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Reconciling the Local Church with Parachurch Campus Ministry

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Reconciling the Local Church with Parachurch Campus Ministry


Those in the ministry world have a variety of responses to that one, ever-complicated word. Some love it; some hate it.

Like it or not, most campus ministries are parachurch. That is, they exist alongside the local church without being tied or attached to one congregation. 

Many local churches are hesitant or skeptical about Christian groups that meet together weekly without local church oversight. They see them as competition or replacement for the local church, or simply outside its doctrinal wings of protection. Some folks even believe that no other ministries should exist outside of the Sunday gathering because Scripture doesn’t articulate the need, benefit, or, anything about these parachurch ministries. 

As someone who was heavily influenced by the youth ministries I attended (places where I grew in my faith, had the opportunity to be a spiritual leader, and recognized my calling to ministry), I have even heard arguments that youth ministry shouldn’t exist because Scripture doesn’t say, “Y’all should have a youth ministry in your church.”

That topic is best addressed in a passionate, 20-page essay that I’ll save for another day. But for today, let’s talk about the discouraging reality of the all-too-frequent disconnect between our campus ministries and the local church. Let’s acknowledge just how disheartening this is, not only for personal reasons, but for the sake of the Kingdom. 

But there’s good news. There is a way to reconcile campus ministry and the local church, and it starts with understanding what we are, what we aren’t, and why we need each other. When we do, we will be stronger and better able to advance God’s Kingdom—on college campuses, in the next generation, and beyond.

What College Ministries Aren’t 

Let’s make sure the local church hears this–in fact, maybe we ought to put this in parenthesis under the name of our campus ministries–our campus ministry is not a local church. We would also add that it’s not a replacement for the local church. We encourage our students to attend local churches. Many of us even require our student leaders to be members of them and serve accordingly.

It Looks Like a Church…

The global Church Body, made up of all believers (past, present, and future) in all places is not to be confused with what Scripture has clearly defined as the institution of the local church. 

Those definitions are exposited in the Baptist Faith & Message 2000. Skimming over “Article VI: The Church” might lead some to believe that a good and faithful campus ministry could be a church. After all, these ministries are “local congregations of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel,” and, notably, “seeking to spread that gospel to the ends of the earth.” 

It gets worse. Campus ministries have directors who operate in many of the same ways as a pastor does. Uh oh! Does that make them churches? 

It looks like it, doesn’t it? But they aren’t. Campus ministries are almost the local church because they are composed of a congregation of baptized Christ followers, gathering together for fellowship, worship, evangelism, service, and teaching, and are led by a director, who is a pastor-like figure. 

Campus ministries are almost, but not quite, the local church, and “almost” is not enough.

…But It Isn’t a Church

Campus (college) ministries are not quite the local church because they are exclusive. It’s in the name, folks. Campus ministry is exclusively for college-aged people. They are not exclusive because they arbitrarily draw in the same people; they are exclusive because they only accept college-aged congregants

There are plenty of local congregations that only have certain ethnic groups; there are many all-Hispanic churches in my area. There are country churches in my area that don’t have anyone under 60 in their pews. When I was in college, I met with two church plants that were only composed of people in their 20s. 

Don’t these churches seem exclusive? Yes, they do, but seeming and being exclusive are very different. Campus ministries are exclusive because they are defined by their exclusivity—they are exclusive on purpose. Local churches that lack diversity seem exclusive, but they aren’t exclusive by definition, desire, or choice. If a young adult couple walked into an old country church, they would be welcomed. If an Asian family walked into an all-American church, they would be welcomed. I have personally been invited to become a member of all-Hispanic churches. The exclusive-seeming local church would never reject anyone who doesn’t fit into their current, coincidental club of people.

Now, go ask the nearest campus minister if the moody middle schooler can join their weekly gatherings. Ask them if the middle-aged couple, 20 years removed from college, can attend their next lesson: “How to Follow Christ in College.” Ask them if a single 60-year-old widower can stay overnight at their fall retreat.

Unsurprisingly, they would tell these people, “This isn’t the place for you; there is somewhere more appropriate” (and that place would be a local church, wouldn’t it?). Our campus ministries are for college students. We are exclusive by definition; the local church isn’t. 

Campus ministries also aren’t quite the local church because they often don’t baptize believers or do Communion—they partner with the local churches for those things. College ministries don’t have a plurality of Elders, and are instead often under the leadership of an association.

What if campus ministries did these things? Could they not be considered a local church then? The answer is still no because of purposeful exclusivity. 

What if campus ministries did these things, and weren’t purposefully exclusive to college students? Then they wouldn’t be a campus ministry anymore.

Our ministries can’t be a local church because they aren’t trying to be. They don’t want to be a local church. They exist to exclusively reach college students, acting as an extension and tool of the local church, for the local church. 

