On-campus H2O ministry lifts collegians' trajectory

by Grace Thornton, posted Tuesday, March 28, 2017 (one year ago)

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio (BP) -- Chad Frank said he grew up like many others -- he was born into a moral home and quickly learned there were advantages to being good. He worked hard and became an Eagle Scout, captain of the basketball team and valedictorian of his senior class.

Then he got to Bowling Green State University in Ohio and instantly felt like all those advantages disappeared.

"There was no one around to pat me on the back," Frank said. "So I needed a new goal. I decided to pursue the title of big man on campus."

But Frank's plan began to unravel when his roommate, a Christian, wanted him to go with him to Christian events. That included a Sunday service at H2O Church, which met on campus.

"I went knowing that there would be good-looking girls there, but when I got there, it was the guys who impressed me," Frank recounted. "They broke the stereotype of what I thought Christians were; they impressed me with their lives, and they loved me the way Christ would."

It wasn't long before Frank decided he, too, needed Jesus.

Fast forward nearly 20 years, and Frank is a part of expanding the ministry that brought him to Jesus -- he's serving as planting pastor of the H2O congregation that recently started on the campus of the University of Akron.

"It's been quite the adventure," said Frank, who previously helped plant an H2O Church at Kent State University.

The H2O Church at Bowling Green where he was saved was the mother church, founded in 1984 on the idea that the church needed to meet students right where they are -- on their college campus.

Frank said for freshmen who even feel inclined to try to find a church in college, the motivation to get up early, walk a mile to their car and then traverse a city they don't know might dissipate quickly.

"After doing that for a couple of weeks, it's a lot easier to convince yourself to attend Saint Mattress," Frank said. "So with H2O, we scrap all those barriers, meet right on campus and schedule our services in the late morning or afternoon."

And they bring their small group Bible studies right into the dorm.

That's how Bryan Wiles, pastor of the H2O Church on the Bowling Green campus, got involved back when he was a freshman.

"I became a Christian my senior year of high school, and I was looking for a place I could grow in my faith while I was at college," Wiles said.

Within his first day or two at college, he met a guy involved with H2O who invited him to a kickoff service. He went and, while there, signed up for a Bible study.

"Soon after that, a couple of guys came to my door and knocked and asked if I was interested in studying the Bible with them, and before I knew it the group was meeting in my room," Wiles said. "Those guys were seniors, and they took me under their wing and taught me how to follow Jesus."

It changed his life, and by the time he graduated, his career trajectory had changed -- he joined the staff of H2O in 2002.

A lot has changed since then -- H2O became a Southern Baptist church and linked up with the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio to plant seven other churches, including the two that Frank helped start.

But one thing that hasn't changed, Wiles said, is the need for authentic, real relationships.

"That need is kind of heightened more during the college season because people are expecting to make best friends and may experience loneliness," Wiles said. "We want to really connect with people."

Brian Frye, NAMB's national collegiate strategist, said the first 30 days of a freshman's college experience are a vital time when they begin choosing the groups they will associate with and the people who will be their friends.

"The groups of people that students become involved with will set their trajectory for life," Frye said. "When we engage them as freshmen, it's the only time in life when everybody is brand-new. They've left their family of origin and not yet developed a family of their own, and their worldviews are incredibly malleable and open."

They're exploring, learning and developing thought patterns, and it's a prime opportunity to get the Gospel into students' hearts, he said.

"During this time, they are one of the most receptive groups of people in North America," Frye said, and what H2O is doing to reach them "is just genius."

Other church networks are seeing similar success in meeting students where they are, he said, including Gracepoint in California, Salt Network in Iowa and Resonate in the Pacific Northwest.

"It's like the port cities of the Pauline era," Frye said. "They're taking the Gospel to these places where everybody goes for a time but will be sent somewhere else later. It's a powder keg for explosive growth of the Gospel."

For more information about H2O, visit h2ochurch.com.

Grace Thornton is a freelance writer in Birmingham, Ala., and author of "I Don't Wait Anymore," a 2016 release from Zondervan.
Download Story