Located directly across the street from the campus of the College of New Jersey in Ewing, New Jersey, Central Baptist Church is ideally positioned to reach many of the approximately 5,600 students who attend the school. But leaders of the church know that a good location doesn’t guarantee an effective student ministry. So they decided to team up with InterVarsity.
Sam Hood is the church’s liaison to campus ministry. He met a chapter member at the InterVarsity booth during the college’s Community Fest and was impressed by InterVarsity’s commitment to reaching students. He approached the church leadership about supporting InterVarsity.
Students reach students best
“I really believe students are most effective at reaching other students,” he said. “These students are already doing the job. They’re out witnessing. They’re involved in discipleship activities. All the right things are happening. What really would make sense is for us to go alongside and help them.”
The relationship between the church and the chapter is developing slowly. There aren’t many models for this level of partnership. So far Central Baptist has provided resources for two campus-wide evangelistic outreach campaigns as well as small group study materials from the church bookstore. It has also helped with planning activities for the year, and prayed as a church body for the outreaches and ongoing ministry. The church has also matched mentors with some of the students.
Staff members appreciate a supportive church
“What the partnership enables us to do is to think and dream and plan bigger, with broader scope for impact, than we would otherwise have,” said Laura Vellenga, InterVarsity’s team leader (pictured above). “It’s like a dream come true, knowing that we have a church across the street that is so committed to our ministry that we are regularly prayed for as their college ministry.”
A new Sunday contemporary worship service at 11:15 a.m. is attracting many students. One of the chapter leaders has found a job in the church book store and another is helping out with graphic design projects. But not all students in the chapter, or staff members, attend Central Baptist. Laura stresses that the InterVarsity chapter is still inter-denominational, it’s not Baptist. She works with Anthony Gilmer, the pastor of spiritual development, as well as Sam Hood, as they move step by step towards building a stronger partnership.
Laura has been on staff for 15 years, long enough to know that churches and campus ministries can have different perspectives on reaching students. “I say to Anthony and Sam, ‘you guys don’t know how unusual this is.’ And they say, ‘we just want to help people get to know Jesus. Whatever is the most effective, we’ll go with that.’”
Pastor Gilmer said, “We’re trying to focus on relationships instead of religion, building relationships between people and Christ.” The church is in the process of a name change to highlight the priority of relationships. It will soon be known as Central, a Christ-centered church.
Noting the reports of growing interest in spiritual issues among college students, Sam Hood said that a church located next to a college is well served to complement its prime location with a partnership that helps them connect with students.
“We have both an obligation and a privilege,” he said. “Students are asking the why question, ‘why am I here?’ They’re searching in so many ways. We have the answer.”
Working together as a team, InterVarsity and Central Baptist Church are able to reach more students and more lives are being transformed by the gospel.