North Carolina is home to more than 200 colleges and universities where 39,800 faculty are educating more than 591,000 students from every state and most countries around the world.
Evangelical Christians tend to view university campuses as greenhouses for the indoctrination of secular world views, causing churches to distance themselves from that environment. But the collegiate partnerships team of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) believes the campus is a ripe mission field. They also believe reaching those students requires a completely different strategy.
Rick Trexler, team leader for BSC’s Collegiate Partnerships, says there is some merit in the Baptist Campus Ministry (BCM) model most state conventions have followed. But the great weakness was lack of ownership by churches closest to the campuses.
“Collegiate partnerships is totally different than what Baptist Campus Ministry was. It’s a totally different concept for us,” he said. “Before, [BSC staff was] directly involved in a campus or campuses. Now we are consultants with churches, associations and networks, so that we can assist them in doing the ministry rather than being so hands-on ourselves.”
Trexler explained that the old model gave too much ownership to the state convention and the BCM groups on campus, and not enough ownership by local churches. “That’s part of the conversation we want to have with folks. The hands-on ministry is no longer at the BSC,” he added.
The new structure divides the state into three regions. Evan Blackerby is the consultant for the central region. “What’s great about this new model is that it allows for [church] ownership,” he said. He admitted the process is slow, but the collegiate team believes it is working. “We are seeing fruit through the process of relationships we have built.”
It is not something that is an overnight success, Blackerby said. “Campus ministry has been immediately measurable in the past. The numbers were easy to see. We could say, we had 50 in our campus event last night, and that’s double what we had last week.
“Now we are waiting for pastors to go back to their churches, and for associations to form a team and see what they are going to do. That takes time, but we are seeing it work,” he said. And the number of people involved has the potential to far outpace the fruit of the old model.
There has been much concern over another weakness in the old model. The BSC was able to staff less than a dozen campus ministries. That means 190 campuses had no ministry funded by N.C. Baptists. Local ownership means every campus in the state could potentially have the witness of a Baptist church.
The new collegiate team has five consultants. Trexler is not only the team leader, but covers the eastern region also. Blackerby works primarily in the central region and Jonathan Yarboro in the western part of the state. Two other key players are Tom Knight, regional international student consultant who works from the Charlotte area, and Sammy Joo, regional international student consultant who works primarily in the Triangle area.
Trexler is quick to say the regions “are not hard boundaries, because all consultants cross over to serve in all regions. The international consultants are based in two metropolitan areas, but reach to all areas where they are needed. We are a collaborative team all over the state.”
He gave an example that if churches in Greenville want help reaching the students at East Carolina University, Trexler is not the only one who will meet with church leaders. “It will be all of us at some point, because each of us comes with a different set of strengths,” he said. Team members agreed that one of the team is stronger as an “idea man,” one is a stronger analyst and one is a better communicator.
Blackerby said he talked with Hal Bilbo, associational missionary for the Stanley Baptist Association, last November at the BSC annual meeting. Bilbo was exploring ways to reach students. Blackerby began a conversation with Bilbo, but brought Knight into the discussion at the next meeting. Other consultants will likely join the conversation as it expands.
Yarboro, western regional consultant for collegiate partnerships, said, “We work with church leaders who are in turn working with college students – but not just with students. The landscape has changed for us, and we’re not just focused on the students on campus. We are trying to mobilize churches to reach entire collegiate communities. That’s no longer just 18- to 22-year-olds.
“We have neglected the community colleges. Even volunteers want to serve on what is perceived as the big campuses – actually they’re not bigger – they’re just residential. The mission field is just as great on the community colleges as it is in the residential campuses.”
Blackerby said the collegiate team learned something significant from Kelton Hinton, associational missionary at Johnston Baptist Association. “[Hinton] took a group of people and prayer-walked a community college campus. They began to look at the jobs of their church families. They saw there was a police officer in the church and the college had a ‘Basic Law Enforcement Training’ program. Pairing the two puts a chaplain from one of their churches in the training program on campus. They asked the college administration if they would like to have a chaplain, and they said, ‘absolutely.’
“Community colleges were way off of our radar,” Blackerby said. “But we’ve been able to see how community colleges are so entwined in the community. These students live in that community, work in that community, their families live there, and they stay there when they have completed their degree. That’s a game changer.”
Blackerby said we have to open our eyes to the fact that community colleges may be larger than residential universities. “While 34,000 students are at N.C. State, about 69,000 go to Wake Tech.” he said. “In the past we didn’t know how to deal with it. We looked at a community college and said, ‘they work full time, they’re going to school, they’ve got kids, they babysit … but when Hinton showed us how to do this, we looked again at these campuses.
“We have this nurse, she is from one of our local churches, she wants to be on mission, she is a believer, she is great at discipling people, so she entered the nursing program and now leads a Bible study and has taken nursing students on medical mission trips.”
Hinton had a part-time campus minister who tried to do “the traditional BCM thing,” Blackerby said, “and the most they could gather was 10 students because of the culture of community colleges. Now under a different ministry model the work has grown to reach more people.”
“This is probably the most exciting kind of stuff we get to see.” Yarboro said. “When we sit down with a group of people, and we’re talking about collegiate ministry, and they say, ‘We really only have a couple of college students, so how can we have a college ministry?’ We turn that around and say, what if instead, you say, ‘We have two students that we have brought in front of our church, placed our hands on them and prayed for them, commissioned them and sent them to the campus as missionaries.’
“Then you don’t have two students to form a group, you have two missionaries that are sent to a campus. That’s a game changer for people. You see the lights come on in people’s eyes. Where they thought it was the convention’s job to reach the campus, now they see it is their responsibility, and they are empowered to do that.”
Church ownership is at the core of the strategy. Blackerby said, “The concept of church ownership is difficult to grasp. We have a tendency to get our hands in the church’s ministry, but we’re here to serve the churches. We want to wash their feet. For us to do anything that the churches could do on their own would be taking something out of their hands that God intends for them to have.”
“We left one strategy, model or paradigm. But we are building a new one,” Knight added. “There wasn’t one there to pick up and run with. We’re blazing a new trail.”
Blackerby said, “One of the goals of the past 365 days has been to change the conversation. It’s not about where campus ministry was; it’s about where campus ministry is going and the potential of all of the churches to be involved.”
That potential will be examined through an “idea conference” to be held Sept. 26-27 at N.C. Central University in Durham. It is called Converge365.
“We are bringing in seven people to give short presentations of collegiate ministry ideas. All of them come from different models of ministry and none of them agree,” Yarboro said. “After they make their presentations the audience gets to ask them hard questions. Then everyone is gathered in affinity groups to work out strategies.”
The collegiate team’s goal is to learn the best strategies for moving collegiate ministry forward. Yarboro added, “While we don’t all agree on methodology, we are on the same team of reaching students. All of us have the same goal. It’s all about reaching those nearly 600,000 college students in N.C.”
Contact Abby Edwards at [email protected] or (800) 395-5102, ext. 5536, for more information.