Rick Lamborn says he’s called on a mission to study the Bible with singles at Hooters
Some folks actually go for the hot wings. Others go to see girls in hot pants. But about 20 young adults and college students visit Hooters of Kennesaw every Wednesday night for Bible study.
The group is part of Single Focus Atlanta and has been meeting for 3 1/2 years for dinner and to talk about God amid the waitresses in orange short-shorts and tight white tops.
“We’ve come here because people would be more likely to respond to an invitation when they’re comfortable,” said group leader Rick Lamborn of the nonprofit organization.
The concept works for Kristin Brooks, a student at Kennesaw State University, after her initial misgivings.
“The first night I was just like, ‘Hooters? I hate Hooters.’ But after the study I was hooked.
“It’s great when you’re trying to get to know somebody, and [it’s] not one-on-one,” she said. In fact, she’s been dating a guy for seven months she met at Single Focus.
Walking swiftly and toting a tray with mounds of wings and other appetizers, the blond server leans in to take beverage and food orders. Eyes focus on the menus — or gaze intently at the waitress’s face. Members pass the plates of chicken wings while Lamborn, who is not an ordained minister but feels called by God to lead the group, distributes a handout with Scripture passages and questions designed to spark discussion. Some members thumb through Bibles, but they are not required.
“We try to show them how Scriptures do apply to their lives,” Lamborn said. “The question format is an easy way to do outreach . . . and allows everybody to have input.”
That’s what Nelson Foster had in mind when he established Single Focus Atlanta five years ago, expanding on his son Joel’s casual group discussions with college friends. Foster, who was a youth pastor for 20 years, saw the group as a way to help people bring their lives into focus, said Joel Foster, 23, who is active in the group.
His father died in a car accident two years ago on the way to a Bible session at Hooters. But Foster’s vision of open discussion and spiritual exploration continues.
At a recent gathering, Lamborn asked his ninth of 23 questions: “How do you see things changing in the next five years?” Charly Woodard, 19, spoke up first. “I see myself working with kids. I don’t see myself in Georgia,” she said.
Justin Jones turned the question back on Lamborn. “Rick, what do you expect?” Lamborn’s answer was simple. “Bills,” he said jokingly.
Jones said when he thinks about kids in his future he thinks of having “no more freedom.” His thoughts fit with the night’s theme — liberty — as the group discusses how freedom is affected by changing circumstances in life.
Because Christianity rejects overt sexuality, some nontraditional settings — such as Hooters — could make such a group seem hypocritical, said Michael Dash, associate professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta.
Joel Foster said his father had been criticized by people who felt the group compromised Christian standards.
But membership has grown steadily over the years. Single Focus Atlanta is host to about four weekly gatherings for its 90 members. The Hooters sessions are less focused on the Bible, but in other sessions it is a central element. The group also arranges retreats, ski trips and movie nights. A Web site and newsletter keep members informed.
The organization succeeds because people are searching for their spiritual roots in unusual ways, says Bishop Eddie Long, pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. Drawing them in is the first step.
“One of the things we have lost in the church is that we have to catch the fish before we clean them,” he said.
Long explained that, unlike his church of more than 25,000 members, nontraditional Bible study groups are often smaller and offer a more intimate setting where attendees can share and ask questions. Typically, about 6,000 people attend Bible study on Wednesday at New Birth.
“I cannot open the floor for questions,” Long said. “It would lose control.”
However, Long said it’s important to make sure such sessions are being led by the right people.
Christians have always tried innovative approaches to reach out. Randall Balmer, a professor at Columbia University, cites the 18th-century English evangelist George Whitefield, who did open-air preaching; the circuit riders (Methodists who rode horses to preach on the frontier); and even the rescue mission of the Salvation Army that reaches out to people in need.
Lamborn says Single Focus acts a bridge between the spiritually curious and the church.
“Getting them into a church is a big part of what we want to do,” he said. “If members decided they want to check out a church, group members will suggest several ministries that may be of interest, but we don’t encourage one denomination over another.”
“We realize that different people worship God in different ways,” Foster said.
Woodard — the most talkative of tonight’s group — was initially reluctant to check the group out.
Her parents had never attended church, so she wasn’t familiar with Christianity and didn’t study the Bible. Because Single Focus Atlanta doesn’t strictly focus on the Bible, Woodard said she feels comfortable sharing her thoughts at the Wednesday sessions.
“It’s not like they’re pounding God into your head,” she said.