, peer pressure, desiring a break from church, negative past church experiences and difficulty in finding a good church are among those factors. According to Brad Waggoner, Vice President of research and ministry development at LifeWay, relationships are ties that maintain people in churches. Therefore, church leaders have a responsibility to challenge members to reach out to the surrounding communities.
“Frequent and intentional contact can either prevent or counteract the tendency of some to drop out of church,” he said. Waggoner says that those young people who don’t feel connected to church in their teens will probably not want to try to find a church at college either. Scott McConnell, the Director of Lifeway Research, agreed, saying that those folks who seek church fellowship are the ones who’ve already had a positive past with church guidance and relations, and see it as something important worth consistently pursuing.
It could be inferred from these studies and others that college itself is not responsible for pushing young people away from religion, but rather, it is their backgrounds and prior church experiences. Millersville students can attest to this.
Jordan Steele, a computer science major at Millersville, wasn’t raised in the church and still has no interest. “I stay in and chill, doing housework and homework on the weekends,” he said. “Church doesn’t matter to me. It never did growing up and it doesn’t now.”
For Catholic-raised senior Maria Barcoski however, church keeps the guilt down. “It (Mass) is the only time I have to really devote to my relationship to God. I don’t pray very often during the week,” she said.
On the other hand, Mushtak Meherzad’s religious beliefs are crucial. “College has reaffirmed my faith because it has put me into situations and around people where my faith has informed my decisions,” said the practicing Muslim, who is currently working on his master’s degree in English.
Campus prayer group leader and UCF supporter Zac Livesay also remains devoted. “A lot of people around here look for something spiritual but don’t want church. They don’t want organized religion since it’s too restrictive for a lot of them. UCF is moving away from the church thing; they don’t hide that they are church but also want to be known for small groups,” he said.
Livesay wasn’t raised as a Christian, but life experiences produced a desire to pursue this faith, a desire which has only grown throughout college.
Certainly, Millersville University is not lacking in the church department. A search of “churches” on the MU website brings up listing of 13 local religious institutions, ranging in denomination from Catholic to Lutheran to Methodist to Evangelical. Nonetheless, Threshold is still geared towards building an even stronger Christian presence on campus through its burgeoning tie-in with UCF.
Its leaders believe that through building blocks of relationship and community, they will be successful. Threshold attendees may look perfect, but as the majority of members have recognized, their church is not. Still, this majority is maintaining solid efforts to fulfill the Christian commission through carrying out outreach and establishing relationships, on campus and elsewhere. For further information, visit http://threshold-church.com/.