Friday nights are wild in a college town. They are particularly wild in Lawrence, Kansas. It’s as if the students on the hill (as the locals refer to The University of Kansas campus) leave their Friday afternoon classes with enough momentum that they simply tumble down the hill like snowballs, gathering more students along the way, their groups growing in size until they crash into the downtown bars and slowly melt into a wet, sloppy mess.
Some ministry-minded students, however, are spending their Friday nights snowballing in an entirely different direction.
Claire, a senior from Wichita, recently started a small group in her Tri-Delta sorority house.
“The younger girls,” Claire said, “seemed worried that all anyone did around here on the weekends was get drunk and go crazy. I knew that if I started a small group on Friday nights, a lot of the girls would come just to avoid the party scene, even if they weren’t that interested in the spiritual aspect of the group.”
Claire decided that rather than starting a traditional Bible study, which would inevitably only appeal to the two or three other Christian girls in her house, she would designate a couple hours every Friday evening for a “spiritual open forum” in which girls could get together and talk about questions they have about God, faith, Christianity and other spiritual topics. They also bake cookies.
“I can point them to the Gospel,” Claire said, “and talk about Jesus without having to steer the entire conversation.”
In the course of planning her new missional community, Claire also learned that a fellow believer in her house who harbored a similar ambition, wanted to start a traditional Bible study. The two girls have been praying and planning together all semester.
A few blocks away from the Tri-Delta house, in Anderson Chapel, another grassroots group of students have been gathering on Friday evenings. They call themselves Timshel, and their group was born out of a few students’ desire for consistent, united worship.
Andrew, a junior from Chicago, helped start the group in 2015. He has seen it steadily grow at each of Timshel’s monthly worship services over the past three semesters.
“People want to be a part of something that doesn’t have any strings attached, and isn’t meant to promote somebody’s this or somebody’s that,” said Andrew. “Timshel is just a bunch of students who want to worship Christ on campus.
Each Timshel gathering is unique. There is no speaker, and no set ending time. The band picks a few songs, and lets the Holy Spirit take it from there.
“It’s been a powerful thing to see,” said Andrew. “Sometimes people from the audience will start singing a song and everyone joins in, even if the band doesn’t know it. It’s really cool.”
Both the Tri-Delta spiritual forum and the Timshel worship gathering are indicative of a movement of students at KU who are taking the initiative to plant their own missional communities without the oversight of a specific local church or college ministry. Let’s hope the effect of these and similar groups can snowball.
John Benda recently became the director of Campus Renewal at The University of Kansas. He has worked in church ministry as a worship leader, high school pastor, associate pastor and teacher. John has also sold used books, cleaned carpets, flipped pancakes and waited tables to make ends meet, and often plays drums in his rock&roll band for absolutely no money at all. He began working in college ministry in 2014. John and his beautiful wife, Lydia, live in Lawrence, Kansas.