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.”