Sep 26, 2016


The Great Commission Omission

Robert Pinkston argues that campus ministry is a great way for the local church to send missionaries out to fulfill the Great Commission.

It’s September. University campuses are bustling with activity again after a long quiet summer. It’s Groundhog Day all over again: students moving in, standing in long lines, meeting new friends and starting classes. For thousands it is the first time away from home. It is their chance to remake themselves. Anxiety runs high, excitement is in the air, and after 9 long months, college football is on everyone’s mind.

There are over 23 million university and college students across North America. About 300,000 (1.3 %) of these are involved in some type of collegiate ministry, whether through a local church or a campus ministry. Only 1.3% of all college students! What is our strategy for everyone else?

There has been a lot of talk in the last few years about doing away with campus ministry and reaching the campuses through the local church. A recent article declared, “Campus ministry is not church.” I would have to agree. Every campus ministry lives with the challenge of communicating to their students the Biblical truth that the local church is the body of Christ. The campus ministry cannot and should not exist without the full support and partnership of the local church. Students involved in campus ministry should be active in a local church.

But let’s face the reality: 22.7 million students are not engaged in any form of local church or campus ministry. What is even more worrisome? Nearly all of these students are neither interested in or curious about Christ and Christianity. What is the strategy of the local church to reach these students for Christ?

I once knew of a church that was two blocks from student housing at a university known as “the party school” of Canada. Their building was directly across the street from a bar students frequented every weekend. The students at this campus were totally irreligious and disinterested in the Gospel. For years this church talked about how they needed to “reach out” to the students, but in the end, did nothing. The local campus ministry went into action. With permission to borrow the church parking lot, less than 50 feet from the bar, they created what they called the “Hydration Station.” Into the wee hours of the morning, from Thursday to Sunday, they would set up sofas, tents, and BBQs grills. They would love and serve the students coming in and out of the bar. Free hot dogs, free water bottles, a place to hang out on the sofas when they were “wasted,” and many free rides home. The students were skeptical at first, but soon trust began to set in. Typically over 50-100 students, many drunk, would hang out with the Christian students. On one instance, a student laying on the sofa after a night of partying looked up at the campus minister and blurted out, “If you guys are trying to be like Jesus, you are sure doing a good job!”

This led the campus ministry to further serve the students by offering a free meal every week in their campus ministry building. Over 400 non believing students would come – more than 10% of the student population! These students would be engaged by their believing counterparts and would hear the Gospel. At one of these meals, when L heard of the love of Christ and what He did on the cross for her, she exclaimed, “Jesus is F…ing COOL!” She had no idea that this was inappropriate language. What a joy to see L come to Christ a few weeks later. She was radically transformed and soon joined a local church by believers baptism.

Jesus said in Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit…” We know this as the Great Commission. Because we believe in this and are so committed to Christ, we go to great lengths to send missionaries around the world. Missionaries to share the Good News. Campus ministers are missionaries sent out by the local church or church associations to be missionaries to university students. They are carrying out the Great Commission. If North American students were a people group, they would be one of the most unreached people groups of the world.

No, campus ministry is not church. It never was designed to be. But student ministry should be a significant part of our strategy to reach 22+ million students who won’t attend church, especially where there yet exists a local church. The only way to do this is to send out missionaries on the university campus, who will learn the culture and language, and engage the students.

In some cases, when there is not a local church in proximity engaging the university campus, the strategy would be to plant a “collegiate friendly” church. This is the example of the H2O church in Ohio, Aletheia Church in Virginia, and Mosaique Church in Quebec City. In other contexts, in the absence of local churches, it is the campus ministry that planted the church. Good examples are Gracepoint Church in Berkeley, the Salt Company in Iowa, and Impact Church in Montreal. It is not a question of either/or, but both/and. We need all kind of approaches to reach all kind of students: Church-based collegiate ministry, Collegiate church plants and campus-based ministries. It is a question of context and need.

Campus Ministry, as well as churches, play a vital part in reaching the college student for Christ. Doing away with campus ministry would be the Great Commission Omission!

about the author

Robert Pinkston

Robert has served with the IMB for 21 years, the last 16 in Quebec. Robert is the team leader and strategist for the Québécois people group. His primary assignment is engaging and discipling Québécois students.