Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Why Are Baptists Making Cuts in College Ministry?

Southern Baptists have the largest College Ministry program in the US. It is on more than 800 campuses, which is more than Campus Crusade and FCA combined which are the second and third largest.

So, why are Baptists now making cuts? That was the question I was asked countless times yesterday by email, Facebook and at a Deacons Meeting. Every article we read talks of the loss of the 20something generation to the church. Logic would say, "It's time to double down...not cut.". That's what one deacon said last night.

So, why are we cutting? First, I don't think there is one answer. Part of the uniqueness of Southern Baptists is we are not top down driven. Each church and each Baptist State Convention makes it's own decisions. No one in an office in Nashville or Richmond or Atlanta can tell them what to do. So, decisions and reasons can vary for each place.

Here are what I think (just Arliss...no one else speaking here) are the main and variety of reasons:

1. Reduced giving by churches-when the economy went down a few years ago many church incomes went down and they reduced what they send on to state and national causes.

2. A few years ago there was a plea nationally to churches and state conventions to send more money to the International Mission Board for increased foreign missionaries and to the North American Mission Board for increased church planting in the US. As a result, several state conventions increased their gifts to these missions agencies. So, after they did that with income reduced or not rising, they had to make cuts.

3. The North American Mission Board has placed almost all their emphasis on church planting. This has run over into what they do in Collegiate Ministry. Many of these people are now advocating that starting a church on campus is a better model than the traditional BSU/BCM model.

4. Some in Baptist life have felt that some of the Non-denominational ministries are more effective and or more evangelistic than BSU/BCM.

5. Again, each State convention makes it's own decisions and these decisions are not made by those who are experts or leaders in Collegiate Ministry.

6. In many instances in Baptist life we are more and more influenced by what I call "Mega Church Thinking". That is that the pastors of the larger churches have a large forum and influence. Mega churches tend to have the resources to do whatever they want to by themselves. So, they often say that the churches ought to do College Ministry....that's the way we do it. Yet, we are not a denomination or a country of Mega churches.

7. Very simply put, I think when leaders are looking for places to cut staff due to declining funds, they look for the place they can cut with the least amount of squawking or complaining....that is College Ministry.

I am not saying I agree with all of these points, but I believe they are the main ones that are at play in these decisions.

Simply put, I think the cuts being made in Baptist Collegiate Ministry are a HUGE mistake and if we do not reverse this trend, we will pay for it for years to come!

Arliss Dickerson


  1. If there are going to be any missions campus ministry ought to be priority one. This is where our ministers and church leadership is made. Without campus ministry we have no future.

  2. Could not agree more Arliss. Another point along the lines of the squawking comment is that Collegians do not give. Churches when upset withold giving or threaten to send their money elsewhere and it gains them traction with the powers-that-be. The traditional collegiate model does not generate money and so when pressed it is expendable.

    Without Ken Dillard at the University of Cincinnati when I arrived there my life would be completely different. I am now in full time Christian ministry because of that traditional model.

    Praying with you Arliss that we see the error of our ways before it is too late!

  3. Thanks for giving this the attention it deserves, Arliss. In the midst of all the change, I felt a need to share a bit and maybe offer a bit of a different perspective. I am finding that people are often more open than I originally thought re: how to engage college/young adults. Those of us that have been called and gifted to minister among this generation realize the strategic importance/potential of this largely unreahed people group.

    I can only speak for Kentucky BCM here. I can say with confidence that I am very optimistic about the future of BCM. What we have wanted for some time is increased emphasis and "buy-in" from the greater convention and local churches. Part of being more included in the greater team means that we need to shift our thinking a bit. When we function as independent ministries and push back against any changes that may be required or at least helpful to integrating what we do into the larger (Convention) ministry we are perceived as only interested in preserving what has been rather than on doing what we do even better.
    As I navigate the waters in KY, I am finding that folks are quite open to exploring solutions that help more people encounter Jesus. I see us moving toward a model of ministry that empowers the Campus Minister as a missionary to the campus. Churches and Convention staff will engage these campus missionaries much like they do other NAMB/IMB missionaries. This change will work to position the Campus Missionary as the expert strategist that understands the local customs, language…culture. I’m excited about this move and see it as a way to utilize the gifts/expertise of our current CMs to serve as a significant conduit of evangelical influence from the church to the campus and beyond.
    I have yet to hear anyone (in KY) dismiss the importance, potential, or necessity of reaching young adults/college students for Christ. I have heard some ideas that I believe will not be as effective. I have heard some ideas that I think could be very effective. I see each of these conversations as opportunities to speak into the change process and help all involved reach the intended goal of helping more college/young-adults encounter Jesus. Yes, many of these conversations are tough. Many of them are not “fun”. However, they are all necessary. I have found that when I engage the conversations with an open mind that is seeking God’s desire for our future, people tend to listen and at least consider my words.
    I imagine some may read this and think that I am just na├»ve and will soon figure out that folks have it “in” for campus ministry. Maybe that is the case. However, I am trusting that the men and women with which I am continuing to engage in this conversation are being as open and honest with me as I am with them. In the end, that’s all we can do. I engage these conversations recognizing that God (alone) is God and He is in control. I can confidently sit here, today, and say that I fully believe Kentucky Baptist Collegiate Ministry is going to emerge from the next few months of “study” a much stronger and vibrant ministry that is more fully integrated into the ministries of the Kentucky Baptist Convention and its 2,400 churches. KY BCM will continue to be a significant ministry to college/young-adults that is placed and funded by churches, for churches, to help churches reach Kentucky and the World for Christ.
    Let’s continue to press on, together, to see more people encounter Jesus. Thanks for reading. Feel free to push back or offer feedback.

  4. I do agree that cutting college ministry budgets is not the right step for Baptists to take. I think that Baptist life and church growth have been due in large part to the ministry of Baptists throughout the years in college settings, giving current Baptists their foundations for their conviction in being a Baptist in the first place.

    I do, however, see that there is the reality of a recession. This is a difficult issue to overcome, as money simply isn't available in some cases.

    I would add, then, that in the cases where money is not available as it once was, Baptists should seek to fund their college ministries from new avenues and be proactive in helping college ministries find new funding.