many names & many ways: sbc college ministry for outsiders

On Monday, I linked the posts I’ve completed through the years covering various national ministries: Young Life CollegeChi Alpha, Cru (formerly Campus Crusade), InterVarsity, ministries of the Association of College Ministries (out of the Independent Christian Churches), and a snippet on Great Commission Ministries and their collegiate churches. I write these posts for outsiders, although I hope it’s also a tool for “insiders” to see how others (including an experienced college ministry researcher) might view them.

As for why I haven’t profiled more groups: I generally don’t want to offer an overview until I can present something authoritative. So most of the time, I wait until I’ve seen plenty of versions of a ministry and can sum it up fairly well.

In the case of the Southern Baptists’ campus ministry efforts, my difficulty has been the latter, not the former. I certainly have observed hundreds of examples of SBC campus ministry, including attending several SBC college ministers’ conferences. Anyone exploring campuses will run into lots of SBC ministry, all over the country.

But “pegging” Southern Baptists’ methods of college ministry is much trickier. So… I guess that’s part of the story, too, and it’s where I’ll begin in my synopsis for the uninitiated.

Autonomy & Its Effects

There’s no “rule from on high” that directs individual churches’ operations in the SBC. In the case of campus-based ministries, that autonomy generally applies – although it’s more accurate to say that each state oversees campus ministry as it sees fit. Unlike many college ministries, Southern Baptists share no standard methodology (like Cru’s Win-Build-Send), and they aren’t planted or overseen by some national body (like Chi Alpha). So each region – and even each campus – may look pretty different. For a college ministry nerd like myself, it’s all rather fascinating, but it can be tough to follow at times.

Where all this state-by-state autonomy plays out most noticeably for outsiders is in the variety of names used by Baptist Collegiate Ministries in each state. (So you may have Baptists on your campus and not even know it!) “Baptist Collegiate Ministry” (BCM) is the official national name (this decade, at least!) and is used in many local ministries. Baptist Student Union (BSU) is the historic name (and is still used in a few places). In Texas, there are dozens of BSMs (S is for “Student”), but outside of our state, I’ve only seen “BSM” in Delaware. Out west, the Baptist appellation has been dropped altogether, with “Christian Challenge” most often used.

That doesn’t cover all the names out there (they’re autonomous, remember!); for more options, reasons for the variety, and a look at the resulting “brand difficulty,” check out this post.

Reaching the “least of these”

While their reach is by no means exhaustive, I feel like I’m more likely to find Southern Baptist ministry on small campuses than any other campus-based ministry. Even many community colleges have a BCM led by an adult staff member (even if, in some cases, that college minister oversees a few campuses). Because a state or even a few local churches help decide where ministries end up, sometimes easily-overlooked campuses… aren’t.

Longstanding (in more ways than one)

I’ve also seen that history is big in the BCM world, at least in the cases where there’s a longstanding ministry (and at many major schools around the country, that’s the case). Plenty of American Christians fondly remember their time in “The BSU,” and ministries often work to stay connected to alumni.

Not only do ministries have a long history, many BCM directors do, too. While each national collegiate ministry has its share of “lifers,” the sheer number of BCMs has certainly led to a proliferation of those men and women who have served for decades.

And another element has been longstanding for Southern Baptist college ministry…


Among Evangelical denominations, the SBC campus-based ministries are the only ones I know of that regularly have buildings next to (or occasionally, on) campus. At least at mid-sized and large state colleges, it’s very common to find a Baptist building with space for a large-group meeting, an office, and “hang out” space.

Many of these buildings are clearly old, but they’ve been serving successfully as ministry space for decades (sometimes right next to the Newman Center, the Canterbury House, and/or the Wesley Foundation). This is one of the areas that varies widely state-to-state, of course, but I know I’ve run into BCM buildings at campuses I certainly didn’t expect to (like little Montana Tech, shown at right). This dynamic alone affects SBC ministry in a major way, as you can probably imagine.

Tomorrow: BCM ministry style(s), geographical differences, theology, funding, and more. (See that post here!)


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