the collegiate church model, episode one

One of the newest college ministry models is the collegiate church. I had certainly heard of “collegiate churches” before this trip, but part of the fun of this year is getting to see my preconceived notions discarded, corrected, or at the very least nuanced. I certainly know a lot more about “collegiate churches” and collegiate church planting than I understood before August 16th.

[Sorry, by the way, for the lack of blogging this week. I’m not participating in the Writer’s Strike, I promise. Usually, a lack here just means I’ve had good success staying busy with interviews and other parts of this exploration. That’s true this week, for sure – just pray for balance for me!]

To this point on the trip, I’ve personally encountered 6 or 7 collegiate churches. (It was 6 before today, but I’m actually working on another one here in Baton Rouge!) This included sitting down with the pastor of each of the first 6 and attending 5 of their services. I also got to connect with Stacey Wideman, the Coordinator of the Collegiate Church Planting Community in Boston, as well as Tom Mauriello, Executive Director of Great Commission Ministries. GCM has planted collegiate churches on lots of campuses. While I will certainly encounter further ways of “doing the collegiate church thing” on this trip, I’ve definitely seen a variety of methods already.

Today, I’ll fill you in on the Boston situation. Look for details from Amherst, Mass., New Britain, Connecticut, Baton Rouge, LA, and Great Commission Ministries soon. I think each example of this model-in-action offers the chance to be stretched in our imaginations when it comes to campus ministry. Hoorah collaboration.

If you want to get a more lively run-down of the Collegiate Church Planting Community, check out their “Know Us” site here. Otherwise, you can keep reading!

My friends at the CCPC

If you did get a chance to listen to the Passion podcast after the Boston Regional event, you might have heard props given to the CCPC, the Collegiate Church Planting Community. As I noted when I was headed thataway, the CCPC was one of my major interests in exploring that town, because I knew this was one model that’s finding more and more adherents around the country (and particularly in Canada, too). The members of the CCPC were certainly excellent hosts and friends for me, and they also collectively gave quite a bit of time to help me understand and experience their Community.

The CCP Community is a network of (right now) four churches in the Boston area. Each of the churches is small; I didn’t go to a service with more than about 15 involved. Some are house churches, while others have more of a “church location.” There has been some fluctuation in attendance (as can always be the case with collegiate ministries) over time, as well. But as noted by Nathan, one of the pastors, sometimes a downturn in numbers (after an initial “surge”) allows a ministry to solidify its focus – setting it up for further, better growth later. For at least some of these churches, their members are still defining, developing, and designing their ministries – while already providing a beloved church home for dozens of Boston residents.

As Stacey Wideman and the CCPC pastors often told me, the Collegiate Church Planting Community might be better considered a “collegiate-focused church planting community.” That is definitely true. The four churches presently involved, as they have developed, are “collegiate” in different ways and to varying degrees. While one or two have a large number of college students involved, others have drawn more of a 20-something crowd at this point. All are in good “collegiate” locations, though, accessible for students by walking or near a T-stop (that’s the subway, which in Boston is a very standard way of getting around). And the hope for the CCPC churches is that each will always have a heart to reach the campus(es) in their communities.

The birth of these collegiate churches is key to understanding what’s going on, too: For the most part, the existence of each church has replaced the Baptist Collegiate Ministry on the local campus (or group of campuses). While there continues to be BCM campus activity in Boston (such as with my buddies at MIT), the overall strategy of the Southern Baptist Convention in reaching Boston students has tilted toward this church-planting method. Sometimes the CCPC pastors have retained the title of “BCM Director” on their particular campus(es), though, which allows them to maintain campus connections.

As for staff and funding, remember that this is Boston. The pastors and other staff members are denomination-sponsored or sponsor-supported or outside-job-supported far more than they’re church-supported at this point. Pioneers? Absolutely. But not just in “normal ministry” but pioneers in this kind of collegiate ministry model. And through this model, these churches are working hard to gain some ground in an incredibly difficult city for collegiate impact.

The “community” aspect of the CCPC helps these missionaries during this pioneering adventure, however. While each church is autonomous, the CCPC allows for networking, collaborating, fellowship, and support in the context of like-minded, like-situated Jesus people.

