Last updated: September 24, 2019

Joe Cox, Director of Covenant College Ministry, levels the playing field between cultures, genders and socio-economic statuses. Using a small group model, mentorship and worship, Joe helps college students looking for a church home find a social, connected community at Coastal Fog Coffee Shop.

“It’s Paul in Corinth,” Joe said. “It’s the marketplace. This is where [Paul] did the bulk of his ministry in places just like this because it leveled the playing field of different cultures and different genders.”

For the past four years, Covenant College Ministries met on the campus of East Carolina University. Joe described it as a set-up/tear-down campus in the campus’ recital hall with excellent acoustics, great lobby, arena seating and plenty of parking. The building was every church planter’s dream, but Joe’s team discovered that the location created a barrier between university and community college students.

“[We found that] when you go to a community college, you’re a ‘have not,’ but at a university, you’re a ‘have,’” Joe said.

Although the church averaged 60-70 people each Sunday, small groups were averaging 105-110 students throughout the week.

“The more money we [were] spending on Sunday mornings, the more training and energy, it’s like we’re pushing something that we’re not seeing the results that we want,” Joe said. “The Hallmark stories of transformation are coming out of our small groups.”

After attending Asbury Seminary’s Church Planting Fellowship that talked about innovation, entrepreneurship, and marketplace ministry, Covenant Church decided to do church differently.

Starting in Fall 2018, the Covenant College Church will re-direct its focus from weekly church services to weekly small group discipleship. The weekly small groups point to Lift, a larger, monthly worship service at Coastal Fog, a coffee shop that is part of an interior design company. Weekly services will be available at the neighboring Winterville Campus.

The transition kicked off at the end of the Spring semester with live worship music, free coffee and pastries, prayer, and a vision for the future. As part of the service, Joe celebrated and prayed for the graduates, celebrated recent baptisms, and talked about the future of the church, using the story of Paul as a tentmaker. Joe closed the evening with a conversation about Jesus.

“College students want to have a conversation about Jesus before giving their lives to him,” Joe said.

Through small groups, Joe helps college students and young adults find meaningful, reproducible discipleship that provides a connection to the local church.

“We don’t plan on keeping these students, but [see our ministry as] a sending ministry,” Joe said.

Joe not only models discipleship through small groups, but also through yearly mission trips with Hellenic Ministries. Each year, Joe leads a group of college students to Greece to distribute Bibles to facilitate church planting. As the recipients ask questions or express interest in knowing more about the Christian faith, small groups form.

“Greece is the gateway to the Muslim world,” Joe said. “When people come through Greece or get stuck in Greece, Greece has got to have a heart for Jesus to share Jesus with the Muslims.”

Joe has served at Covenant College Ministries since 2014. He began following Jesus in 1984 and married Marianne Kristen Church in 1991. He graduated from Asbury University in 1993 and from Asbury Seminary in 1998. While Joe has served in ministry in New Jersey, Kentucky, and Texas, currently he is working with college-age people within the Pitt Community College and East Carolina University campuses in Greenville, N.C.

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