What if every college student (Christian or not) had the opportunity to engage in or be engaged by a church plant during college? Imagine how individuals and families and nations would look if college students believed that starting new churches was the norm for all believers? Baptismal declines would reverse. Societies would pivot toward Christ, and the gospel would proliferate rapidly across the globe.
Increasingly, churches across the Southern Baptist Convention are recognizing the extreme value of launching churches on or near campuses. They see that college students are the most moldable, malleable, and movemental demographic today, and that students (compelled by the gospel) are awaiting for an invitation and pathway to leverage their lives for the expansion of God’s Kindgom.
For many, collegiate church planting is a novel term, and plenty of questions surround the concept: “Are college churches just for collegians?” “Are they just for Christians?” “Are they acceptable on campuses?” To help answer these questions and others like them, let’s take some space to unpack the biggest misconceptions around collegiate church planting and at the same time share some of the most exciting features of what could become a church planting movement.
Misconception #1: Collegiate churches are just for college students – In reality, most of the hundred collegiate churches we work with around North America range in composition from 30-90% college students. Rarely, a church will start 100% collegian, but as the founding group ages, so does the church. In reality, while collegiate churches start with a lot of collegians, most become community-focused churches within a decade or so. What sets collegiate churches apart from those who don’t become community churches is their commitment to remain focused on reaching lost collegians as long as the church exists.
Misconception #2: Churches in collegiate contexts are not sustainable financially – If being and doing church required buying a worship building, employing one or more full-time pastors and staff, and funding a full buffet of ministry programs, this critique would be accurate. Fortunately, collegiate churches often start with pastors who are young, newly married, who raise support, and who choose to optimize cost savings at every turn. Doing life, ministry, and meetings in homes and coffee shops cuts expenses, and meeting on campus for gatherings or in nearby church worship spaces on Sundays gives big savings. As college churches age and graduates get jobs and start families, they scale as need be. But time and time again, we’ve watched collegiate churches launch cheaply and grow, over time, into sustainable and reproducing churches.
Misconception #3: College students really aren’t old enough to do or be the church – From the disciples, to the key players in the Great Awakening, to Methodist circuit riders, to student volunteer movement leaders, to missions leaders like Lottie Moon, Adoniram Judson, and Hudson Taylor, God has consistently used college-aged people to build churches and launch movements. This trend continues today. While perhaps slightly older, leaders like Rick Warren (Saddleback), Ralph Moore (Hope Chapel), John Mark Clifton (NAMB Replant), Jeff Christopherson (Send Network), Clinton Clifton (Pillar Church Network), Dhati Lewis (Blueprint) – and thousands of others – planted churches in their twenties. Undoubtedly, younger planters will face challenges, create messes, and make mistakes. But they will also learn earlier and have more time to plant more churches. When we consider the risk of delaying planters for five to ten years in light of the rewards of planting early, doesn’t the call to make disciples urge us to earlier, more rapid disciple-making and church planting?
Misconception #4: No university wants (or will allow) churches to meet on campus – If a community church approaches a university requesting to launch a church or venue at the university, the answer will likely be “no.” If a group of students, however, organizes itself to start an organization on campus, the prospects are different. Universities may not be excited about someone wanting to “plant a church on campus,” but they are almost always very interested in student organizations that engage students in healthy, life-giving relationships within the university community. Further, universities do best when student life is thriving and university retention rates are high. If they are presenting and living the gospel well, churches in university contexts provide a myriad of financial, academic, and relational benefits.
Misconception #5: College is where people lose faith, so it’s not a good place to invest dollars – Numerous researchers (e.g., Lifeway, Pew, Barna Group) cite the exodus of churched youth from Christianity and/or churches during their college years. If these students were the target of collegiate churches, then it would seem to be a high-cost, low-yield investment. Fortunately, collegiate churches focus the majority of their energy on making disciples and planting churches through bringing lost students to Christ, disciple-making with them, and then launching them out into the harvest. Because collegiate churches maintain a high focus on 1) reaching the lost to make disciples with a new group of incoming students and 2) preparing outgoing students to start up, lead in, or serve through church plants, they provide some of the highest yield missions investment in the church today.
If you would like to learn more about collegiate church planting or get a close look at the concept, here are a few simple next steps:
- Research – Check out www.namb.net/collegiate for details, articles, and videos about collegiate church planting.
- Conversation – Connect with me (Brian) at firstname.lastname@example.org or @brifrye to continue the conversation.
- Experience – Attend an upcoming Collegiate Hitchhiker event at a collegiate church planting hub. See https://www.hitchhikerssaltco.com/ to learn more about the event.