Cross­roads Farm is looking to expand. (Photo: Facebook)

Hillsdale’s Cross­roads Farm is working to expand its min­istry of “loving the rural teen” to three addi­tional loca­tions through their planting program.

The program will extend to Chippewa County in the Upper Peninsula, Kalkaska County, and Har­rison County in Ohio, according to Cross­roads Co-Founder and Director Dawn Rout­ledge.

Cross­roads Farm, founded nearly 18 years ago, gives teens an oppor­tunity to encounter and accept Christ through Sunday night pro­grams, which includes ice-breaker activ­ities, praise and worship songs, a Christian-themed message, and a small-group dis­cussion.

“The message can be on things like lone­liness or divorce — some­thing that brings the gospel into the context of their lives,” Nathan Wilson ’16, exec­utive assistant to the director at Cross­roads, said.

In rural com­mu­nities, issues such as teen preg­nancy, drug use, and alco­holism have become increas­ingly prevalent, Wilson said. Cross­roads Farms pro­vides a safe, neutral place for teens to learn about Christ and form pos­itive rela­tion­ships with adult mentors, which increases the teens’ chances for success later on, he said.

Ulti­mately, the goal of Cross­roads Farm is to direct teens to the local churches through their out­reach to stu­dents who may not oth­erwise have found an oppor­tunity to do so, Rout­ledge said.

At Cross­roads, vol­un­teers receive youth-min­istry training focusing on the skills, mindset, and atti­tudes nec­essary for servant lead­ership, Willson said. Over the course of four years of this training, vol­un­teers receive the equiv­alent of a master’s degree in youth min­istry.

Rout­ledge said this training is espe­cially critical in rural com­mu­nities, where small churches may not have the means to hire a youth pastor or sustain a youth min­istry of its own. Cross­roads Farm partners with seven local churches through the Rural Church Ini­tiative, pro­viding a youth group setting which may not oth­erwise be fea­sible.

“Some churches have only two or three kids, so it’s hard to get kids excited when it’s such a small group of people that they already know,” Caleb Hopper, a Chippewa County native and vol­unteer youth min­ister who is working with Cross­roads Farm, said.

Since Crossroad Farm’s founding nearly 18 years ago, Rout­ledge said they have envi­sioned expansion of pro­grams like Cross­roads Farm to other rural com­mu­nities. She said the goal is to found at least five such pro­grams across the country during her lifetime. Chippewa, Har­rison, and Kalkaska County are a part of this goal.

“We’re con­cerned not just for these three com­mu­nities, but for com­mu­nities across the United States,” Rout­ledge said. “This is a need, and this is a model that can work in any rural com­munity. It’s just a matter of God opening those doors.”

In order to found a Cross­roads program in another com­munity, several require­ments must be met: a local leader with ties to the com­munity must spearhead the program, another vol­unteer must come forward to help with admin­is­trative affairs, a neutral location not affil­iated with a church or school must be pro­vided, and some form of financial backing must be pro­vided.

Rout­ledge said all three com­mu­nities are on their way to ful­filling these require­ments. Once met, the process of founding the program takes an addi­tional 18 to 24 months. Though the process can be lengthy, Rout­ledge said the success of the program depends largely on vol­unteer training and will­ingness.

“Min­istry, message, oppor­tunity, training — all of those things in con­sis­tency will change a rural com­munity over time,” she said. “But it’s not overnight, it’s not some magic formula. It’s investing in the lives of people through the long haul.”