Are you missing prime opportunities to reach and engage the elusive college demographic?
I was introduced to the facts of life the old-fashioned way: working in the breeding pens of a pig farm. I regularly got up close and personal with 500-pound hogs, helping them “maximize their efforts.”
That brutal introduction to breeding taught me more about fertilization and reproduction than a 14-year-old would ever want to know. It also left me with a lot of memories, most of which I have tried hard to forget. One familiar image, however, has stuck in my mind—the illustration of countless sperm cells desperately trying to break into an unfertilized egg to create a new generation. Believe it or not, that is precisely how I see the opportunity to engage young people with the gospel on university campuses.
These days, it’s hard to find a church with any kind of forward momentum that’s not in the business of establishing new churches or satellite congregations. Over the last two decades, the majority of those new church initiatives have targeted suburban young professionals and their growing families. Church leaders focus the balance of their efforts on inner-city neighborhoods or church planting through overseas partnerships.
Churches are springing up everywhere! Well, almost everywhere.
There is no demographic people group more desperate for the gospel, more hungry to make a difference and more willing to abandon all for the sake of Christ than those among the 12 million full-time students on four-year U.S. university campuses. More than 720,000 of those are internationals studying in the states—a mission field delivered to our doorstep.
Yet church plants or satellite congregations being established in close proximity to campuses are as rare as Jack’s magic beans. There are, however, some outstanding exceptions. Below are some of my favorite examples:
Every Sunday morning in Corvallis, Ore., several hundred students stream out of Oregon State University dorms, fraternity houses and apartments to walk over to Grace City Church. That in itself is a little odd because college students are not known for rising before noon on Sundays. A few years ago, Benton County, Ore., also had the distinction of being the most unchurched county in the United States. Nonetheless, approximately 350 of the 600 attending each Sunday are Oregon State students.
Pastor Seth Trimmer comments on the attraction: “We’re not trying to attract students with light preaching that avoids tough topics. And we’re certainly not attracting people to a professionally orchestrated event at a beautiful building. We meet in a glorified barn with people packed in like sardines. All we do is teach God’s Word and do small-group discipleship. Many of those small groups are led by older members of our congregation.”
Classic City Community Church’s ministry center is located across from the University of Georgia (UGA) campus in Athens, two blocks from the famous Varsity Grill. Pastor Lee Mason grew up in Athens, has degrees from UGA and Reformed Theological Seminary, and is working on his doctorate at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He and his wife, Lisa, started the church in 2008 and outgrew several facilities but always locate around campus. Of the 500 regularly attending, more than 75 percent are UGA students.
In Calgary, Alberta, Pastor Brant Reding’s church is planted not on the edge of campus but right in the middle of the University of Calgary (UC). UChurch in Calgary struggled with small numbers for years but remained committed to the original vision. Of the 350 attending UChurch in the university theater today, about 65 percent are UC students and represent 38 nations.
I think of the opportunity for evangelism and discipleship on and around university campuses like millions of those little sperm cells laying siege to that unfertilized egg. Yet church planters seem to be looking for fertile ground in every other place. Jesus’ admonition to us: “Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest” (John 4:35, NASB).
Nicholas Jones serves as the national director of Every Nation Campus Ministries. He and his wife, Heather, live in Franklin, Tenn., with their three children.