the future in college ministry: reaching the unreached

This week (while many are in Finals or just past them), I thought I’d ponder some future opportunities for college ministry.

I’ve touched on some of these before, and I’ll only be lightly touching on them now. But hopefully it’s fun pondering for you, too.

Today, something that I think about a lot: the many rather “unreached” tribes of college students scattered throughout our country. These are the community colleges, tech colleges, junior colleges, and the other “lower-profile” schools. Often situated in the shadow of larger and/or more illustrious institutions, the students at these schools – which may number in the hundreds or sometimes in the tens of thousands! – may lack any great presence of Christian ministry.

Meanwhile, the nearby schools might have drawn dozens of college ministries.

Churches – which have a special opportunity at the commuter schools – aren’t often a big help, but that has a lot to do with the general disarray found in the branch of church-based college ministry. (Of course, there are many fantastic church-based college ministries. It’s the branch as a whole that’s terribly underdeveloped.)

I bring up churches because they may in fact be in the best situation to reach many of these – at least the commuter campuses – than any other branch. Another reason they may have a unique chance is because some of these schools are best served through a Young Adult ministry (as opposed to Collegiate), because, despite students’ age, they’re functioning much more as “20-somethings” than as collegians. (Life stage matters much more than age here.)

Of course, I’d also be thrilled to see parachurch and denominational ministries reach out to many more of these “unreached” campuses. And if there’s any group that has already done it, it might be the latter? But that, I’m sure, varies state-by-state and region-by-region. Still, I think the denominational ministries may have an easier time – for whatever reason – casting such a wide and strategic net. But I understand how tricky it might seem to generate financial support, for all college ministers who are directly supported, when your supporters have never heard of your mission field. (Of course, international missionaries do that all the time, so it’s presumably possible.. starting with great storytelling and vision-casting.)

In any case, I’m not aligned with those who decry the presence of multiple college ministries on individual campuses. I have no problem with it, and often having multiple college ministries remains a perfectly good and wonderfully strategic way to reach the variety of students on the campus. But international missionaries, as best I can tell, have developed a sort of balance here – a willingness to recognize that while multiple denominations make sense in some contexts, it’s always worth evaluating whether one more ministry is needed.

My hope is that, more and more, college ministries big and small would never enter a campus without very carefully evaluating who’s already there.

And at the same time – whether because we remove ourselves from ministry-saturated campuses or because we simply want to reach everybody – I hope that more and more “unheard-of” schools receive a major Christian witness, from our best and brightest.

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