After seeing the CCPC in action, here are a few quick notes from me:

  • One thing I didn’t realize before is that collegiate churches are certainly not necessarily “college student only” churches. As I noted, some may have only a couple of students involved at any given time. Furthermore, as actual churches, their sights must be set more broadly than many college ministries’ would need to be.
  • Because of this broader focus, then, the effectiveness of this model at specifically reaching students will be determined by individual churches’ efforts in that area of ministry. This, I think, is an important point for any model: Even a very collegiate-oriented method like this doesn’t guarantee true (or “best”) impact; it must be coupled with actual, intentional ministry to the campus. Fortunately, that’s happening in the CCPC – and I know firsthand they’re striving to get better and better!
  • Though the model isn’t all that’s needed for impact, the CCPC churches, in being collegiate-focused, certainly have provided a very “friendly” platform from which to minister to students. With automatic tie-ins to campuses (through the BCM connections), excellent locations, and pastors and members with hearts to reach students, the “stage has been set” for great collegiate ministry to take place. Even for established churches that aren’t about to become a “collegiate church plant,” we can learn a lot from those guys and gals who determined to focus on the collegiate community around them – and prepared themselves for ministry.

That’s the overview of the CCPC. But if you want to find out more, you can get a further grasp on things at their great web sites:

  • Collegiate Church Planting Community in Boston: Where you want to start to understand this model. This is the “umbrella” site for the community with excellent discussions of history, thinking, etc. Explore – it’s cool!
  • The Church at the Gate: Boston University / Berklee School of Music / Northeastern University
  • Shawmut Springs Church: Northeastern / Wentworth / Colleges of the Fenway / “Mass Art” (Massachusetts College of Art and Design)
  • Trinity Church: Boston College / Newbury College / Pine Manor
  • The Oasis Church: Tufts University (I don’t think they have a web page at this point)

5 Comments

  1. I’m redirecting a conversation originally posted in the Comments of the About page. The original comments there are below; follow-ups will be listed as new comments.

    Matt Stephens:

    Benson,

    Did you happen to pay New Life OSU (Ohio State) a visit on your trip? They have probably one of the largest, most successful college churches in the U.S. As of now, they’re connected with the New Life Network (based out of Gahanna, OH), but are in the process of (probably) affiliating with the SBC.

    Interestingly, I read your 2007 post about collegiate church planting in which you said that the SBC was moving toward collegiate churches vs. BCMs. However, talking with Jason (OSU) yesterday, he said the topic is a “firestorm” right now and that collegiate churches are frowned upon in the SBC at large, including in the denominational collegiate ministry leadership (the Ohio college ministry director is hoping to reverse this opinion, with NL’s help).

    Anyhow, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if denominations took their money out of campus ministries and put them into collegiate churches. NL-OSU’s success is an embarrassment to BCMs across the country and should serve as a wake-up call not just to Baptists, but to denominations and donors to campus ministries like IV and CC. I believe this is the next key move to being missional about reaching college students for Christ.

    His Kingdom come,

    Matt

    Benson Hines:

    I didn’t get to see them – it seems like I might have heard about ‘em, but I’m not sure. But that was a year ago.

    I don’t know the size of New Life, but there are several large collegiate churches in the U.S. – several hundred in attendance each week, probably, with longevity of decades. (Longevity is a major factor in determining success in many cases, clearly.)

    As for the SBC, I think the post you’re probably talking about is here: https://exploringcollegeministry.com/2007/11/30/the-collegiate-church-model-episode-one/. I only wrote that at that time, the SBC was tilting toward a church-planting model in Boston, and that was true. They certainly didn’t tilt that way nationwide.

    As for collegiate churches causing a “firestorm,” that’s probably overstating the case – college ministry isn’t important enough in ANY denomination to cause any firestorms. :) There are some church-based college ministers and campus-based college ministers who don’t love that model, some who are fans of it, and some who are happy where it excels and see it as one of several possible college ministry models.

