In this week’s offering, we hear from Chris Morton at Missio Alliance about a campus ministry that was willing to step out of its comfort zone and reshape its mission and culture in order to reach those who aren’t interested in church.
Campus and Community: The Center for Faith and Leadership
Among the storied forms of church and mission struggling to maintain its place in a changing culture is the denominational campus ministry center—a staple at many colleges and universities. Campus ministry groups have traditionally thrived by providing a place of connection between like-minded students with similar backgrounds. With incoming students less likely to self-identify with a specific denomination or any church at all, these groups are often forced to reimagine their identity.
In 2012 the Baptist Student Union at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia was rechristened as The Center for Faith and Leadership. Directed by Carey and Gannon Sims, they have expanded their scope to include the needs of their surrounding community. They summarize this posture by saying:
Our front door is open to the campus, and our back door opens to the community.
The result has been to create an atmosphere which encourages students and young adults to use their creativity to serve others and to seek new means to connect with their neighbors. They use the language of “research and development” to encourage an environment of experimentation.
Some of their experiments, many of which have been instigated, designed, and led by students, include:
- Link: A mentoring community for homeless youth.
- Will’s Place: A local food truck and catering business that got its start during a weekly meal for students and young adults.
- Uptick Entrepreneur: A nine-month discipleship experience and monthly meet-up that brings together local business owners and aspiring young entrepreneurs who desire to impact their community through local enterprise.
Despite all of their activity, the methodology remains relational. “The Center is a place where friendships rooted in Jesus are changing the world,” says Gannon Sims. “We’re thriving because of a constant focus on friendships rooted in Jesus, and our values of mutuality, intentionality, and hospitality in relationships reflect this.”
Luke Taylor, Ministry Associate at the Center, believes that there are many people who want nothing to do with church and others who are never going to be attracted to the sermon-centric approach to most churches. Instead, “the Center is recreating church for the way they need it. It is by no means trying to take the place of church, but it is meeting people where they’re at and inviting Jesus into that place.”
We’re not all ministering to students, but we all need to consider the “doors” that our local church communities present. What pathways have been opened for not-yet-believers in your neighbourhood to enter meaningful Christian community? Perhaps it’s through congregants living in the neighbourhood, or through partnerships with local organizations or service agencies. We’d love to hear your stories of “R&D,” so drop us a line!