5 Ministry Opportunities Unique to College Campuses

Article
04.02.2015

There is a seemingly never-ending barrage of research, news stories, and books concerning the decline of millennials in American churches. Some have sounded an alarm; others haven’t. Whatever your opinion on the reasoning behind these trends, churches would do well to consider how they can more effectively engage the next generation with the gospel. One idea: engage campus ministry!

I can think of at least five opportunities that are unique to campus life.

1. The openness to evangelism is perhaps nowhere greater.

No student goes to college to stay the same. In contemporary American life, college has become the place for self-discovery. It is where you go to “find your passion” and “find yourself.”[1] In college, most experience life apart from their parents for the first time. And before a Christian ever enters their life with the gospel and a Christian worldview, most college students have probably already been challenged in their beliefs by a professor or classmate. In that sense, Christians seeking to evangelize on a college campus are not all that different. After all, the college campus is often advertised as the “free marketplace of ideas” and the place where all ideas are given a “seat at the table.”

All of these factors together make the college campus an incredible place for evangelism. It’s been said about the campus I minister at—Georgetown University, a Jesuit university in Washington, DC—that the two things you are taught not to talk about at the dinner table, religion and politics, are the only things students really care about! But whether you are in Washington, DC, Birmingham, Alabama, or Berkley, California, there will be students open to the gospel. And in an increasingly secular age, Christians stand out on college campuses.

2. College students have the time many others don’t.

I often remind college students, “You will never have as much free time as you do right now.” They rarely believe me in the moment, but after graduation they always agree. College students have the time to attend evangelistic events, ministry retreats, discipleship groups, and to meet one-on-one for discipling purposes. One pastor at my church recently highlighted how the number of child-care workers in church always significantly declines in the summer when students are home. Simply put, most college students have lots of time.

In his classic book The Master Plan of Evangelism, Robert Coleman observes that in Christ’s ministry to the Twelve, “Jesus had virtually no time to call his own. Like little children clamoring for the attention of their father, the disciples were always under the foot of the Master.” College students, generally speaking, have an abundance of one of the most important components of good discipling relationships: time!

3. College ministry moves extremely quickly.

The pace of the college ministry schedule is fast. Because of the summer and Christmas breaks, a campus ministry year is only about eight months. Why does this provide an opportunity? I can think of two ways.

In discipling, it is amazing the pace at which students can grow in just one or two years. College students are in the prime age of their lives and many have the time and availability to be heavily invested in. Because of the pace of the college years, it’s not uncommon to see juniors or seniors who perhaps became Christians their freshman year already leading and discipling younger students behind them. Again, things move quickly.

Secondly, on a college campus the fast pace provides more opportunities for evangelism. If one year feels particularly difficult in ministry, there is always next year. With every new year, hundreds or perhaps thousands of students begin their college years, and with a new group of students comes new opportunities for evangelism.

4. The nations are in your backyard.

Evangelizing international students on your local college campus may be one of the easiest and most strategic ways for churches to obey the Great Commission by seeking to make disciples of all nations. The number of foreign students on F-1 visas in U.S. colleges and universities has grown dramatically from 110,000 in 2001 to 524,000 in 2012. What’s more, the sharpest increases have occurred among students from difficult-to-reach or closed countries like China and Saudia Arabia.[2]

In addition to the sheer volume of international students, the reality is that many of these students are learning a new language and culture and have few American friends. Because of this, opportunities abound for Christians to engage in hospitality and love their neighbor. One way I have seen members of my local church do this is through starting an International Student Ministry (ISM) ministry at the church, which pairs members with international students looking for a language partner. How could your church serve the international students in your area?

5. There is a significant history with student missions.

Did you know that John Wesley was not yet converted when he started at Oxford University in 1720? Have you heard the story of Samuel Mills and the “Haystack Five,” who eventually began the first six mission agencies in North America? Did you know that Lottie Moon once “went to a campus revival to scoff and returned to my room to pray all night”?[3] Or how about C.T. Studd and the “Cambridge Seven,” a group of seven young college students who ignited the Student Volunteer Movement? The list could go on.[4] Recent church history tells us that the college campus is one of the most strategic places for your church to focus on.

What would it look like for your church to get involved?

*****

[1] See University of ArizonaȀ㣀ꃝ譃¬Ȁ㧀sions page: admissions.arizona.edu/freshmen/find-your-passion-find-yourself-get-involved

[2] http://www.brookings.edu/research/interactives/2014/geography-of-foreign-students#/M10420

[3] Quoted from Ruth Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions, pgs 294-925

[4] Watch this excellent six-minute video put together by the CROSS Conference, The History of Student Missions: http://vimeo.com/112919409.