Converge365 — Changing the conversation about community collegesby Brian Davis
At the Converge 365 Conference, conducted September 26-27 on the campus of North Carolina Central University in Durham, participants enjoyed both large and small group sessions regarding new models for collegiate ministry through the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. One of the large group sessions included a presentation by Kelton Hinton, associational missionary for the Johnston Baptist Association regarding work on community college campuses across the state.
Hinton noted that there are 58 community colleges in North Carolina with 905,258 students enrolled; over four times the number of students enrolled in four year colleges and universities in the UNC system. This means that not only is there a community college located within, or very near, almost every county in the state, but with nearly 10 percent of the state’s population enrolled at a community college it is difficult to live in this state and not come into contact with community college students at some point and time.
Hinton shared from his personal experiences and efforts in attempting to engage students at Johnston Community College (JCC) located in the county where he both lives and ministers.
“I had experienced traditional campus ministry while a student at UNC-Chapel Hill [and] we tried that same model on the campus at JCC but we never engaged more than 15-20 students,” Hinton noted. “After 10 years nothing was changing so we knew that a different approach was required."
Hinton explained that he discovered the community college curriculum keeps students focused not only on specific courses, and with a limited cohort of students, but that it also brings students to campus on days and times that require a contextualized approach to ministry. The students are segregated by their degree programs into silos, so Hinton decided to engage students within those degree programs.
“Trying a ‘ya’ll come’ approach results in limited attendance [on a community college campus] because students come to class, then quickly leave to go to work or home to be with their families,” Hinton said. Therefore, he began to focus his efforts to engage students within their cohort groups within their programs of study.
By recognizing that, for example, nursing program students take all of their courses together, Hinton developed a strategy that seeks to engage nursing program students differently than students in other programs. Hinton views himself as a “broker” – one who brings a supplier along to meet the needs of others. In the case of nursing students, Hinton identified churches with nurses as members who wished to engage nursing students with the gospel. “The professionals [nurses] are provided opportunities to connect with nursing students. During these interactions, the nurses share their professional experiences with the students, but do so through a Christian worldview,” Hinton said. In addition, Johnston Association churches provide a weekly luncheon for students and have the opportunity to lead Bible studies for the students and engage the students in gospel conversations. In this strategy a single church or a cluster of churches can partner to engage students in one of the many degree programs on the campus of a community college.
Hinton says this contextualized approach has proven effective among nursing students, truck-driving students, basic law enforcement cadets, etc. and has the potential to be effective with students enrolled at any community college and in any program of study. “Pray over your campus and see who you’re missing [not reaching] in your current campus ministry; then ask God to raise up a person of peace [among your congregation] that can engage students in that professional program,” says Hinton.
The Converge 365 Conference was unique in that participants were encouraged to raise questions following each presentation. Hinton was asked about the tools and resources used during the Bible studies. Hinton said, “We have found that biblical illiteracy is so great that we’re ‘storying’ [telling the stories of the Bible] and even using large pictures, like those you might find in a children’s Sunday school class.” He continued, “We must keep the stories focused and not assume these college students know the stories or the truths they convey. Some of the students take the pictures we use home with them. We encourage that as we know that these pictures will be seen by children who’ll be hearing the stories for the first time as well.” This approach is not unlike that used by missionaries overseas. It’s this point that Hinton stresses for any congregation interested in engaging community college campuses, “Your church needs to study this people group [community college students] like a missionary studies the community they’re entering. Develop relationships, earn trust, patiently share the gospel, and as they slowly come to faith in Christ help them to grow as followers of Christ.”
For more information on his work at Johnston Community College, you can contact Kelton Hinton at (919) 965-9450 or at Kelton@raleigh.twcbc.com. For more information regarding other models for engaging college and university students, please contact (800) 395-5102 or firstname.lastname@example.org.