The following is an excerpt from my book Campus Renewal – A Practical Plan to Unite Campus Ministries in Prayer and Evangelism.
The Way It Used To Be
For a long time campus ministries mostly functioned as safe places for Christian students at their universities, leading to the competition for incoming students. Emphasis was placed on meeting freshmen early in the fall and then expending time, money, and energy creating a vibrant weekly meeting. Students who came to the large group meeting were strongly encouraged to join small groups where they could be discipled and hopefully become small group leaders the next year. Evangelism, then, was mostly about trying to get students to bring their friends to the large group meeting.
To be fair, some ministries were active in “contact evangelism” on campuses, but (like the prayer meeting) this usually involved only a few students who cared about evangelism going out in pairs once a week to share their faith with others. Evangelism became the work of a small team of students and others willing to invite friends to a really well-done weekly meeting. The problem, however, was that fewer and fewer unchurched students each year were interested in attending a worship service and even fewer Christian students were interested in doing contact evangelism.
The Way It Is Today
More recently campus ministers are recognizing that to reach students who are far from God, they need to equip their students to go to the lost communities, rather than asking their friends to come to them. Students, at the same time, are looking for a more authentic way to engage their friends, and they want to have friendships outside of their Christian communities.
These changes are paving the way for a new type of evangelism on campus — something that involves every Christian student, not a select few. A way that asks them to go to the lost, instead of asking the lost to come to them. Ministries like Campus Renewal Ministries and Campus Church Network are teaching students to be missionaries on campus to specific people groups.
Larger campus ministries like Campus Crusade for Christ and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship offer ethnic-specific ministries to reach certain people groups. They are changing the aim of their efforts to start “multiple movements” on campuses rather than one large movement with one weekly large group meeting. The “score card” for campus ministry success is changing from one that measures how many students are coming to our events to one that measures how many different areas of the campus are students impacting with the gospel.
The Way of the Future
For many years, the cultural and relational gap between believing and unbelieving students was growing; now it is narrowing, creating opportunities for the gospel to touch many more students’ lives. Jaeson Ma, founder of Campus Church Networks, has traveled to college campuses around the world to encourage students to live on mission. His exhortation to students at UT in 2007 resulted in the birth of 60 new missional communities to specific parts of our campus. He believes that God is cultivating a new generation of believers ready to go to the lost, instead of staying isolated within their Christian bubbles. In his book The Blueprint: A Revolutionary Plan to Plant Missional Communities on Campus, he tells how God is calling students to live on mission. It is the way of the future
Justin Christopher is the director of Campus Renewal Ministries at the University of Texas and author of Campus Renewal: A Practical Plan for Uniting Campus Ministries in Prayer and Mission.He gives leadership to the Campus House of Prayer and the missional community movement at the University of Texas.