When I started doing young adult ministry, things were going great. Our Sunday school class was growing and students were wanting to have a mid-week gathering. As I started to talk with students to gather a census on when would be a good time to meet, I started to notice a trend. As much as my students wanted to have a midweek gathering none of them could commit to one, because they were already committed to a campus ministry that met during the week. In fact, I was learning that these campus ministries had something happening every single night of the week, making it impossible for my church to even start a midweek gathering because of how involved my students were. We ended up settling to meet on a Sunday night.
It was exciting to be able to start a new bible study time, but it was frustrating to no end that I couldn’t meet during the week because of campus ministries The love/hate relationship our churches have with any campus ministry, whether youth or college, can be unsettling. And the truth is, we have the Church to blame for this relationship. We developed campus ministries as another way of reaching students for Christ, which is great! Yet, instead of the Church stepping up and discipling these students, we let the campus ministries take the discipleship role they never should of had in the first place. The Church created this culture, and I believe one of the reasons why churches don’t have young adult ministries is because they believe the campus ministries will take care of it for them.
Now hear me, I am not against campus ministries. I understand their purpose and I’m thankful they can be an on going presence for Christ on campus, however, instead of being upset over the paradigm we’ve inherited, I’ve chosen to partner with campus ministries. They are not our enemy, they are our friends, and both sides need to start playing nice. I believe if the Church is the one who created this culture, then it needs to be the Church to take the first steps in bridging the gap. Here is how you can begin partnering with campus ministries, and what you should share with your students about them:
- Meet with their leaders: I’ve learned many on campus ministers feel like they are on an island all by themselves. They have all these churches that can be a potential lifeline, but none of them seem to be throwing one to them. In all honesty, its a lot easier for us to find them, than it is for them to find us. Find their leader and invite them out to lunch. Find out why they work with their organization and what ministries they already have established. Let them know you’re there for them and want to help out as much as you can.
- Go to their events: Make time to visit the events they have on campus. Not only does this show you actually want to partner with them, but this is a great opportunity to meet with students, who are not going to a church. Furthermore, the more you show up to these events, the more students will recognize you when you visit their campus. Leaders for campus ministries cannot promote one church over the other, but they can share with their students who you are and you can promote your church all you want. Show up and be a presence!
- Share with your students the purpose of campus ministries: Ministries on campus are an extension of the Church, not the Church. Church leaders and campus leaders understand that, students who participate in these ministries don’t. Share with your students the purpose of a campus ministry and how they can use them as tools to meet students who don’t go to church.
- Teach your students the difference between a church and an organization: It’s unfortunate that we have embraced the idea, just because we hang out with a fellow believer, we have been the Church. This is a flat out lie. Even though Matthew 18:20 says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (ESV), we forget that this verse is at the end of an entire passage about what the Church does in the name of Christ. Church is intentional, and there are elements we participate in that make a church, a church, i.e, baptism, communion, elders and deacons, using of gifts, calling and sending believers to ministry, church discipline, etc. Most students don’t know there’s a difference, and teaching them about what makes a church will help them distinguish between the two.
In the end, we all have the same goal in mind. We want to see students come to know Christ as their Savior, and move them to being the body of believers Christ has called us to be. We will never be able to do that effectively if we are not working together. If you are a minister at a church or the leader of a campus ministry, make plans to meet with one or the other this week. Take the time to start open dialogue about how a partnership can begin.
If you partner with a campus ministries what have you done to create an open dialogue?
If you are a leader for a campus ministry, what would you like ministers at a church to know about campus ministry?