“Our college ministries exist exclusively to reach college students, acting as an extension and tool of the local church, for the local church.”

Austin Pfrimmer

What College Ministries Are

The question that comes next is obvious, “If campus ministries aren’t a local church, and also aren’t church-based ministries either, then what are they?” 

An Extension

The answer that I like to give in my association is that our campus ministries are an extension of the local church. They are another member of the Body of Christ that exists to serve both the Body as a whole  and the institution of the local church. 

A Safety Net

Campus ministries act as a safety net that catches young adults at precisely the time when they are most likely to fall out of the local church. Our campus ministries catch these young adults, providing a place for them to find, explore, or rediscover their faith. We disciple them through teaching, evangelism, fellowship, service, and worship. We direct them back into the local church, both actively during our time with them and after they leave our ministry. Our goal is to make disciples who make disciples of Jesus Christ, and disciples of Jesus Christ belong in His instituted local church. 

Without the safety net of campus ministries, how many more young adults would permanently fall away from the local church? This age group is the next generation of husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, church leaders and members, not to mention their influence in the social, political, and economic realms. We can’t afford to lose them. 

"Campus ministries act as a safety net that catches young adults at precisely the time when they are most likely to fall out of the local church." -Austin Pfrimmer #collegiatedisciplemaker Reconciling the Local Church with Parachurch… Click To Tweet

A Mission Outpost

The college campus is a mission field. Campus ministries are a mission outpost, uniquely positioned to reach that mission field and equip missionaries, both students and staff, to bring the gospel to it. Students across the country are confessing Christ as Lord and receiving salvation within campus ministries every semester. The reality is that most of these students would not encounter the gospel without the influence and presence of a campus ministry.

A Stronghold

Campus ministries are lighthouses situated in the heart of enemy territory. The enemy is on a very real misinformation campaign in the realm of secondary education. It’s there that young adults who were raised in the local church are aggressively taught to unlearn their Biblical worldview. It’s there that young adults are told that such a worldview is unethical, immoral, and hateful. And it’s there that young adults are told they can find true knowledge, self-fulfillment, and identity, without the help of “outdated religion”. All the while these young, impressionable adults are in a new place, with no one familiar, making some of the biggest life decisions they will ever make. 

Without campus ministries, we are sending our children into the heart of enemy territory without a stronghold that defends with apologetics, without a lighthouse that guides through the no man’s land of secularism, without a shelter for the raging storm of postmodernism and relativism, and without godly comrades to fight with them against sin and the enemy’s lies.

What College Ministries Need

With this understanding laid between us, might I make an appeal to you, Local Church? Might we sit at the table together and discuss our next steps? Our partnership is vital. Let me say it loud and clear: We. Need. You.

The local church has, can, and will exist without campus ministries (although they might miss reaching a vital people group), but campus ministries cannot exist without the local church. We recognize that without the local church, our saved and discipled students would have nowhere to biblically serve and receive lifelong edification. 

We know that without campus ministries, Christ would sustain His Church. However, might we consider that campus ministry is one of the tools Christ uses to do this by using them to reach the lost, disciple the faithful, and plug them into local churches? 

“The local church has, can and will exist without campus ministries but campus ministries cannot exist without the local church.”

Austin Pfrimmer

As we sit at the table, let me speak on behalf of my peers and plead with you again: Local Church, we need your help! 

Our ministries are leading to salvations; we need local churches to sweep these new believers into their loving arms. 

Our ministries are producing mature, devoted, and ambitious disciples of Christ; we need local churches to disciple them, deploy them to serve, and send them out. 

Our ministers are often lonely, weary, and spent; we need local churches to provide respite, build them up, encourage them, and value their work on the campus.

Without you, Local Church, we simply don’t exist. We can’t operate without your prayer, encouragement, partnership, and support. And without you, these disciples will be left wandering after college. 

Without us, Local Church, the student section in your pews will continue to deplete, and your foothold in enemy territory will be captured. 

College ministries aren’t local churches, but we desperately need them. And we think you need us, too.

Are you with us?




Equipping You to Make Disciples of Collegians & Young Adults

The Collegiate DiscipleMaker is an online publication providing practical encouragement and disciplemaking tools to those making disciples among college students and young adults. Our weekly articles are theologically rich, biblically grounded, pragmatically applicable, and college ministry oriented.

Our Team

We are people just like you— campus missionaries, ministry wives, young adult pastors, and more—who simply have a passion to make Gen Z disciples on college campuses and beyond.


Austin Pfrimmer (Campus Missionary)

Christina Boatright (Campus Missionary)

Paul Damery (Campus Missionary)

Reese Hammond (Campus Missionary)

Jon Smith (Campus Missionary)

Jerome Stockert (Campus Missionary) 

Karin Yarnell (College Ministry Wife)

Editor in Chief:

Britney Lyn Hamm (College Ministry Wife)