Monday night, 100 students piled into a spare room at Be My Guest catering to sing worship songs and play games. It was the first All-City Young Life Club meeting of the year.
Young Life has ministered in Augusta for 60 years.
This week, the nondenominational organization kicked off that 60th year with a new director: Clay Bagby, an Augusta native.
“I haven’t lived back in Augusta since I graduated,” said Bagby, a 1992 Westside High grad. “It’s been 20 years. It still absolutely feels like home.”
Young Life groups currently operate for students at Westside, Evans and Lakeside high schools, with a new group opening for students at Augusta Prep this fall.
“I have a heart for getting into schools that Young Life hasn’t impacted lately. There are so many kids nobody is pursing,” said Bagby, 38. “In high school, I got involved in Young Life and really connected quickly with the ministry. Through it, I learned that being a Christian was really about a relationship with Jesus Christ.”
Club meetings are just a small piece of the Young Life ministry.
“Club is organized chaos. It’s a platform for sharing the gospel,” Bagby said. “We borrow space from Be My Guest, Putt-Putt, wherever. We don’t have our own space. We want to go to where the kids are, and so we go to their games, their practices.”
Young Life relies on a crew of volunteer leaders.
“We’re about building relationships,” said Shelby Gough, an Augusta State University senior and volunteer leader. “We live in their world.”
Five or 10 years from now, Bagby said, he hopes Young Life groups will be reaching more kids in more schools.
“I pray we’ll have a much deeper impact in each county,” he said. “It can happen. Volunteer leaders are a huge part of that.”
This is Bagby’s fourth stint as a Young Life area director.
Bagby previously worked in Maryville, Tenn., Silver Spring, Md., and in Aiken, where he spent six years as area director until 2008.
“We really connected deeply with the community there,” he said. “We grew deep roots.”
The move from Maryville, the area they served the past four years, required tons of prayer, Bagby said.
The family had recently rebuilt after a house fire in 2010.
“We had added on the house. It was perfect for us,” he said. “My ministry had really turned a corner. We were finally in a place where things were comfortable again.”
And that’s when Bagby said he knew he’d be coming back to Georgia.
“I was yelling out to God all these reasons we didn’t want to go: Our comfort, comfort, comfort, comfort,” he said. “I’ve followed Jesus long enough to know he doesn’t call us to a life of comfort.”
The family packed its bags and this summer moved into Bagby’s childhood home, which his mother recently moved out of.
“The timing was a God thing,” he said. “I now live with my family in the house I grew up in.”
Bagby met his wife, Christy, when they were both students at Georgia Tech.
Today, three of their four children attend Episcopal Day School across the street from Bagby’s new office in the back of Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church’s Alan Fuqua Center. Bagby went there as a kid.
“It’s great to be back,” he said.