    One of the things I gained from these trips the past two years was realizing how circle-centric we all can be: We know our circles, our networks, our regions, and we too often generalize from those. I definitely disagree that any form of ministry has been an “embarrassment” or a “wake-up call” to others – no one model has tested, widespread, significant . Remember, BCM has struggled in many places in Ohio, while OSU is far from “standard” among collegiate ministry situations in general (from what I could tell). So the success of a very different model isn’t surprising.

    As for people’s concerns about collegiate churches, the big issue for many people seems to be Ecclesiological, not Methodological. The best thing anyone can do who wants to advocate for that form is to present theological arguments alongside practical ones. If those get hashed out, those who have concerns will probably find that model more palatable! In general, that’s the kind of deep, solid discussion we need in the field of college ministry – as long as it reflects a understanding of the national scene. Like foreign missions, it’s a hard field to talk about without really wide exposure.

    Matt Stephens:

    I suppose some of my terminology was a bit hyperbolic. :) He just told me that at the most recent SBC nationwide college ministers gathering the collegiate church idea was largely frowned upon, whereas Ohio is very much leaning in that direction. I can’t speak from experience in observing a large number of BCMs, but of the several that I have observed, all of them were having minimal impact.

    I agree that there ought to be a variety of models on the table at any one time, and that context is key. I think the local church situation, i.e. the quality and missionality of the nearby “intergenerational” churches (many of which, at least in the SBC, are comprised of almost exclusively older folks), plays a big role in the type of model needed. I’m not sure the collegiate church model (particularly in more missional expressions) has been given enough of a chance to prove itself against the campus ministry and existing church college ministry models. There definitely needs to be some research done on the effectiveness of the different models, including exploring the variables (e.g., setting, ecclesiology).

    I think missional church ecclesiology, which in some forms is rigorously biblical, holds the most promise for justifying the collegiate church model (done right). Two factors lead me to this conclusion. First, the vast majority of existing church college ministries still function in an attractional (”come and see”) paradigm, which (in certain expressions) is neither the best option biblically nor sociologically. Investing our time, energy, and resources where they are is necessary to engage more than a miniscule number of students.

    Second, the opportunity for discipleship and leadership development and deployment in collegiate churches is enormous. The availability (and visibility) factor of having a presence on campus and in the dorms makes intentional discipleship and leadership development much more convenient (and thus feasible) for the students. Another pragmatic reason for this is that in the collegiate church setting, students inevitably have much more stake in the ministry. And since people learn best by doing, coupled with coaching, we could feasibly be raising up church planters, college pastors, and core groups/teams whom we could deploy all around the U. S. and the world upon graduation.

    Thoughts?

  2. Thanks for your thoughts, Matt!

    It definitely sounds like you’re thinking in a pretty specific context: there are lots of campuses where BCMs are booming. (Remember, they’re called different names in different places – hopefully you saw where I wrote about that on the blog a week or two ago.) There are also lots and lots of SBC churches around the country that have a wide range of ages.

    Remember, there have been lots of collegiate churches instituted throughout the U.S. – the most prolific planting group I know of is Great Commission. They have dozens of collegiate churches in various places around the country, and they started doing that decades ago. So that would be a good place to start looking at effectiveness, etc.

    Your last two paragraphs do give some usual arguments for campus-based college ministry work, I’m not sure they answer the normal concerns people have about collegiate churches. Usually, the concerns I have heard center around the intergenerational aspect and the Transitions-Out / discipleship aspect. (The latter refers to the need to prepare students to participate biblically in church for the long-haul.) I hear some concerns about viability, too.

    Oh – and I certainly would be hesitant to say that the “vast majority” of church-based college ministries are functioning attractionally. That depends on how you count them, I guess, but can you point to the data you have that supports that? That would help me to see that. I just know that plenty of church-based ministries purposely do a lot on campus and/or point their students to on-campus opportunities.

  3. You’re probably right about the context thing. I’m definitely thinking about secular universities in post-Christendom areas (also assuming that students, by and large, are postmodern). I’m thinking less about the kids who are leaving high school sold out for Jesus, with solid faith foundations (which is a relative few, judging from the 80+% church dropout stat that floats around unquestioned).

