Bringing Christ to Disney College Students

Posted on April 1, 2013


By David Ettinger

The Disney College Program means opportunity for students from throughout the world. For John Grosshans, who works at First Orlando as a Digital Designer and is also one of the leaders of the College Ministry, Disney’s College Program (CP) is a natural evangelistic outreach. “We don’t quite have an official name for the ministry yet,” John said. “We are kind of calling it ‘CP Outreach’ for now.”

Caption: John Grosshans — no socks and his shoelaces are untied.

By “we,” John is referring to his two ministry partners, Craig McCall and Patrick White. And if the three were looking for an endeavor that perfectly matches their passion, they’ve certainly found it. “Disney has students from all around the world who submit applications to be a part of an accredited Disney program,” John explained. “These students receive college credits for working at Disney for six to nine months, not to mention the experience of working at Disney.”

This constant flow of students into Orlando provides John, Craig and Patrick with a never-ending source of unsaved souls who need to hear the gospel. “The way the ministry works now is that we have a core group of about 20 CP students who we engage on a Christian level with Bible studies on Sundays, Wednesdays and Thursdays,” John said. “Our job is to encourage them so they can go back to the workplace and share their faith. We are also looking at some outreach events targeted at unsaved students, but for now, we are focusing on equipping the believing students so they can be the ministry to the others.”

When they’re not leading classes, John, Craig and Patrick will often walk around the Disney apartment complex and nearby shopping area, engaging students in conversation in the parking lots. It’s pretty much good, old-fashioned evangelism and fulfills a vision and desire John first had about two years ago. “Both Craig and I were looking for apartments. We got along well and decided to room together,” John recalled. “Eventually, Patrick joined us. While we were looking for a place, there was a college ministry in town called Campus Outreach.”

Campus Outreach features students from all over the U.S. who come to Orlando for the specific purpose of reaching out to Universal Studios employees. When Campus Outreach workers are not at Universal, they are usually at First Orlando doing discipleship training. “We got to know them and became involved with them,” John said. “We found out how they operate and were really inspired by their evangelism; it hit us on a very deep level.”

Caption: A few happy European students who work at Disney.

Further convicting the guys were two Asian young ladies they had met. They were exchange students who were being ministered to by Campus Outreach and, as a result, got involved at First Orlando. “Their names were Lin Ya and Ping-Ping,” John said. “They were in awe of the church. Lin Ya really connected well with our [College] ministry and wanted to spend as much time as she could with us. We got to see her develop in her walk with the Lord. It was amazing. It sparked in us a real interest in international students.”

That’s when they started thinking about Disney’s College Program. “In the past, First Orlando’s College Ministry had tried to do some outreach to the CP, but Disney shut us down,” John said. “We made poster boards that said, ‘Welcome Disney students,’ but Disney said we couldn’t use their name. We were also giving away gift baskets, but they wouldn’t let us do that, either.”

Undeterred, John would drive the small church bus out to the apartments that housed the Disney students on Wednesday nights, hoping to bring some of them to the College Ministry meeting at First Orlando. Though John made some inroads, it was a huge challenge, and he knew he needed to do more. “That’s when God put it on my heart to move out there,” he said. “I didn’t know the area or if there were apartments available for non-Disney employees.”

So he called around and found out that the complexes that rented to Disney workers did not rent to non-employees. “I kept looking and God eventually showed me an apartment complex that was right across the street from two of the major Disney complexes,” John said. “The location is great. All you have to do is walk around it to get to the Publix where all the Disney students shop.”

With everything in place, the three eventually moved in and were rearing to go, but things were not going as they had hoped. “The first couple of months were slow and we were discouraged,” John said. “The semester had already started, and it’s hard to get in with the students if you’re not there on the front end because they have already formed friendships and don’t look outside their own groups.”

But the three friends persevered and also employed a little bit of innovation. “We began to have success by the power of Facebook,” John said. “We found a [Facebook] group that was dedicated to the spring 2009 Disney College Program.”

John started making posts to the site, the first saying: “Are there any Jesus lovers here?” The response was so positive that they were able to launch their own Facebook community, which has grown to about 120 members. John began solidifying relationships with the Disney students by inviting them to his apartment whenever they needed to get away. Good thinking considering the Disney students usually live crammed, six students to a three-bedroom apartment. “We just told them to come over and hang out, have some food and we’ll pray with them,” John said. “That began the journey of connecting and building relationships.”

This includes providing rides to First Orlando whenever the students’ schedule allows. John and the guys are also working with Publix on a coupon that will offer a discount on one side and Bible-study meeting information on the other. “We’re getting people through word of mouth,” John said. “When some of the students come out of Publix and have a lot of groceries, we help carry them to their apartments. That goes a long way.”

And then there are those who are already plugged into the CP ministry. “We have a few people from Texas, Georgia and Mississippi,” John said. “They bring their roommates and co-workers whenever they can. It’s been awesome to see that.”

So, though it’s taken a while to get off the ground, John is pleasantly surprised with the way the unofficially named “CP Outreach” has grown. “It’s going better than I expected,” he said. “I would also say that it’s going different than I expected. I have learned a lot about faithfulness. Though things may not always work out as we want, God rewards faithfulness. This has been the case with us. Because we stayed faithful, we are seeing people’s lives change.”

For more information about CP Outreach — whether to join the Bible studies or donate funds to help provide food for the meetings — e-mail