Central United Methodist Church offers more than an aesthetically pleasing presence for passersby on Oak Street.
Nestled in a corner across from the School of Law, Central UMC takes advantage of outreach efforts for college students, which include free weekly Wednesday dinners at 6 p.m.
College-Age Minister Alexis Cook heads efforts to encourage students’ involvement in the church community, using the weekly dinners as an opportunity for visitors to meet other members and socialize.
Unlike most church youth gatherings, free dinners do not serve as a method to gather students in order to share the church’s ideals. Visitors are instead encouraged to meet Cook, her family and other active members.
Cook stressed the importance of offering a community where students feel safe and welcome, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or belief.
She also acknowledged the church’s location as a major influence for reaching out to UMKC students.
“It just makes sense,” Cook said.
She has advertised the church’s services for students by handing out water bottles on campus, but said word of mouth has been most effective.
Cook also addressed the future possibility of allowing fraternities and sororities to use the church’s space to hold large events, but said there may be a small fee.
The church has finished a recent renovation and expansion offering multiple rooms where Conservatory students can practice or hold rehearsals, free of charge.
Cook said she periodically attends Conservatory events on campus to support and connect with students in the program, giving reminders about how the church offers its space for practices.
Cook said her effort to connect with UMKC students has been personally rewarding.
If Wednesday dinner attendees are interested in attending church services after interacting with the community, Cook considers it a bonus.
The percentage of students who still attend church after moving to college is very low, Cook said. This is mostly attributed to students adopting busier schedules and not connecting with a nearby church.
Last Wednesday’s weekly dinner consisted of hotdogs, cookies, chips and lemonade, attracting more than 30 college-age visitors. The free meal rotates each week, with lasagna and taco salad on next week’s menu.
Due to nice weather, last Wednesday’s dinner was held outside. Water balloons and other scheduled games were offered for children and students who wished to participate.
The relaxed atmosphere allows students to eat and leave, or to stick around and inquire about the church and future events.
Cook’s main goal is to increase students’ awareness of the church and its services, but she also strives to create a community where students always feel welcome.
To learn more about the church’s youth group, Cook can be reached by email at email@example.com.