Collegiate ministry: one model doesn’t fit all
Several Baptist churches and ministries across the state are discipling college students, but they employ varying models ultimately committed to fulfilling the Great Commission.
“You can equip and mobilize and encourage [students] to do ministry without a recognized student organization. But, sometimes people would like to have a more formal recognition like a group. … The main thing, though, is knowing your campus,” said Tom Knight, collegiate consultant with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC).
Some models – such as the campus-based model – are built on the foundation of a registered student organization (RSO) on or near a college or university campus. This particular ministry serves as a missional hub of students, as a bridge between the campus and local churches. One such example connected to the BSC is the Baptist Collegiate Ministry of the High Country (BCMHC). The BCMHC is a member of the Appalachian Spiritual Life Association, which means it is an RSO group of Appalachian State University (ASU).
Executive director and lead missionary of BCMHC, Mike “Puck” Puckett, said their purpose is to be a missionary hub on campus for and with the local churches. Historically, the BCM has served as the campus ministry front for the convention.
Our structure is built on weekly worship. We have a small group system in place … for students to understand that they aren’t just here for themselves or for a degree, but that God has intentionally placed them here,” he said.
BCMHC’s ministry is dependent upon students who are missionaries on their local campus. Puckett emphasized, “We on staff at BCM in the High Country cannot exist if we’re the ones making everything happen. We’re more of the equippers and the senders and support. … Once it comes down to it, it’s going to take students reaching students to have an impact on the campus with the gospel.”
Numerous events are planned throughout the year to connect with students. Each year, ASU hosts a spiritual opportunities fair that gives both the BCMHC and local churches the chance to meet some of ASU’s students and to connect them with area churches.
Puckett added, “The campus will allow registered student organizations to send mailers that go free to all of the [campus] post office boxes as long as the Center for Student Involvement approves it. We’ll put our list of events on a well-designed card, and I think we sent out about 10,000 of those this year. … All of these students will get this list of events along with our contact info.”
But ultimately, Puckett said, “it’s all about our students involved in reaching other students, because we can have the slickest promo, the best facilities, the biggest crowd and things like that, but that’s only going to win a few students.”
Community colleges are different. Jonathan Yarboro, team leader and consultant for BSC’s collegiate partnerships, noted that these are unique because they are structured differently than four-year residential universities. “When you look at a community college, it is different because the students who are coming for a nursing program are on the same schedule. They take the same classes at exactly the same time, and they even have their lunch breaks at the same time. When the class ends, they do one of two things: they go home, or they go to work,” he said.
Kelton Hinton, director of missions of the Johnston Baptist Association, said community college students do not have a lot of free time because they juggle several responsibilities such as home life and a possible full-time job while going to school. He said, “They have zero free time, so we have to catch them while they are on campus and between classes.”
Also, serving as a campus ministry coordinator at Johnston Community College in Smithfield, Hinton said various Bible studies and social events are started in order to meet and engage community college students. Because the structure isn’t conducive to social events outside of the classroom setting, ministries must create a social culture on these campuses. “Many [community] college students come into a particular area of study, and they come on campus … and interact only with their fellow cohorts in their program and then they leave,” he said.
Hinton and others have developed a series of Bible studies specific to different groupings based on a student’s area of study. “For example, we have a separate Bible study that meets weekly with basic law-enforcement training, … another study group that works with the truck driver trainees, and we have hopes to expand to the nursing program.
“This is what I call the silo mentality,” said Hinton.
He appoints volunteers to lead these Bible studies on a weekly basis, and his goal “is to have Bible student leaders who understand that world to advise [students] as well as use illustrations and applications of the biblical text to speak into their career choices.”
Associate pastor at Woodland Hills Church in Asheville, Jason Speier utilizes a missional community model for engaging students; in fact, the church uses Training for Trainers (T4T) to disciple individuals and groups. T4T was developed by an Asian-American missionary named Ying Kai while serving in Asia; Kai saw more than 80,000 churches started and two million baptisms within 10 years of using the T4T model.
Speier said they’re implementing T4T in three phases: phase one includes Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College in Asheville; phase two targets Mars Hill University in Mars Hill; and phrase three is at the University of North Carolina at Asheville.
He said, “We’ve started with the first two phases by identifying student-believers from our community and churches, and having them engage in the [T4T] training, while also teaching them how to disciple one-on-one with fellow students.”
With each campus having a unique identity, Speier and others are trying to communicate the gospel through effective models in the numerous settings of the Buncombe Baptist Association – and abroad. In fact, Speier said he doesn’t believe ministries should recreate Woodland Hills’ chosen model into their own contexts.
“What we’re trying to do is identify anyone who is ready and willing to disciple students in a one-on-one or one-on-group basis,” he said. “The hope of this is that we can contextualize the gospel at the most basic level of person-to-person. … Here, I can find out exactly where you’re at and I can help you to see what God has done through you. Then, I can disciple you in the most efficient and best way possible. Great, great things happen in one-on-one [discipleship].”
Approximately two years ago, The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham planted Mercy Hill Church in Greensboro with the intentions of reaching the Triad. Within that time, the college ministry grew from slightly more than five students to 250-275 students.
Pastor of age-based ministry at Mercy Hill, Jeremy Dager noted the six different schools the college ministry represents: University of North Carolina at Greensboro, High Point University, Elon University, Winston-Salem State University, Greensboro College and North Carolina A&T State University.
Dager said the church has seen tremendous growth due to their relationships with on-campus ministries and personal relationships with students. “Through these relationships, we were able to help students get discipled and get them excited about the local church,” he said. “From there, we’ve seen that replicate as students see us pouring into them.”
Mercy Hill encourages their students to be committed to both weekly small groups and worship. “And also,” added Dager, “we push them to live missionally on campus. All of that is done through relationships. … What’s neat about it is that we’ve seen students not only come, but also grow. They’re now thinking about how to leverage their life after graduation to do something, whether it be internationally or working with a domestic church plant. They’re making big decisions for the Kingdom of Christ.”