Campus Minister Sees Revival at Lyon College and Arkansas Tech
Brad Branham stood among his tattooed Christian rock friends, asking himself if there was a better way to reach the world for Christ. He loved the band, using music as a light in the darkness, but his heart reflected on the days when he hit the streets with his newly converted father, who had been a drug dealer until Christ radically changed his life.
It was a Baptist preacher who was brave enough to roam the streets of a tough neighborhood and knock on the drug dealer’s door. Brad was 7 when he saw his father completely turn around. “He went from a guy who was addicted to drugs, sold them, and did all sorts of things that I won’t even mention to a guy who prayed and studied the Word of God for hours and hours every day.”
The two of them were so grateful for God’s mercy, they evangelized everywhere they went to everyone they knew.
As Brad stood considering his rock band, it just wasn’t enough. “I just wanted to advance the Gospel,” Brad says. He felt his soul burdened by it. “Whoa is me if I don’t preach the Gospel,” he said to himself that day.
Reaching College Students
That was when Brad decided to pursue full-time ministry. Brad joined the staff at First Baptist Church Batesville with some of his responsibilities to reach college students. Through a connection with Judy Woolf, former Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) Campus Minister at Lyon College, Brad became the part-time BCM Campus Minister at Lyon College in Batesville.
When Brad arrived at First Baptist Church Batesville there was one college student attending the church. Together, they prayed that God would reach the campus, and then God took it by storm. “We saw revival,” Brad says. “There’s no other way to say it.” After two weeks the church and the BCM was running out of room. After one year, FBC Batesville/BCM were reaching 10 percent of the campus.
But all this growth wasn’t because the BCM was the newest trendy place to be. Brad places no emphasis on being cool. “College students see through trying to be cool or relevant. You could be the most uncool, untrendy guy ever and still reach people [with the Gospel].” Bible study and worship times would continue for hours after Brad went home to his family.
With such success, Brad was offered a full-time BCM position at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville. Brad began his ministry at ATU with an emphasis on evangelism and discipleship. After one year, Brad, his students and local churches saw 61 people born again. As the fall semester begins, once again Brad is praying for revival among college students at ATU.
Funding Through the Cooperative Program
Through the Cooperative Program (CP), Arkansas Baptists are providing the funds for BCM ministers like Brad around the state. The CP supports such needs as furniture and salary so Brad can manage the one-on-one time he gives to students. “College students are very relational. They want to know someone will spend time with them and that they care, and I’m fortunate enough to have a job that allows me to do that,” Brad says. So he spends a lot of his time buying lunches. “I tell the students I’ll buy them lunch on one condition—if they let me tell them the Gospel. I’m up front with them from the beginning, and they are okay with that.” The results speak for themselves.
David James, personnel manager for campus ministers across the state, has a 39-year history in college ministry, and he emphasizes the importance of this life stage. “These young people are making the biggest decisions of their lives—who to marry, career path, who they are, and where they are going—it’s critical that we answer their spiritual questions.”
Talking the Language
Brad’s zeal for the Gospel is contagious. Everywhere he goes, his goal is evangelism. “If you know Jesus, you have to talk about him,” Brad says. “If I didn’t talk about Jesus all the time, it would be as strange as if I never talked about my wife. How could I say I loved her if I never talked about her?”
Not everyone likes it, though. Brad heard about one student who didn’t want to talk to him anymore and was “trash talking” him. Brad confronted the young man to understand his offense. The student responded, “You just talk about Jesus all the time, and I don’t want to talk about Him all the time.”
“That wasn’t trash he was talking,” Brad says. “It was a compliment!”
So, what’s the secret to reaching millennials?
According to Brad, it’s no secret. “The Gospel is the Gospel,” he says. “I just simply give them the truth and the opportunity to respond.”
Brad learned to reach millennials the old-fashioned way—the way his dad reached people, and the way the pastor who talked with them did—pray, give the truth, and trust God to save souls.
“Brad is a great illustration of a passionate guy who wants to spread the Gospel to ‘whosoever will,’” says David. But the campus ministers “aren’t afraid to try new things,” says David. Brad has added a modern spin on mass altar calls—he uses texting to give students an opportunity to respond. “Just like any good missionary, we learn to speak their language, and young people text! They text each other in the same room,” Brad says.
So at the end of his talks, he tells everyone in the room to get out their cell phones and text a message to his personal cell number. They can text anything at all, but Brad asks for three specific things. He wants to know: 1) if you want to know more about giving your life to Christ, 2) if you think you’re saved, but not sure, and 3) do you think God is calling you to be a missionary for Him in your sphere of influence. “We don’t just want to make converts,” Brad says. “We want to make disciples.”
Students like Sam Adkins are experiencing real life change. One night during the weekly BCM worship service, Sam felt heavy and convicted, but she wasn’t sure why. Then Brad started teaching from the book of John. Sam shares, “It was about John the Baptist saying that Jesus was coming and the Messiah was coming, and I just became really interested, and I was shocked about everything. And that’s when it hit me that Jesus came for me, and that He died so that I could live eternally with him. And I have known that before, but I never really understood it. That’s when it clicked, and whenever [Brad] did the [altar call, which he calls ‘welcome mat’], he lead a prayer, and I said that prayer, and I meant it for the first time ever, and I accepted Jesus.” (See Sam’s testimony on video).
Altar calls are just the beginning, though. Brad makes it a priority to follow up, meeting for lunch or dinner and finding what’s in the heart of these students. “People act like it’s mysterious, but God saves. The power is in God. I just give them the opportunity to hear and respond.”
Ultimately, Brad’s goal is to make everyone a missionary right where they are, reaching their friends, family, and workplace. “I read … that 90 percent of believers will grow up in church, get married, and never share the Gospel with a single person,” Brad says. “So if we could just get people to share with one person, we could change the world!”
So far, Brad’s BCM at Arkansas Tech has spent no money on advertising. All of their growth is a result of word of mouth, and according to Brad, “lots of lunches.” Publicity is one thing that will be added this year, and thanks to the CP, Brad will have the funds to do so. That’s also why they are preparing their building to grow by double.
“A lot of people in the church today are active, but they have no fuel to fuel their passion,” says David James. “We are going to equip these students so we can win the world through them—teaching them to share their faith in the work place and how to have spiritual conversations in everyday life.”
Through the support of the CP, Brad is not just reaching college students; he’s reaching the next generation, and bringing the world hope through Christ.