It’s not surprising that the largest Evangelical denominational college ministry belongs to the largest Evangelical denomination. But what might be surprising is that it’s far from monolithic, as I described yesterday. But for the sake of those of you with Southern Baptist ministry on your campus, here’s the continuation of my primer on these men and women!
(NOTE: As is hopefully clear, this discussion only focuses on campus-based college ministry. Of course, like other denominations, there are also many examples of church-based, collegiate church, and institutional college ministry in the SBC.)
Lunchtime & other times: how ministry looks
From what I can tell, most Baptist Collegiate Ministries chapters rely on the same things others do: a weekly “Sing-and-Speak,” small groups, events. In some cases, though, the weekly Large Group isn’t their only (or even their primary) front door for outsiders – that’s regularly a weekly “Noon Lunch,” possibly the steadiest tradition among SBC ministries that are large enough to support it.
There’s often an emphasis on leadership opportunities (even for freshmen), including ministry teams or an elected leadership council. Delegation to students leads to some extremely active chapters – in outreach, programs, and events.
That’s in the larger ministries (and there are plenty of those). But it’s not uncommon to find very small ministries, too, including some that seem to focus on students that don’t “fit” elsewhere. While it’s common to see a really large BCM, it’s also common to see one with weekly attendance under 20 – or even under 10 (even in the South).
What’s also interesting is the sparsity of SBC collegiate ministry in certain places – especially because it’s so prevalent in other regions. Some states are absolutely filled with BCM chapters, while in others they’re quite hard to find. All this goes back to its state-by-state autonomy (and the resources available to each state).
In other words, the presence and success of BCM depends on what the state convention has chosen to do with their budget. (In some cases, the missions arm of the SBC has stepped in to help in tougher regions.) More than Chi Alpha (it’s closest comparison, since they’re both widespread denominational ministries), BCM’s reach hasn’t spread nearly as evenly.
Your local SBC guy & his funding
In some states, this region-decided budgeting means campus-based ministries are fully funded by denominational contributions. Therefore some campuses have a full-time staffer or even multiple staff members who don’t focus on raising funds. In other places, though, SBC college ministers look much more like their other denominational and parachurch brethren, investing a significant portion of their time in support-raising.
Where it applies, this is one of the biggest distinctives of BCM. Those SBC college ministers who don’t have to support-raise have a situation that is extremely rare in the panorama of campus-based ministry. And when large numbers of Baptist college ministers have been raised up, trained, and given staff positions in these environments, later transferring to regions that require fundraising is tricky… which presumably has led to some of the geographical variations noted above.
While in many states “Baptist Collegiate Ministries” have kept “Baptist” in their names (or on their buildings), most of these ministries still function in the broader Evangelical stream. Christian students from different denominational backgrounds will generally feel quite comfortable here, just as is the case for many Chi Alpha, RUF, Wesley Foundation, and other groups’ chapters.
As for the theology that’s presented, while certain distinctives are certainly held (as should be true of any denominational group), you’ll see variation between individual college ministers on issues the SBC (or individual state groups) haven’t decided. As with most campus-based groups, a “great-in-the-basics” focus is the norm.
(Exit question: what do you think characterizes Southern Baptist ministry across the U.S.?)