by Bart Warren
In the past, generally speaking, when the average church member heard the words “mission work,” they automatically thought about foreign countries. When they heard the word “evangelism,” they thought about things like gospel meetings and door-knocking campaigns. In other words, they thought of things that would largely be done by someone else. Thankfully, such attitudes seem to be changing. We are learning (or maybe remembering once again) that “mission work” should not be viewed as just one program among many, or just one line item in the annual budget; rather, it should be our identity. Each one of us must see ourselves as people sent by God into the world to share the saving message of Jesus.
Another area in which we are improving is campus ministry. Though an area of controversy in the past, when done properly, evangelization of the college campus can be one of the most rewarding endeavors of the church. I’ve grown up loving the feel and atmosphere of the university campus. My Dad loved it, and he taught me to love it. He also shared with me the vast potential that often goes unnoticed and untapped on the campus. One of his favorite lines was, “The mission field comes to you!” He would get so excited and could talk for hours at a time about the subject. His major points of emphasis were:
- The best and brightest minds, future community leaders, would come right to your front door (from the U.S. and abroad).
- These individuals are seeking the truth and eager to learn.
- They will one day return to their respective homes, changed by what they have learned.
If we, the church, fail to influence these young men and women with the life-changing message of the gospel, we have failed indeed.
Recent research indicates that the time is right for getting serious about campus ministry. A group known as Campus Ministry United has collected the following data from various sources:
- It is estimated that there will be twenty million full-time students in American universities by the year 2015.
- Over 95% of the colleges and universities in the United States lack an effective campus ministry associated with the churches of Christ.
- 77% of Americans who become Christians do so before the age of 21.
Based on statistics such as these, it is obvious that the need is great and urgent. So what can be done?
First, we must recognize the value that this generation places on community and service. From the Ivy League to the local community college, these kids feel compelled to belong to something bigger than themselves. According to Mark Radecke, “They want and need to be in close and frequent proximity with friends and known others with whom they share interests and mutual support” (Word & World, Vol. 26.3, p. 290). Often this time spent together is in service to their community and beyond.
Second, we must recognize the value this generation places on knowledge and truth. Weary of the postmodern notion that truth is relative, there is a cry for that which goes beyond the superficial to the unchanging rock bottom. Young people want something, even when it comes to ideas and doctrine, which is tangible and real—something that does not change with the seasons and the calendar.
Therefore, we must be there on campus to offer these things. We must provide places of connection, love, friendship and safety. We must provide opportunities to serve our local communities. Most importantly, we must offer the unchanging and life-saving message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
How shall this be accomplished?
As stated above, we must view the campus as a wide-open mission field. A popular and effective method being employed today in foreign missions is “the team” concept. Instead of one family, it has been found that three to five families (or combinations of individuals) are much more effective in carrying out the work. With this approach, there is a built-in support group, and each team member can focus on different areas of strength. My dad’s idea was, “Instead of sending teams overseas, why not send one team to University X, another team to University Y, etc.?”
Colleges and universities definitely fit the description of “white fields ready for harvest” (John 4:35). What is your congregation doing to reach out to your local campus and your own college-age members?