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Into All the Ethnos: The Case for Evangelistic Campus Ministry Plants

This article was originally published in Church Growth Magazine.

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” 

-Jesus, Matthew 28:19-20

 Ahhh, the Great Commission – one of my favorite scriptures. These words capture the final marching orders of Jesus Christ – instructing believers to make disciples among the lost peoples of the world. This particular scripture has been used as the theological basis for foreign mission work for generations, and rightfully so.

But there’s more to this command than meets the eye in most modern translations of the Bible. The Greek word, ethnos (ἔθνος), normally translated “nations” in the New Testament, can also be translated “a people,” or “a large group based on various cultural, physical, or geographic ties.”[1] Ethnos is a sociological term used to refer to sociological groups, and while nations are included, so are the various people groups that make them up.

In our country, states as well as the cities and towns found within them should be considered. The gay and lesbian community, the Hollywood crowd, the inner-city, individual neighborhoods – even social cliques like a group of elderly men that get together for breakfast, or the groups that make up the social structure of your workplace should be noted. Each represent a different ethnos, and each separate people group falls under the umbrella of the Great Commission.

Implicit in the Great Commission is a responsibility to intentionally focus efforts to reach every ethnos we encounter, and there’s one I’m particularly concerned with today. That, my friends, is the ethnos of the university campus, and you should be concerned with it too.

 Why Effective Campus Ministry is Vital

Bill Bright[2] was known for saying: “Change the campus today and change the world tomorrow.” There isn’t a mission field in existence today poised to shake the foundations of global spirituality like the university campuses of the United States. Today’s students are future world leaders. Future doctors, lawyers, teachers, and professors – future journalists, counselors, businessmen, and businesswomen – future military officers, company executives, media professionals, and government leaders – all are found on the university campuses today.

This is the time in life when their worldview will be shaped. They’re seeking answers to questions like, “How did I get here and why do I exist? Is there a God? Does life have a purpose? Should I be religious? Are all religions the same?” For their sake and the sake of the people their lives will influence, truthful answers must be provided, and the only real source of truth is the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must make it our mission to be among them to provide these answers!

The need is greater today than ever before – a strong case for this can be made just by examining the numbers.

 Campus Ministry: The Need According to the Numbers

In 1965, a Houston area preacher named Wes Reagan made a presentation at the Abilene lectures entitled, “The Lost Frontier” (later printed in 20th Century Christian[3]). This presentation emphasized the urgent need for evangelistic work to take place on university campuses in the United States. When Reagan initially presented his speech, a little over four million students were enrolled full-time in American universities.[4] Today, enrollment is at a record-breaking 17.5 million, and that number is expected to increase another 13% by 2015.[5]

At the time of Reagan’s sermon, if we had converted just one out of every 1,000 international students in our country, we would have produced 100 new missionaries to be sent home facing no language or cultural barriers in spreading the gospel.[6] If we did the same thing today, efforts would produce over 550 new missionaries annually[7] – this would greatly exceed the current missionary efforts of all of our brotherhood universities combined.

In 1965, our people were active on 80 campuses out of a possible 2,120 (mainly as educators – not evangelists).[8] Today, we are active on less than 150 campuses[9] out of a possible 4,100.[10] That means over 97% of the colleges and universities in the United States lack an effective Church of Christ campus ministry!

When you consider the fact that almost every great spiritual awakening in the United States had its beginnings among students on a university campus,[11] and that 77% of Americans who become Christians do so before the age of 21,[12] you have a very powerful case for why our fellowship must make a concerted effort to plant effective, Jesus-loving, gospel-sharing campus ministries.

Youth ministries are common nowadays, and more youth ministers are being trained by brotherhood universities than there are jobs available. It is time to stop overlooking campus ministry. Effective ministries must be planted!

“Effective Campus Ministry” Defined

A ministry should not be termed “effective” if the salvation of the lost isn’t a top priority. Jesus stated the primary purpose of His earthly ministry in Luke 19:10 – “to seek and to save what was lost.” In Matthew 20:28, Jesus preached that He “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Jesus’ ultimate act of service – suffering and dying on the cross – was to pay for the salvation of the lost.

In Matthew 22:36-40, when asked by a Pharisee which was the greatest commandment in the Law, Jesus responded by saying in verse 37, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Then He shared the second greatest commandment in verse 39: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” In summary, Jesus taught that our main concern is to love God with every fiber of our being, and love the people around us. You can’t have one without the other, and what greater way is there to love someone than to bring them closer to the source of love – to know Love Himself (i.e. God embodied in Jesus Christ)?

It is God’s will that we be in the disciple-making business, and when defining “effective campus ministry” this fact must not be ignored. A campus ministry is not effective if the unchurched remain, not only unreached, but untouched altogether.

