Cole Penick, Campus Minister for the Baptist Collegiate Ministry at the University of Arkansas, has been working on the campus for over a decade. In that time, he has come to the conclusion that college students are both a largely untapped mission field and mission force. A mission field because lost students from all over the world are living in close proximity on the campus. They are in a stage of transition and might be more reachable at this time in their life than any other. Most are seeking. They are seeking who they want to be. They are open to learning and seeing from differing perspectives. They are both geographically and relationally closer to people of faith than ever before. A mission force because of the ease with which Christian students can be mobilized. Students don’t have a ton of responsibilities tying them down. Their schedule is flexible, and they are open to trying new things. Churches just need to take steps to engage this mission field and mission force.
Penick, in episode 51 of the Grind, gives 3 insights into how churches can reach college students.
1. Come to the Campus
If churches are going to reach college students, they must have a presence on campus. Instead of meeting with students off campus, Penick suggests meeting them on campus. “Schedule meetings at the student union. If you are a pastor, study for your messages on campus. Take advantage of getting on campus as much as you can.” In order to get the gospel to the lost, churches have to be willing to cross cultural barriers. If they are not willing to cross these barriers, churches are essentially expecting lost students to be the missionary instead of the church. Does your church want to engage with more collegians? Come to the campus!
2. Know Campus Dynamics
Cole also says that if churches are going to reach those on campus, they must have a working knowledge of the dynamics. “Think of it as a giant house. The dining hall is the kitchen, the quad is the yard, the common spaces are the living room, and their dorm is the bedroom. You wouldn’t come to someone’s house and go straight to their bedroom. So, don’t engage students at their dorm. Some people might think it's akin to ‘door to door’ evangelism but it’s not. Not only will the University not let you in but it’s just not appropriate. But that doesn’t mean you can’t engage them. There are plenty of other places to hang out. Stay in the public places and the common spaces.” Keeping this in mind will equip a church to interact with students where they are most comfortable. They even expect to be approached by strangers. Because the campus is a place of information exchange and recruitment, being engaged in conversation by a person they don’t know is normal. So get out there and do it!
3. Begin with the BCM
If you are struggling to get started or to navigate a road block then connect with the BCM. “We do what churches can’t do yet,” Penick added. “The Baptist Collegiate Ministry exists to reach students and funnel them to churches. A lot of churches don’t yet have the structure to engage students. But by engaging with the BCM, we can help get the gospel to students and then get students to churches. We’ve already paid the dumb tax and can help churches avoid mistakes as you learn to reach out to students.” If your church doesn’t know where to start with reaching students, start with the BCM. Engage with your local Campus Minister and see what needs and opportunities are on campus. “We are passionate about connecting students to the local church. If students have to choose participation in a church or the BCM, we always lead them to choose the church.”
How is your church missing an opportunity to engage the campus? Have you seen the campus as a mission field? Do you see students as a mission force waiting to be mobilized? Opportunities abound when it comes to the campus, but the laborers are few. How will your church rise to the challenge?