Oct 23, 2017


5 Misconceptions About Collegiate Church Planting

Brian Frye identifies five misconceptions about collegiate church planting and deploys correctives that show the strategic value of reaching university populations through church planting.

What if every college student (Christian or not) had the opportunity to engage in or be engaged by a church plant during college? Imagine how individuals and families and nations would look if college students believed that starting new churches was the norm for all believers? Baptismal declines would reverse. Societies would pivot toward Christ, and the gospel would proliferate rapidly across the globe.

Increasingly, churches across the continent are recognizing the extreme value of launching churches on or near campuses.  They see that college students are the most moldable, malleable, and movemental demographic today, and that students (compelled by the gospel) are awaiting an invitation and pathway to leverage their lives for the expansion of God’s Kingdom.

For many, collegiate church planting is a novel term, and plenty questions surround the concept: “Are collegiate churches just for collegians?” “Are they just for Christians?” “Are they acceptable on campuses?” To help answer these questions and others like them, let’s take some space to unpack the biggest misconceptions around collegiate church planting and at the same time share some of the most exciting features of what could become a church planting movement.

Misconception #1: Collegiate churches are just for college students
In reality, most of the hundred collegiate churches we work with around North America range in composition from 30-90% college students. Occasionally (rarely), a church will start 100% collegian, but as the founding group ages, so does the church. In reality, while collegiate churches start with a lot of collegians, most become community-focused churches within a decade or so. What sets collegiate churches apart from those who don’t become community churches is their commitment to remain focused on reaching lost collegians as long as the church exists.

Misconception #2: Churches in collegiate contexts are not sustainable financially
If being and doing church required buying a worship building, employing one or more full-time pastors and staff, and funding a full buffet of ministry programs, this critique would be accurate. Fortunately, collegiate churches often start with pastors who are young, newly married, who raise support, and who choose to optimize cost savings at every turn. Doing life, ministry, and meetings in homes and coffee shops cuts expenses. Gathering in borrowed spaces on campus or in nearby church buildings also gives big savings.  As collegiate churches age and student alumni get jobs and start families, they scale as need be. But time and time again we’ve watched collegiate churches launch cheap and grow, over time, into sustainable and reproducing churches.

Misconception #3: College students really aren’t old enough to do or be the church
From the Disciples, to the key players in the Great Awakening, to Methodists circuit riders, and the student volunteer movement leaders collectively, to missions leaders like Lottie Moon, Adoniram Judson and Hudson Taylor individually, God has consistently used college-aged people to build churches and launch movements. This trend continues today. While perhaps slightly older, leaders like Rick Warren (Saddleback), Ralph Moore (Hope Chapel), John Mark Clifton (NAMB Replant), Jeff Christopherson (Send Network), Clinton Clifton (Pillar Church Network), Dhati Lewis (Blueprint)–and thousands of others–planted churches in their twenties. Undoubtedly, younger planters will face challenges, create messes and make mistakes. But they will also learn more earlier and have more time to plant more churches. When we consider the risk of delaying planter for five to ten years to the rewards of planting early, doesn’t the call to make disciples urge us to an earlier, more rapid disciple making and church planting?

Misconception #4: No university wants (or will allow) churches to meet on campus
If a community church approaches a university requesting to launch a church or venue at the university, the answer will likely be “no.” If a group of students, however, organizes itself to start an organization on campus, the prospects are different. Universities may not be excited about “churches planted” on their campus, but they are usually very interested in organizations that engage students in healthy, life-giving relationships within the university community. Further, universities do best when student life is thriving and retention rates are high. If presenting and living the gospel well, churches in university contexts provide a myriad of benefits that contribute extensively to the universities’ financial, academic, and relational bottom lines.

Misconception #5: College is where people lose faith, so it’s not a good place to invest dollars
Numerous researchers (e.g., Lifeway, Pew, Barna Group) cite the exodus of churched youth from Christianity and/or churches during their college years. If these students were the target of collegiate churches, then it would seem to be a high-cost, low-yield investment. Fortunately, collegiate churches focus the majority of their energy on make disciples and planting churches through bringing lost students to Christ, disciple making with them, and then launching them out into the harvest. Because collegiate churches maintain a high focus on 1) reaching the lost to make disciples with a new group of incoming students and 2) preparing outgoing students to start up, lead in or serve through church plants, they provide some of the highest yield missions investment in the church today.

If you would like to learn more about collegiate church planting or if you’d like to get an close-up look at the concept, here are a few simple next steps.

  1. Research – Check out www.namb.net/collegiate for details, articles and videos about collegiate church planting.
  2. Conversation – Connect with me (Brian) at bfrye@namb.net or @brifrye to continue the conversation.
  3. Experience – Attend an upcoming Collegiate Hitchhiker event at a collegiate church planting hub. The next event is at Cornerstone Church, Ames, IA (October 10-12, 2018). See https://www.hitchhikerssaltco.com/ to learn more about the event.

An earlier version of this article appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of On Mission Mag, the award-winning flagship magazine of the North American Mission Board.

about the author

Brian Frye

Brian serves as the collegiate evangelism strategist with the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio.  He leads the Ohio Collegiate Ministries team, which consists of collegiate ministries and collegiate church plants on 13 college and university campuses around Ohio.  In 2013, Brian joined the NAMB Collegiate team as national collegiate strategist. A graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div., Ph.D.), he loves to think, read, lead, learn, strategize and develop people into followers of Christ. Brian and his wife of 13 years, Heidi, along with their three sons, live in Delaware, Ohio, where they love to eat ice cream, play Wii, ride bikes, talk about God, make Facebook videos and laugh really hard.