Aug 15, 2016


#BestIdeaEver – Focus on the Fringe

Rudy Hartmann brings another post in our series highlighting the best ideas from ministries of all shapes and sizes. This post features Jonathan Chapman of the BCM at East Tennessee State University.

Eight students.

Get this in your mind: You’re full of excitement and expectation of what God will do on a campus, believing that nothing is impossible for God, and that Jesus is going to crush the devil under his feet on your new campus.

Then you come into eight students. And an old Baptist Collegiate Ministries facilities. And broken toilets. And confusing financials.

It takes a certain type of person to start a new campus ministry, another to grow an existing campus ministry, and still another to revitalize a campus ministry. Jonathan Chapman of ETSU BCM is the latter.

“I had ideas coming in, but when I walked into the facilities and financials, I had to reassess the situation…I quickly grabbed four or five guys and began to invest my life into them and make the ask, saying ‘I need us to turn this around.’”

That was a year and a half ago. Eight Students. At the close of the spring semester of 2016, ETSU BCM saw 45-50 in their weekly large group, 5 small groups meeting weekly, several events with more than 65 students, one event with over 100, and this summer saw 20 students go on summer missions.

“We’ve come a long way from eight students,” Jonathan said. And he believes that God has for more in story for this campus: “Numbers aren’t everything, but at the same time they aren’t nothing. I want us to grow, but I don’t care if we grow if lives aren’t being changed by the Gospel. I’ve got to be the one asking the question ‘am I growing it for the sake of growing it, or to see students reached and discipled?’”

After talking with Jonathan for a while, I thought his “Best Idea Ever” might have been the church partnerships he’s made over the last 18 months. As I called him, he was just stepping out of a meeting with a local church pastor, planning how they could work together to reach the campus this fall. With 20-30 churches partnering with the BCM, the future is bright. However, Jonathan made it clear that while that was beneficial and worth celebrating, it couldn’t be a “Best Idea” focus, because, for Jonathan, that’s what BCM’s are supposed to do.

“Look, the B [what they call their building] is a safe haven for students, and the ministry can be a launching pad for students to reach other students on campus, but it is not the local church and can’t offer what the local church offers. The BCM exists as an arm of ministry on campus to serve the mission of the local church, and one of the best things we’ve seen happen is getting our name back into the life of the local churches.”

When we started talking, I knew I liked this guy. Few people would say “Eight students? Facilities and financials in need of repair? Ministry revitalization? Sign me up!” Basically, JC is a stud. However, after he said this, it took my level of respect to a whole different level. This was such a fantastic picture of BCM and the Local Church working together to see the Gospel brought to a campus in need of it. As we dug deeper, Jonathan tipped his hand and explained exactly how this exact movement is happening.

“We’re just going after anyone and everyone. I looked around the campus and started to see a lot of people by themselves, walking to class or eating lunch. They had no community. What do they even do? So we started Lunch in the Cave, and have seen God use that both in evangelism of our campus and discipleship of our students.”

Lunch in the Cave is a weekly, brown-bagged lunch in the bottom-floor of the Student Center where the students of the BCM go to enjoy community amongst each other and then walk around and engage with those who are sitting by themselves.

“They want to come,” Jonathan said. “These students are hiding in plain sight, and our students will just get up and start to talk with them. We’ve even begun to see some of our older, more experienced leaders start to talk along those who are newer or less comfortable starting conversation with them as they speak with these fringe students. We have a simple three question survey the students ask, and then follow up with the ‘why?’ questions to dig deeper into conversation.”

By focusing on the fringe, Jonathan is reaching who no one else is reaching, but going to the places no one else is going.

“We met one guy last semester during Lunch in the Cave who was actually here from Clemson for a short period to work on a project for his graduate degree. I’m from South Carolina, so we hit it off. His parents were missionaries, but he was agnostic. One of our students invited him out to our weekly gathering, where Alan White was doing a series on apologetics. This caught his attention, and he said he’d be sure to come. Not only did he come all three weeks, but he brought five other guys — some agnostic and others atheist –with him who all heard well reasoned arguments on God and had the Gospel clearly shared with them each week.”

Six guys — only two less than the total amount of students Jonathan started with 18 months ago — who wouldn’t have had any reason to come to the BCM and have the Gospel presented to them other than the fact that the students of ET BCM decided to focus on the fringe and reach those no one else was reaching.

This fall semester, go after the athletes, go after the Greeks, go after the influencers, go after everyone you can — and don’t forget to focus on the fringe. You never know what God will do when you go where no one’s going.

Questions to Consider:

  1. Do you do an event similar to Lunch in the Cave? Where is a place you could do an event similar to Lunch in the Cave on your campus?
  2. Do you have a simple conversation starter that could be used by your students and taught by students to other students? Ever considered Soularium?
  3. On your campus, who are the fringe groups you could focus on? What student-groups on your campus aren’t being reached? Which have your students been uniquely gifted to reach?

about the author

Rudy Hartmann

Rudy Hartmann is a church planting candidate with the Salt Company in Ames, IA. He previously served in college ministry in Tampa, FL.