The following is an excerpt from my book Campus Renewal – A Practical Plan to Unite Campus Ministries in Prayer and Evangelism.
The need for training
One of the most difficult aspects of developing a missional community movement is learning to equip students. The fact is that most campus ministries have never attempted to train students to be missional in a specific community. Many have curriculum designed to train their students how to share their testimony or how to share the gospel, but they are usually equipped to do so only as preparation for outreach events.
In other words, the evangelistic training in most ministries is a tool for “cold call” evangelism done randomly on campus. Training students to live on mission amid a specific people group of students is much different. It is more like the training a missionary would get to learn to identify a people group, study the people group, live among the people group, demonstrate the gospel by blessing the people group, and find ways to contextualize the gospel message for the people group. Few, if any, campus ministries have this kind of training.
Campus ministers at UT made a commitment to campus saturation through missional communities back in 2002, but we never moved forward in a significant way until we partnered in equipping students through a course called the Retrospect Course. Glenn Smith, of New Church Initiatives, heard about what we were attempting at UT through his friend and ministry partner in Houston, Jim Herrington. Glenn had already been writing training material for students wanting to live like missionaries on campus. He took many of the same principles taught in his church planting courses and adapted them to the missional community movement at UT.
Training = Mobilization
In 2003, we invited Glenn to train UT’s missional community leaders, and about 40 students took the Retrospect Course. Over the following three years approximately 80 missional communities were trained to reach pockets of people on the UT campus. Many campus ministers who attended the course with their students were also equipped to teach students the material. After the third year of training, most of the ministers began teaching the same principles in their own unique ways to their students.
Instead of outsourcing the training to Campus Renewal Ministries and New Church Initiatives, they began to own the vision and equip students themselves. It was then that the missional community movement really began to grow, as each ministry embraced the vision for itself and created its own training curriculum for missional community leaders.
Just as the ministries had to first change their thinking and then change their structures, students had to do the same. It was crucial to help students at UT shift their thinking from a “retreat mentality” to an “advancement mentality.” We had to retrain their minds to believe God had sent them to UT on mission and that God could use them to transform their friends, instead of fearing that they would be defeated.
When The Austin Stone Community Church caught the vision for missional communities, they launched an envisioning series of teachings that taught students, as well as their congregation, about the power of the gospel, God’s heart for the lost, the believers’ identities as missionaries, and the call of Jesus to go to the lost. Other ministries began to teach the same thing using their own terminology, and the movement really exploded. The vision casting from leaders in the large group setting was reinforced by equipping done in small group settings.
Hill Country Bible Church UT changed their discipleship groups completely, making each adult leader not just an adult discipler, but a missionary coach, whose job included meeting weekly with students to collect reports from the mission field. The Texas Wesley United Methodist Campus Ministry formed a leadership team called the Outreach Council, whose only commitment to leadership within their ministry is to live on mission in an unbelieving community on campus. They meet weekly for coaching, prayer, and encouragement.
This cannot be overstated: The measure of growth and fruit in the missional community movement has a direct parallel to the depth to which students are equipped and coached.
Campus Crusade has had tremendous impact on the Greek life at UT. Fraternities and sororities are reached with the gospel more than any other part of the UT campus. The Greek system is perfect for missional living due to the amount of time that Greeks spend together and because they raise up their own natural leadership from year to year. Crusade has tapped into the structure and lifestyle in such a way as to perpetually equip students to lead their missional communities year after year in dozens of the Greek houses. It has even resulted in equipping their future staff, since about 50 percent of Crusade staff at UT was once a part of a UT fraternity or sorority!
CRM’s Spark Course
After years of participation, observation, and borrowing from many campus ministries’ equipping components, last year CRM wrote our own training curriculum for missional communities (which we call Spark Groups). The course is called the Spark Course, and it is taught in person by CRM staff or online at www.campusrenewal.org. A video accompanies the course, documenting the stories of four students leading Spark Groups at UT, as they describe how they lived out each of the eight Spark Group practices.
It teaches students how to put into action the eight practices of a Spark Group. We created the course so that other campuses who capture a vision for missional communities will not need to talk about doing it for years (like we did) before they get started equipping students. The Spark Course is simple, but profound. It is an easy way to get students on mission to specific people groups on your campus. Now, many UT campus ministries are using the course within their own ministries.
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.