Collegiate church planting gains momentum
Collegiate churches, made up of a majority of college students, university staff and other members in their 30s, 40s and 50s, can be found in eastern U.S. cities like Amherst and Lowell, Mass.; across the Midwest in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Indiana; and in Canadian cities like Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.
Steve Lutz, author of "Collegiate Ministry in a Post-Christian Context," notes that college students are strategically important for three reasons:
1) Because of "who they are" -- academically they are "the top 1 percent of the world's population" and are the group who will lead and influence tomorrow's world.
2) Because of "when they are" -- other than the first five years of life, the college years are in the most formative life stage before one settles into the rigors and limits of adult life.
3) Because of "where they are" -- they are living and learning at the hearth of ideas and innovation that significantly impact the direction of cultures and societies globally.
Numerous church planters are leveraging their lives and ministries to establish churches on or near college campuses, aiming to multiply their efforts by sending pastors, staff teams and a core of students to plant new churches on campuses throughout North America.
Currently, Southern Baptist collegiate ministries nationally are actively engaging more than 75,000 collegians in 850 Baptist Collegiate Ministry centers across the U.S. But when compared to the more 21 million collegians nationally, many of whom attend universities with little or no evangelical witness, it's clear that a tremendous need still exists to reach and disciple students through additional ministry initiatives. While early in its development, the collegiate church planting concept provides another channel to start and multiply collegiate outreach, especially in areas where no Southern Baptist churches currently exist.
Among those involved in collegiate church planting are Keith and Paige Weiser through Resonate Church in the U.S. Northwest.
The idea of Resonate began after Wieser (@keithwieser) arrived at Washington State University in Pullman and began asking the question, "How can our Baptist Collegiate Ministry reach this whole campus?"
Keith and Paige met and married through the Baptist collegiate work at Stephen F. Austin University in Texas and arrived at Pullman in 2004 to do collegiate ministry. Having been strongly impacted by the Gospel through the work of Southern Baptist collegiate ministry, the Wiesers wanted to share that impact in the Northwest.
When the Wiesers arrived at Washington State, they inherited a modest Baptist Collegiate Ministry of about 35 students, but the lostness of the campus haunted them. They had considered planting a church before moving to Washington. Now they sensed God calling them to transition the BCM into a church plant on campus among collegians.
So with the support of a local SBC church, the Northwest Baptist Convention, the North American Mission Board and ministry partners nationwide, the Wiesers and a team of student missionaries launched Resonate Church in August 2007. What happened next exceeded all their expectations.
On their first preview weekend, Resonate tripled the number of their group with 190 in attendance. In shock, they scrapped their planned sequence of preview services, deciding to continue the next week. More than 150 came, and by year's end 230 were worshipping regularly at Pullman.
The following year, church planting catalyst Gary Irby urged the young church to consider expanding to the University of Idaho eight miles away in Moscow. Resonate leaders and students accepted the challenge. Resonate now is a thriving multi-site collegiate church averaging 850 in worship, with two services at Washington State and two at the University of Idaho. This fall, Resonate will launch a church plant on the campus of Central Washington University in Ellensburg.
Resonate also has inspired and been involved with two more collegiate church plants in underserved areas with little or no Baptist presence, The Branch at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore., and The Edge Church at Eastern Washington University in Cheney.
Wieser and the Resonate leadership team are now setting their sights on other colleges and universities across Washington and Idaho and into the neighboring states of Wyoming, Utah and Montana.
The Wiesers and other collegiate church planters may help history repeat itself, with college students frequently having been at the epicenter of key spiritual awakening and evangelistic movements.
In 1806, for example, Samuel Mills and a group of four collegians initiated an international mission movement known as the Haystack Awakening.
Eighty years later, 200 students gathered at Mount Hermon, Mass., for a month of prayer and Bible study. From that gathering, individuals like Luther Wishard and John R. Mott emerged calling for "the evangelization of the world in this generation" through the Student Volunteer Movement (SVM).
More than 21,000 students eventually went out as missionaries through the SVM. In response to SVM and its impact, Southern Baptists began establishing Baptist Student Unions on college and university campuses across the South.
Adapted from SBC LIFE (www.sbclife.net), journal of the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee.