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‘The Well’ draws Tallahassee’s college students
Published February 12, 2009
TALLAHASSEE (FBW)-The lights dim, the music swells, and the doors burst open at Tallahassee’s Godby High School auditorium as The Well begins another unconventional service early on a Sunday night in January.
The new church plant in Tallahassee has a central focus of reaching the town’s 70,000 college students. In addition to offering modern music, stage lighting and video interludes during the service, the church promotes a casual, student-friendly environment.
The Well’s weekly attendance has climbed from 20 to more than 300 since it was established in August of 2007, as a congregation affiliated with the Florida Baptist Convention.
“Each week is our biggest week,” Dean Inserra, the 28-year-old Tallahassee native and founding pastor of The Well, told Florida Baptist Witness.
“The thing that is unique about the church is that it is totally out of the heart of its founder,” said David Southerland, Executive Director of the Florida Baptist Association, of which the church also is a member.
“Dean Inserra is called to do what he is doing and it shows,” Southerland said. “He’s also very much a part of our association, particularly in providing leadership in the area of student ministry. We”ve been blessed with some very innovative guys and he is certainly one prime example.”
Inserra said the church’s theme, “Everlasting Truth, Ever-Changing Culture,” indicates that despite the contemporary feel of the services, his congregation affirms the Baptist Faith & Message and presents a Gospel-centered message each week.
“We preach the most traditional message, but we contextualize it in a way that appeals and connects,” Inserra said. “We give confidence to our people that we’re going to create the kind of atmosphere where they don’t have to be embarrassed to bring a lost friend or apologize all the way home.”
When students returned to town from Christmas break, Inserra delivered a message using the story of David and Bathsheba based on 2 Sam. 11. He challenged the near capacity crowd on two of the more highly charged issues for young people today: drunkenness and sexual promiscuity. About 75 percent of those who attend The Well are in college.
Pastor Curtis Clark from Thomasville Road Baptist Church in Tallahassee participated in a pulpit swap last year which afforded him the opportunity to preach at The Well.
“What most impressed me while preaching at The Well was the eagerness of college students and young adults to hear from God,” Clark said. “It’s refreshing to know that the Gospel is still relevant to people of every age.”
Inserra describes his church as being not only passionate about reaching the younger generation but also committed to orthodox theology.
“We create a very 21st century model of a church,” Inserra said “from the atmosphere of the room to the way people dress. Their goal each week is to make the environment look as hip as possible.
“The Well doesn’t waiver on the Gospel, but it’s culturally sensitive,” said Cameron Duke, 22, and a senior at Florida State University who has been at The Well since its inception. “We want to reach people that no one else is reaching. We want to be a church that loves people, but doesn’t waiver on the fact that Jesus Christ is Lord and that the Gospel is as true today and as relevant today as it ever has been.”
The church takes its name from John 4 and the story of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well. Inserra points out that Jesus interacted with her in a familiar environment.
“He met her where she was, but also told her the truth about her life,” Inserra said. “And he told her the truth about who he was. So we combine those two elements.”
Marty Stubblefield, 44, is a local banker who brought his family to the Well. Having become a Christian as a freshman in college, Stubblefield now sees the church as an opportunity to disciple today’s college-aged students.
“I can’t really explain it, but God is up to something,” Stubblefield said. “He’s doing something at The Well. We’re seeing lives changed. We’re seeing young people going deeper in their faith journey.”
In addition to the weekly service, The Well organizes community groups for discipleship, that meet in homes during the week, and connection events like dinners or retreats.
“We are very intentional about the curriculum we use,” Inserra said. “We want to make sure every single kid in every small group can articulate the Gospel.”
Courtney Kinsey, a FSU freshman from Orlando, said she had not been involved in a church in Tallahassee prior to being invited to The Well.
“The time is good,” Kinsey said, referring to the 5:30 p.m. worship time on Sundays. “A lot of people don’t want to wake up early, honestly, on a Sunday.”
Stubblefield said the church is appealing to those who, for many reasons, have fallen away from church during their college and young adult years.
“The Well is reaching some of those people who won”t step foot in a traditional church but will come to The Well,” Stubblefield said. “Then [they] will hear the truth being preached and will keep coming back on Sunday nights.”
James Parsons, 22, is majoring in economics at Tallahassee Community College and a member of the worship band at The Well.
“We believe if we want to reach the people that no one’s reaching, we have to do the things that nobody is doing,” Parsons said. “It’s really been the best thing that has ever happened to me.”
More information about the church is available on its website at www.thewelltallahassee.com.
[James A. Smith Sr. contributed to this report.]
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