Over the next two weeks, more than 100,000 college students will begin attending classes every week in Saint Louis. While just under half of those students self-identify as “Christian”, only about 1 in 4 of them will attend a church service on any given Sunday. That means that in my city, there are around 75,000 lost and wandering college students – students who, according to the data, will no longer be following Jesus by graduation, if they ever were.
75,000 lost and wandering students – can you wrap your mind around that? If they were gathered into a city and incorporated into Saint Louis County, they would make up the largest municipality in the County by more than 20,000 people. The numbers may be different where you live but the reality is the same – every town that has a college campus has a large and significant number of lost and wandering young people within a few miles of its churches.
The good news is that Jesus has not left them without a witness. In our city’s Baptist networks alone, there are dozens of churches within three miles (or a roughly ten-minute drive) of a university campus. However, the question still remains: If only 1 in 4 of them will attend a church service on any given Sunday, how will the churches of Saint Louis reach the other 75,000 students?
Like missionaries in any other field that is foreign to the Gospel, we must take the Good News to where they live. Following the example of Jesus in John 1:14, we are called to “put on flesh and move into the neighborhood” (MSG), embodying and proclaiming the Gospel among the very students we hope to reach. As the Apostle Paul writes,
“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’”Romans 10:14-15
But how do we do that exactly? How does a church with no current presence on a campus get started?
Here are three things any church leader can do to get started in reaching a nearby campus. And no, it’s not too late for you to start doing these things and having a presence on a campus this semester.
Assess Your Calling
I have spent the past decade of my life planting missional communities and sharing the Gospel on college campuses in Saint Louis, and I can tell you one thing about this mission field without hesitation: it can be a difficult place for Gospel faithfulness.
Beyond the generally cross-cultural nature of ministry to a diverse population, the fluidity of both people and ideas in this space can make it seem like hard soil for a planter, no matter how gifted and resourced. Without a strong sense of personal and corporate calling to the campus, I doubt that any team of leaders would last more than a semester or two.
START TODAY: There are lots of great missional opportunities in the city of Saint Louis, and no matter where you live, there’s likely a college campus within driving distance or a community of college-aged young adults (remember, not all college-aged young adults go to college. Some may be at trade schools, doing apprenticeships, getting married and starting families, or entering the workforce, but they need the gospel, too). Take some time to ask the Lord if the college campus is where he is calling you to invest. Pray each day for a week for a burden for a specific people group on a specific campus. You will need a strong sense of passion and calling to persevere in this mission field.
Assess Your Companions
Like any missionary endeavor, there is no such thing as a successful lone wolf. Whether it’s Jesus sending out the 72 in pairs (Luke 10) or the church at Antioch setting aside Barnabas and Saul for the task of taking the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 13), the best planting work is always done in teams. We need the diversity of gifts in the body and the community of co-laborers beside us as we embody and proclaim the gospel. The great news is that you don’t need an army of seminary-trained professional Christians to do the work. Any solid disciplemaker with a few free hours each week, a heart for students, and a willingness to take risks can be used by Jesus to see radical transformation on campus.
START TODAY: Take a few minutes to reflect on the people in your community. Who might be willing and able to invest 2-4 hours per week in connecting with and discipling students at a local college? Write down their names and make a note to yourself to contact them in the next 48 hours.Any solid disciplemaker with a few free hours each week, a heart for students, and a willingness to take risks can be used by Jesus to see radical transformation on campus. @kuzzle Click To Tweet
Assess Your Connections
Another lesson we learn from the Apostle Paul’s missionary journeys is that the gospel travels through relationships. In Acts 16, when Paul lands in Philippi, he meets a woman named Lydia at the “place of prayer” by the river. She responds to the Gospel and invites Paul to share it with her entire household, all of whom were baptized along with her. This household baptism is the beginning of the church at Philippi, to whom the book of Philippians would later be written.
When we feel a calling from the Lord to see the gospel spread to a nearby campus, it is good for us to consider whether or not we already have some existing relationships that could serve as open doors to entire “households” ready to receive the Good News. These could be current students, parents of current students, recent alumni, faculty, administrative assistants, coaches, dorm cafeteria workers, or anyone else who has a meaningful connection to a people group on our neighborhood campus.
START TODAY: Think back to your community for a moment. Do you know of anyone who might have a connection to that local university? How could you find out in the next 48 hours what connections exist within your community? Consider making a church-wide announcement in a service or on social media asking for people to share what connections they have and join you in praying for that campus!
Let’s Get to Work
Here at MBCollegiate, we are committed to walking alongside you as you seek the Lord’s direction and favor in fulfilling the Great Commission. We would love to connect with you to pray and dream together about your church or team taking steps to reach a people group on a nearby campus this year. Please do not hesitate to contact me.
Let’s seek His face together and get to work!
Image credit: Paul Sableman. Used under Creative Commons license 2.0