Friday, November 11, 2016

Has the "Golden Age of College Ministry" Passed?

In the time since we stepped away from the ministry at Arkansas State, more than one person has said in one way or the other, "You left at the right time". Or, "You served in the Golden Age of College Ministry.". The message there is that it is or will be down hill from here.

Why do some people say the best days of College Ministry are over?

-Many campuses or even states such as California have taken a more negative view of campus based ministries and sometimes make it difficult or near impossible to function as a recognized student organization.

-Some state conventions within the Southern Baptist Convention have made major cuts in their College Ministry. Some have sold their Centers or reduced staff significantly. Another recently announced they were moving toward "partially funded positions" meaning that their Campus Ministers will soon be required to raise a part of their salary.

-Giving to local churches is on the decline as the Boomer Generation is beginning to pass from the scene. So, cuts driven by finances are being made in many areas with more to come.

-There is disagreement in some quarters as to whether the best way to do College Ministry is with a campus based student organization or with a campus based church plant.

-College students are more suspicious of organized religion and the number of "spiritual not religious" continues to grow.

Several years ago Calvin Miller, the great Christian writer and speaker, and I were driving from one campus to another and he was talking about whether he would leave the large church he had planted to become a Seminary Professor. His words were golden to me. He said, "I'm trying to decide if I am at the end of a book or just at the end of a chapter.". He went on to say, if it were the end of the book, he would go to the seminary role. If it were the end of a chapter, he would begin some new and different things at the church. I have never let go of that statement. He went on to say that we often mistake the end of a chapter for the end of the book.

I believe College Ministry has come to the end of a chapter. It is time to do some new things and think some new thoughts. It is not the end of the book. But, we can't let go of some basic principles and that is part of our confusion. Which are methods and which are principles?

-Many College Ministries are larger than they have ever been.

-A few are even building new and larger campus based Centers.

Some suggest that we should leave the larger flagship campuses where there are multiple ministries and go to the smaller commuter campuses where often no ministries exist. While I am all about reaching campuses no one is touching, I recoil at the idea of leaving the "Influencer Campuses". I believe that's not wise strategically for many reasons.

Recently, the North American Mission Board of the SBC has said they will not plant campus based churches in the south, but rather focus on non-Bible Belt campuses where there is often no evangelical witness, let alone a Baptist one. This comes out of the discussion of whether it made sense to plant a campus church where there was a strong campus based BCM.

Should we focus our resources on "Influencer Campuses" rather than trying to be everywhere? Should we let denominational based College Ministers raise money for large staffs? Should we develop alliances and "working agreements" with other go there and we will go here? Since these conversations are uncomfortable (to me for sure), we often do not have them.

There are lots of discussions to be had. Part of it is simply understanding it is the end of a chapter....not the end of the book! It is time for some new thoughts. But, they must be made strategically AND not just be financially driven. I believe the money is available for College Ministry, if we make our case......and have a strong new chapter strategy!


  1. have you ever checked out the collegiate collaborative? i don't think the golden age of college ministry has passed...

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  3. Hey Mark, yes; I look at Collegiate Collective on a regular basis. Blessings to you!

  4. Arliss,

    Thanks for sharing your insights on this. The question "has the golden age of campus ministry passed" is something I have wondered about myself from time to time. I appreciate and agree with your assessment. While there are different (perhaps even *more*) challenges in campus ministry today than there were 60 years ago, the same may just as easily be said of all forms of ministry in the U.S. Just as there are greater challenges, I believe there are also greater opportunities (i.e. the number of internationals).


  5. God is still calling men and women to go to the nations through the global college campuses. If God is doing the calling, then we are at the end of a chapter. For me money was never the issue. It was calling and faith. It truly disturbs me when people follow the money. That being said, it is time to reinvent what is being done to make disciples on campus. New methods are required. As a campus director for over four decades, I reinvented myself and the ministry every five years to meet the needs of changing students. Thanks for your perspective.