Jun 26, 2017
3 Reasons College Ministries Should Fuel Church Planting
Mike Filicicchia makes the case that “reach the campus, reach the world” only works if college ministries are equipping, empowering, and sending students and grads into church planting.
You’ve heard some version of it a hundred times and have probably said it even more: “Reaching the campus is key to reaching the world.” We collegiate leaders understand as well as anyone that the college years are the hinge points of students’ trajectories. It’s when they will have some of their most formative experiences, develop their core convictions, and make crucial life decisions. Students soon leave for positions of influence in their homes, workplaces, communities, and beyond – shaping culture for better or for worse. The values instilled on our campuses today become the values driving our society tomorrow.
And while our slogans about reaching the world via the campus are great for fundraising, at some point we must admit it’s just not that simple.
It’s entirely possible for us to reach our students without them in turn reaching their world. Despite the advent of literally thousands of collegiate ministries since World War II, the proportion of evangelical believers in our nation is still in slow decline. There are hundreds of ways of addressing this issue, but one has captured my heart above all others: empowering, training, and releasing college students to plant churches.
Deep within my soul, I share Peter Wagner’s conviction that “The single most effective evangelistic methodology under heaven is planting new churches.” I would offer a compelling series of biblical and practical arguments for this conviction, but Tim Keller, Ed Stetzer, and others have already done so more effectively than I could. I want to go one step beyond “Planting churches is crucial to reaching the world” (it’s been said enough already), and plead with you to begin believing that planting churches led by college students and recent graduates from your ministry is crucial to reaching the world. And you have a crucial role to play.
If that feels daunting, don’t worry because I’m right there with you. It feels that way to me every time! But don’t doubt for a second that it’s possible. I’ve seen it happen with incredible gospel fruit. So without further ado, the reasons we need campus ministries regularly graduating and sending out church planters:
Reason #1: The North American Church is Starved for Next-Generation Leadership
If you haven’t read Barna’s recent study on the aging of pastors in America, it’s startling. At this moment, only one in seven American pastors is under the age of 40. In the last 25 years, the median age of a pastor in our nation has increased by an entire decade! Some of these aging churches will successfully pass the baton to next-generation leaders, but many more will decline or die. What will happen in their wake? Will a new generation of church leaders rise to the occasion, full of faith and spreading a culturally relevant gospel with youthful fervor? Or will the Christian faith become a cultural artifact of generations past in our nation, as it has in Europe?
I believe it is largely up to us as collegiate ministers. By my calculations, if every major campus ministry on large North American campuses planted one church every four years, we would increase the rate of church planting on this continent by 25%! This singular shift would be sufficient to reverse both the decline in evangelicals and the decline in next generation church leadership at the same time. Are you up to the challenge? You may be closer to this reality than you think!
Reason #2: There is No Better Place to Train Church Planters than Your Campus
Most studies I’ve read conclude that only about 50% of pastors feel that seminary or Bible college adequately prepared them for real church leadership, and I suspect this number is even smaller among churches with big church planting visions. I don’t have enough fingers to count how many times I’ve heard prominent Christian leaders recount their “cemetery” training as woefully insufficient for the challenges they presently face. The traditional classroom method for training gospel ministers has filled our churches with world-class preaching and teaching, but left the places outside our church doors sparse with passionate believers bringing gospel transformation to our communities. Although there’s no perfectly adequate training for all that we face in ministry, there is a perfectly adequate training ground, and that’s real life. Everyday life in relationship with Jesus was the only classroom for gospel ministry the apostles ever had or ever needed. The secular campus where you lead is the perfect equipping space for your students to develop the character, convictions, and competencies required to lead the church forward in gospel mission for the decades to come. Several seminary professors have told me they envy the true-to-life ministry training I’m able to provide on a secular campus compared to what they can offer in their classrooms at Christian universities. So take it from them, or take it from Jesus himself: your ministry training is not second-rate to seminary; it’s world-class! Shared life among unreached people is how Jesus trained the first generation of young church planters, and it’s how he will train the next one also.
Reason #3: It’s Not Just Possible, It’s Happening!
I seriously doubt I’d be so zealous for raising up church planters from secular universities if it were not my own story. Though I became a committed Christian at the end of middle school, I remember hearing throughout my high school years, “Only go into ministry if you can’t go into any other profession.” Because I loved numbers and solving problems, I concluded that certainly wasn’t me, so I attended the University of Michigan and majored in Mathematics and Economics. I was brought up to believe that because I had rare gifts for those fields and genuinely enjoyed the work, that I need not consider any other career path, especially ministry. But then, through my local campus church, I caught a vision for the global expansion of God’s Kingdom through church planting. I was discipled by faithful men and women, began baptizing and discipling others who in turn began baptizing and discipling, and watched as new communities of believers began springing up in my residence hall and across my campus. From that point forward, I couldn’t imagine a more compelling mission for my life than what I was seeing before my very eyes. Now, eight years later, I’m asking God to put a new campus on my heart to start again in a new location and watch what He will do through a new church there. I have many dozens of friends with similar stories: men and women who had never considered church planting or full time gospel work, but caught a vision on campus for how they could make a serious Kingdom impact by devoting their lives to gospel mission. And now they’re hungry to plant churches.
For over a decade now, I’ve seen God turning the hearts of an entire generation on my campus and across the nation to pursue his Kingdom purposes above the American Dream. The question is: will you equip them for the ministry in which the Holy Spirit has gifted them and fan into flame their God-given desire for Kingdom movements by empowering, training, and sending them out to plant new churches?