Shortage of Effective Ministries?

In March of 2006, Campus Ministry United (CMU) staff members conducted a survey among Church of Christ campus ministers. They were asked to share the number of conversions that occurred as a result of their ministries in the 365 day period between 2005 and 2006. What we found was alarming. Over the course of a year, nearly half of the ministries surveyed witnessed just one conversion (many had zero) as a result of their efforts. A full 75% had three or less. I could count on one hand (even without a thumb) the ministries whose conversions numbered in the double digits.

Two or three baptisms per year may sound good to some readers (and I rejoice over these – please don’t misunderstand), but when you consider the fact that most of these ministries are situated among campus populations numbering well into the thousands with some into the tens of thousands, it is obvious there’s room for improvement. That’s not to say that these ministries are worthless! They have no doubt blessed the lives of many who have been a part of them. However, our primary concern must be to reach the lost and unchurched on our campuses if we are to make a lasting difference among the ethnos of our universities.

Effective and highly motivated evangelists are vital to this mission, which is why the organization known as Campus Ministry United was formed.

Campus Ministry United – www.CampusMinistryUnited.com

The organizational body of Campus Ministry United formed in 2005; our board is made up of missionaries, educators, evangelists, and evangelistically-minded campus ministers. CMU’s purpose includes providing ministry-enrichment materials for existing campus ministries, assisting churches sponsoring new evangelistic ministry plants, and providing training and mentoring to empower future campus ministers and ministry planters to be effective.

Each year we organize and sponsor a ministry-enrichment workshop on the campus of Harding University with a heavy emphasis on practicality and contextual relevance. The workshop usually takes place the weekend after Independence Day, and the 2008 meeting is scheduled for July 10-12. To access the content from our previous workshops (including audio recordings and lesson outlines) visit the audio/video section of our website.[13] Currently, all materials produced by CMU are available to the public for free.

Campus Ministry Degree Program on the Horizon

CMU recently partnered with Harding University’s Center for Advanced Ministry Training to develop for-credit and non-credit programs to train future campus ministers. The difference between the two or tracts is this: those enrolled in the for-credit program will be required to complete online Master’s level courses accredited through Harding University, while those in the non-credit program will not.

In addition to the availability of online courses, what sets our program apart from others is this: both tracts will include one- to two-year apprenticeships in some of the most evangelistically effective campus ministries in the country. We firmly believe that if we are to teach future campus ministers to be effective evangelists, then they must be mentored under effective evangelists.

This is the model we see in the scriptures – consider Jesus with the twelve or Paul with Timothy and Titus. How can we expect a new campus minister to be evangelistically effective if they’ve never even seen an evangelistically effective ministry in action – much less worked within one?

In Closing

CMU exists to serve and empower – not to control. If you’re a church or ministry leader interested in effective campus ministry, or a person interested in training, we would love to make our knowledge and resources available to you. Feel free to visit our website at www.CampusMinistryUnited.com or send an email to CampusMinistryUnited@Gmail.com.

[Originally published in Church Growth Magazine]


[1]               Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Greek (New Testament) (electronic ed.) (GGK1620). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[2]               Founder of Campus Crusade for Christ

[3]               Reagan, Wesley. “The Last Frontier,” 20th Century Christian. Nashville, TN: Williams Printing Company, September 1967, pp. 11-12

[4]               National Center for Education Statistics, “Total fall enrollment in institutions of higher education and degree-granting institutions, by attendance status, sex of student, and control of institution: 1947 to 1997,” July 1999. http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d99/d99t175.asp (accessed February 2008).

[5]               National Center for Education Statistics, “Digest of Education Statistics: 2006,” July 2007. http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d06/ (accessed February 2008).

[6]               Reagan, p. 11

[7]               Institute of International Education, “U.S. Sees Slowing Decline in International Student Enrollment in 2004/2005,” November 14, 2005. http://opendoors.iienetwork.org/?p=69736  (accessed February 2008).

[8]               Reagan, p. 12

[9]               According to the 2008 CMU Study (NOTE: the article in print says that there are “roughly 200” Church of Christ campus ministries – further research done later revealed the actual number is less than 150.

[10]          According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities, there are 2,618 accredited four-year colleges and universities in the United States. If you count two-year colleges, that number rises to over 4,100.

[11]             Ma, Jaeson. The Blueprint: A Revolutionary Plan to Plant Missional Communities on Campus (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2007) p. 35

[12]             The Barna Research Group, “Most Christians Were Young When Saved,” The Barna Update, October 11, 2004. http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=BarnaUpdate&BarnaUpdateID=172 (accessed February 2008).

[13]             http://www.campusministryunited.com/av.html

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