Baptists are discovering there is no longer just one way to do collegiate ministry on North Carolina’s 200 college and university campuses.
Kevin Seger, associate pastor of Pitts Baptist Church in Concord, said a new ministry model on the nearby University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC) campus was born out of a church-wide movement.
“We’ve had several things happen in our church that brought us to the understanding that discipleship has got to happen by the church,” he said. “We believe it’s important that we create an environment of disciples, but also of disciplers.”
The church went through a series of studies that included Francis Chan’s book Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples and David Platt’s 26-week series, Follow Me. The studies led them to conclude that discipleship is done by members of the church, not just by leaders.
“At the same time, we were trying to figure out the whole collegiate ministry thing – how do we as a church get on the university campus?” he said.
Working with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s (BSC) collegiate partnership consultants, the church added a university student on their staff to do collegiate ministry with a discipling model.
Chris Johnson is a UNCC student missionary through the North American Mission Board. The staff of Pitts Baptist Church supervises his ministry and is discipling him using the Francis Chan materials.
In turn Johnson is discipling two UNCC students through the 26-week study. The number of disciples on the campus multiplies as the process is repeated each semester and new believers are led to faith in Christ. The church is following the same design with men’s groups and women’s groups every week.
A few miles down the road in the town of Kannapolis an economic disaster has been converted into an impressive ministry to internationals.
About 10 years ago the town’s hallmark industry, Cannon Mills, went out of business. It was financially and emotionally devastating to the townspeople.
Tom Knight, the BSC’s regional international student consultant, said most people are not at all aware of the transformation that followed.
A university-type academic institution opened up in the old Cannon facilities and now majestically dominates the community. With a total projected cost of $1.5 billion, the North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC) has changed everything, including the ministry of local churches.
Knight said, “A lot of people in N.C. don’t even know it’s there. They are bringing in researchers from all around the world – many of them are from China.”
When it became obvious that Cannon Mills was in trouble the churches in the area began to pray about what might happen. They were concerned since so many of their members worked in the mills.
But when NCRC opened up, their direction shifted with the realization that all of these international people are their neighbors.
Knight worked with several local churches that wanted to minister to these new residents. That led to forming Bible study groups.
Then they learned that one of the researchers from China is a Christian. In partnership with the BSC he started a church plant.
Knight said there are many important components at work. There are many international students and researchers living in the area; there is the work of local churches who want to reach their new neighbors; there is the church planting partnership with BSC; and there is the collegiate international consultation team serving the association and the churches.
He said, “I was able to give the churches some ideas and model some things for them, then I pulled out and they are doing all of the work.”
ASU Campus Ministry
In North Carolina’s northwestern mountains Appalachian State University’s (ASU) student enrollment of more than 17,000 practically ties the population of its hometown, Boone. The campus ministry at ASU has been strong in recent years. It’s still thriving, but there are some marked differences.
When the BSC announced new models of campus ministry last year, much concern arose among the students and local Baptists invested in sharing the gospel with ASU students.
Leaders in the Three Forks Baptist Association (TFBA) acted quickly to insure that the ministry would stay alive. Meetings with local pastors, lay leaders, campus leaders and BSC staff resulted in a new organizational structure, new campus ministry staff, increased involvement from local churches and an energetic ministry with expanded vision.
Jonathan Yarboro was employed by the BSC for seven-and-a-half years as the ASU Baptist campus minister. Last year he resigned to become the Western regional consultant for campus ministry.
Mike Puckett is the new Baptist minister on campus. He joins Anna Kilby who has been the campus ministry’s international outreach leader for two years. “Because of Jonathan’s leadership at ASU, I came into a situation that was healthy and functioning at a high level, with solid leadership and a really good paradigm,” he said. “The biggest change is that the convention has released campus ministry to the local churches so they can be about owning campus ministry rather than just being marginally involved.”
He said that while campus ministry was strong, many local churches did not know that campus ministry existed, because they were not involved. “If a church was not deeply connected to campus ministry, they would be in the dark.”
Puckett said last year there were several associational executive committee meetings to talk about the future of campus ministry. A significant number of local pastors got involved.
Seth Norris, pastor of Perkinsville Baptist Church in Boone, led a task force of about eight members including a faculty advisor, current students, former students and local pastors. A new vision was described in a 10-page document that was taken to the full association for approval.
A new non-profit organization was formed. Although it is not owned by the association, it is linked to the association. The leaders wanted to leave the door open for churches outside of TFBA to participate.
Doctrinal standards were put in place for board members including membership in a Southern Baptist church.
“It has been very positive,” Puckett said. “The board has worked very hard to make the launch successful and to be accountable to local churches. The board members have been great cheerleaders for our ministry – supporting us through prayer and giving.
“I have been very pleased … More churches have invested themselves financially and are involved with boots on the ground than before.”
