Parker Wyatt and Izzy Fleetwood undertook a small Bible study that quickly evolved into a fledgling evangelistic ministry at a parking garage in downtown Covington. Teens and college-aged students now flock there to worship, connect with others and hear the Word of God.
by Gabriel Stovall
What began as an opportunity for Parker Wyatt and Izzy Fleetwood to share fellowship and camaraderie with friends around Biblical encouragement has turned into something neither of them could have ever imagined.
They call it The Top, and it has quickly become a go-to spot for teens and college-aged students in and around Newton County to worship, connect with others and hear the Word of God. Throughout the summer, more than 100 students have gathered together on the top level of the First Baptist Church of Covington parking garage—hence the name of the ministry— to grow with each other and in Christ.
It is not “church,” per se, at least not in the traditional sense, but it is a growing collective of young people chasing after God. The way it quickly morphed from a casual gathering of friends to a full-fledged evangelistic ministry can only be attributed to divine intervention, according to those involved. It started with Wyatt and Fleetwood meeting with about 20 friends while they were home from college in December. They shared a Bible lesson together, and the connection was so strong that they knew everyone involved wanted more.
“After that Bible study,” Wyatt said, “Izzy and I were like, ‘Hey, what if we did this college student gathering on a larger scale and brought the entire community together, instead of just huddling up in a small group.” There was no hesitation from the small group of friends, so plans for a new, larger outreach began. “Because we knew we wanted to open this up to the entire community, we really wanted to figure out a central location,” Fleetwood said. “We didn’t want it to just be something that was a branch out of one particular church but rather a gathering of many churches, many college students, teens, high schoolers, young adults, all over. We wanted a location to reflect that.”
They chose the top level of the parking deck—a place that already carried some familiarity among youth and students.
“We’d been there multiple times before just to hang out with others,” Wyatt said. “It wasn’t anything strange for us or our friends to say to our parents, ‘Hey, I’m going to go to The Top to hang out for a while.’”
Another positive aspect of this experience for the college couple: Their individual churches—Fleetwood attends First Baptist and Wyatt attends Church 213, where his father pastors—have remained supportive without trying to seize the reigns of the fledgling ministry. Wyatt and Fleetwood prefer to leave it in God’s hands.
“It’s just been so cool to see the Lord grow this seed that He placed in our heart. We want to be right here to continue to work and do the things we know He’s called us to do.”Parker Wyatt
“We’ve actually had other churches that want to collaborate with us or partner with us,” Fleetwood said. “We don’t mind working with others, but there’s a big difference in wanting to partner and wanting to collaborate. Parker and I didn’t want any collaboration or partnership that could be too overbearing and make this become just another branch of a particular church. We’re really protective of that. We want this space and ministry to operate at the purest form possible based on how God showed it to us.”
They believe that simple approach was part of what drew people in the first place. The Top started with a meeting on June 6 and welcomed more than 150 attendees.
“We were a little nervous with it,” Wyatt said. “We were setting up chairs and preparing, but we didn’t know how many people to expect.”
From there, gatherings took place every Sunday night through Aug. 8, right before school headed back into session for many college students. The services featured music from a worship band, including an original song called “The Top.” It was written by Wyatt and Fleetwood and served as a theme. Wyatt considers The Top a mixture of evangelistic outreach—trying to connect with people who do not yet have a relationship with Christ—and an opportunity to help people already in the faith grow closer to Him.
“Because of the nature of it and because we’re pretty much all students,” Wyatt said, “we don’t really have the time to do a lot of discipling.”
Wyatt and Fleetwood indicated that discipling could be an area where others fill in the gaps alongside The Top.
“This is where churches can come in,” Fleetwood said, “[with] discipleship counselors, maybe some financial help.” Wyatt agreed. “We don’t have the time to know every person and enter that discipleship phase, so we definitely want to see people who get saved here find places and churches across the area they can go to grow in their faith.”
Thus far, the ministry has exceeded their hopes. Several students surrendered their lives to Christ during the first meeting.
“It was so amazing to see because it was hard for expectations to be set,” Fleetwood said. “Ultimately, we want to see people come to know Jesus, and we hope others can help in that way.”
Typically, either Wyatt or Fleetwood shares a message at The Top. She provided the first—a reminder to the 150-plus in attendance that Christ invites us to come as we are but has the power to transform us for His glory. Her message falls in line with the tone that was set from the beginning. It harkened back to the initial Bible study over Christmas break, when Wyatt walked the group through the Book of James, comparing and contrasting real faith and a real relationship with Christ to traditional religion.
“We live in a society that talks about and glorifies what you do and the actions and works you do,” Wyatt said. “That isn’t accurate with the Bible. There, we see that our faith and our works go hand in hand. We want to encourage people to own their faith in Jesus and put it into action as they grow in Him.”
One of The Top’s more unique elements is the reality that its leaders basically find themselves in the same age bracket as those who attend. Wyatt and Fleetwood, a young college couple, are learning to navigate life while enjoying the journey of discovering how to grow closer to each other and to God. Now that The Top has spread its wings, Wyatt and Fleetwood have strengthened their commitment to the ministry. They decided to leave Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville and continue their education through Valdosta State University’s online program.
“We decided to finish our degrees online so that we can remain in the Covington area and keep pouring into our community,” Wyatt said. “It’s just been so cool to see the Lord grow this seed that He placed in our heart. We want to be right here to continue to work and do the things we know He’s called us to do.”