    I would be interested to get your take on what constitutes a “booming” ministry. To me a booming college ministry would be one that sees a lot of lost kids finding Jesus and being transformed into His likeness.

    As far as SBC churches go, I’m mainly thinking of the center-city congregations that tend to be close to large, historic universities. I know at least that in Missouri and Ohio, these congregations are primarily aged, with the thriving SBC churches being in the suburbs. Certainly in the northern states, the SBC has minimal presence all around (I live in the North Shore area of Chicago and there isn’t a viable SB church within 45 min. of me).

    When it comes down to it, I guess we really have to look at the numbers (which I haven’t done), and find out what the rule is rather than the exception.

    I can’t see how participation could be a problem, going from a church context where they are carrying the lion’s share of the ministry, unless there is a disconnect with the post-college church experience (i.e., insufficient contexts for them to express their gifts and passions, cultural gap, etc.). If that is the case, the collegiate church isn’t the source of the problem, as if it creates some sort of unrealistic expectations (I’m assuming that’s one of the concerns posed). The high dropout rate, if it proves true (do we have numbers on this for the SBC?), is proof that the typical (including seeker/attractional) churches are not getting it done in the first place.

    That said, I’m a big advocate of intergenerationality, when it’s doable. The problem is, once again, the culture gap. Unless there is a church-within-a-church model (which again undermines intergenerationality), students are expected to conform to the culture of their elders. In a society of autonomous choice, students will simply refuse to participate rather than be forced into a foreign cultural mold. I think the point here is that neither the collegiate church model nor the intergenerational model solve this problem by themselves.

    Again, my perception of the problem isn’t based on hard, sweeping, quantitative data, but on consistent first and secondhand experience, including personal contacts and reading. I’m open to correction, but the questions I always want to be asking are (a) How effective are certain efforts at retaining our youth once they leave for college, and (b) How effective are certain efforts at reaching lost students through them? I really would like to work from facts rather than speculation. Thanks for the dialogue.

  4. In my earlier comment, I just meant “booming” as “having a large footprint,” just to contrast with what you had said about BCMs having minimal impact.

    I’m not sure if this kind of church is what you were thinking, but I do know that last I heard, Evanston Baptist Church seemed like a solid church plant with college students coming. I met with their pastor a couple of years ago, and also with the pastors of Immanuel Baptist Church, Chicago, and Larkin Avenue Baptist in Elgin. Not sure if those are within 45 miles of you.

    The Transition-In issue is clearly a HUGE one in American Christianity. We definitely need to continue hashing out solutions.

    As for collegiate churches discipling students in churchmanship, some would probably argue that part of “learning church” is learning messiness, connecting intergenerationally (both younger and older), dealing with people unlike ourselves (including connecting with people who haven’t been college-educated), etc., etc. That certainly isn’t reason enough to scrap the idea, but it makes sense as a concern. The same applies to any ministry that focuses on a very small sub-culture. But ANY model has “downsides,” obviously.

    I personally see plenty of good reasons for the Collegiate Church model. My hope is to add breadth to discussions like these, based on what I’ve seen around the country.

    Along those same lines, I’m pretty sure that there are more options within an intergenerational church than “church-within-a-church,” depending on what you mean by that. But you’re right that neither the collegiate church model nor the intergenerational model solve the problems by themselves.

  5. Hehe, there are decent Baptist churches within 45 miles for sure, but not 45 minutes. :) I’ve heard of the ones you mentioned, and I would probably add Uptown Baptist to the list (also in the city). But in a metro area of 9 million people and 70k college students, I wouldn’t consider a few hundred students attending our churches much of a success. Between Moody, North Park, Wheaton, Trinity, and Judson, I would hope that these Christian students are finding their way to evangelical churches. I just wonder about the effectiveness of our outreach.

    The collegiate church model decreases in feasibility as the size of the university decreases. None of the Chicago universities have anywhere near the kind of enrollment that a place like Ohio State has. The students in this area are part of the larger community, so churches are intergenerational by nature, as well as fairly economically diverse (in most cases).

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