Campus leaders say they are seeing healthy cohesion and synergy in their relationships with the churches. There were eight churches involved before the new structure. Today there are 15. “There are some strong, pre-existing church relationships,” Puckett said. “But what is really beautiful is that every single church has a different kind of impact and investment in our ministry. Some are able to be very active; some serve in smaller ways.”
Jimmy Finch is a minister who serves as a student liaison for Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Boone.
Puckett described Finch’s level of involvement. “He comes to the campus regularly to meet with students, he attends many of the Tuesday night worship gatherings, and he engages with students. He is committed to being in relationships with college students, caring for them and discipling them, even though it is not his primary duty in church ministry. It is super exciting to see that happen.”
Some churches are connected for the first time in the history of Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM). “Laurel Springs Baptist is one of those churches that have really gotten involved with BCM,” Puckett said. “Pastor Tim Lynch recently came to this church, and before he even arrived in town he Facebooked me and said ‘I am moving to the area, and I … want to connect with you, and I want to help move our church toward serving with BCM ministry and being a supporter.’ He has done that.”
He said churches like Three Forks Baptist in the past only served meals to the students in weekly meetings. This year they worked with Kilby to sponsor an international event called, “Welcome to America” cookout.
“They show up with all of the burgers, hot dogs and everything needed for a big cookout,” Puckett said. “They set up in the grills and served us … about 85 percent of the university’s international student population came to this event. The church members serve us so we can mingle with the new international students and build relationships with them. They don’t feel like they are just working the meal line or just writing a check to us. They are part of what we do.”
Puckett is also impressed with the student leadership on campus. “They are excellent, godly young men and women who come with new vision and excitement,” he said. “They are a really strong team.
"Ultimately our mission is to be a missionary hub on the ASU campus. God has given us the opportunity to specialize in reaching the biggest mission field in this mountain area.”
Personal discipleship happens in small group gatherings throughout the week. One is called “crossover groups” which helps freshmen believers adjust to college life. They transition into discipleship groups focused on training, accountability and prayer. “We want to give them space to build community, but we also want them to focus on our mission of reaching lost students,” Puckett said.
The ASU campus ministry holds central weekly gatherings. Attendance ranges from 80 to 200, depending on Boone’s changing weather and exam schedules, he said. “It can be a powerful thing if you have enough students to reach a critical mass. When I did campus ministry in Ohio it was hard to get large numbers to meet together. But because we have a healthy number gathered, it helps build students to worship together.
“We want to make it clear to our students that our Tuesday night meeting is not what BCM is all about,” Puckett added. “It is important. We want to do it well. But we are all about teaching and training students to live like missionaries on this mission field. We want them to understand that they are not just here to learn, then one day leave and serve God somewhere else. God has called them here to reach their friends around them.”
Ministry at AB Tech
A few hours south of Boone a new campus ministry is being birthed at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College (AB Tech). More than 16,000 students are enrolled at the three campuses in Asheville, Enka and the Madison County campus in Marshall.
Perry Brindley is director of missions for the Buncombe Baptist Association (BBA). He said, “We’ve never seized the opportunity to have a presence on this campus, but more than a presence, we are going to have an evangelism emphasis and a disciple-making emphasis on that campus.
“I’m interested in seeing the gospel presented in all 660 square miles that make up Buncombe County,” he said. “AB Tech is a people group that needed to be engaged with the gospel through Baptist collegiate ministries supported by our state convention. Jason Speier is in phase one of moving on that campus.”
Speier is the pastor of worship and student ministry at Woodland Hills Church in North Asheville. He came to Christ out of a Roman Catholic background when a pastor prayed with him in a friend’s living room.
“I have a deep desire to reach college students – and all other ages – but I specifically want to reach students because the spiritual persuasion of college students drives culture,” Speier said. “We see the secularization of our cities and wonder why the culture is going farther and farther away from the gospel. I want to see the college culture changed.”
He wants to see area churches reach 10 percent of the students each year with the gospel, baptize them and disciple them. “We can change the whole culture of Asheville and the surrounding area,” he said.
“Because the students at AB Tech are primarily local students. … They stay in western N.C. … I really want to influence the overall culture, and this is going to take years.”
The first phase of the strategy consists of enlisting 100 people to serve on a prayer team to prayer walk the campus and 100 individuals to serve on a promotion team to promote evangelism and discipleship.
Two other phases implement small group disciple-making strategies over the next year.
The name of the ministry, “Campus Aflame ABTech,” comes from a book on campus revivals. Speier is motivated to reach students after reading J. Edwin Orr’s Campus Aflame: A History of Evangelical Awakenings in Collegiate Communities. Speier said, “We want to see God create lots of little gospel fires all over the campus in different groups. Another 10,000 students cycle through AB Tech every two to three years who are going to stay in our area, who are going to be in our local churches, who are going to work at the hospital, the schools and other places in our community. It’s going to take a lot of hard work and prayer, but I’m excited about it.”