Working on 32 campuses in Florida, we have seen many students come to faith for the first time, take new risks to join God’s mission on campus, and go on to become significant kingdom influencers after graduation. Seeing students transformed is what we live for.
But there are over 120 campuses in Florida. There are still thousands of students with little or no access to campus ministry or the good news about Jesus in their context. Many of them are commuter campuses, the fastest growing segment of higher education and the most diverse. What about those campuses?
Partners to Reach the Campus
We are aware of the unreached campuses but we do not have enough resources to get to them. So we are developing ways people can partner with us to help us reach those campuses. Partnering with churches is becoming a new model that is starting to bear fruit.
Many churches have a heart for college students, just as InterVarsity does, realizing that college students are making decisions that will shape their careers and the rest of their adult lives. But maybe they tried working with college students without success. Or maybe they realize they should do something with students but have little idea how to get started. So we wondered, what if we could learn to empower churches, especially those in close proximity to college campuses, so they can start student fellowships on unreached campuses?
InterVarsity has a long history of campus ministry and is uniquely equipped to meet the challenges of the commuter campus. We believe that the marginalized are close to God’s heart. We are equipped to do ministry in difficult contexts and we are effective at developing students from diverse backgrounds to be missionaries on their campus.
Developing Key Churches
Our team began to pray for key churches that have a heart to reach the college students near them. Last summer every member of our staff chose a campus to pray for, researched churches near the campus, and worked to set up appointments. In one day we met with more than 36 churches. We asked them to provide a planter to give 5-15 hours a week to students and we would provide a coach, some funding, and training.
The responses ranged from very positive to strangely confused. Pastors said, “This is exactly what we’ve been praying for. We want to reach the campus but don’t know what steps to take” and “For so long para-church ministries have acted like they don’t need us, but it seems like you really want to work with us.”
One former InterVarsity staff who is now a pastor came to the meeting ready to give his support to help reach more campuses. He had to sit back and re-orient himself to the conversation when he realized he was being offered help and not being asked for support. In the end, at least 30 said they were interested in getting to know us and would consider partnering with us.
We have now started partnering with three churches to reach new campuses. One of them is working to get a young adults group at their church to own the local campus as its place of mission. Another potential church partner has been going on campus every week to host the Money Proxe (an evangelistic display). As a result, they have met 40 students interested in seeing a student fellowship begin at that school.
Some challenges we are facing include:
- It takes time to build trust with churches because InterVarsity is not well known in our state.
- Helping churches find the right person to fit the context of planting.
- With some churches, it takes time to help them understand our philosophy of ministry. For example, our value of being incarnational and regularly present on the campus, as well as how we value doing ministry with students, not to students as we empower them to lead and reach their campus.
- Working to be clear about hopes and expectations and to understand what they want out of the partnership.
A Work in Progress
Our regional church partnership cohort is very much a work in progress. From month to month there have been encouraging moments and discouraging moments. But we want to continue over the next several years to see if we can learn how to more effectively partner with churches to reach students.
If we are able to build better partnerships with churches, we can reach more campuses and their long-term ownership of currently unreached campuses could result in generations of student ministry. Overall, I think we will gain friends and advocates for the work God has so lovingly called us to.