Why is Campus Ministry So Weak in the Churches of Christ? 6 Reasons

With thousands of universities in the U.S., campus ministry is incredibly weak in the Churches of Christ. We have around 125 campus ministries. But, I don’t feel completely qualified to explain why. So, I asked seasoned veterans Milton Jones, Scott Lambert, and Chris Buxton to help me.

courtesy pexels.com

courtesy pexels.com

A Word About Churches

Many of the most successful ministries outside of our fellowship aren’t connected to local churches. They’re para-church organizations. But, in the C of C, the vast majority of campus ministries are local church ministries.

I’ve written before about the small number of  campus ministries in the Churches of Christ. Scott says there are 12,500 C of C’s in the U.S. This means roughly 1% of churches are engaged in campus ministry.

Some ministries are financially supported by multiple churches so the numbers aren’t exact. But, the point is the same. 

The vast majority of Churches of Christ aren’t involved in campus ministry.

I’m not saying, “The churches are to blame!” But, I am saying that churches play a huge role in the successes and failures of campus ministry in the Churches of Christ. This isn’t the case for ministries that aren’t church based.

These are the six reasons we came up with…

1. Many churches lack kingdom vision.

According to Chris, “Many churches lack kingdom vision. Most of the students aren’t ‘our kids,’ so they feel any investment in them would have little payoff for the local body.” In other words, there’s not much return on investment (Stephen Lutz has a great article about this).

But, even if students didn’t bring much value, Chris said, “I would hope our churches would have a much larger perspective that would lead them to invest in the future’s key societal leaders at the time when they’re most malleable.”

2. Churches are protecting what they have.

Churches of Christ are declining. And, as a result, Scott pointed out that it’s hard for churches to create something new when they’re protecting what they have. He summed it up this way: “We’re protecting what we have as we shrink.”

3. “The Boston Movement scared people.”

You need to know about the Boston Movement to understand the history of C of C campus ministries. This movement was born at the Crossroads C of C in Gainsville, FL. It grew rapidly and eventually became the International Church of Christ (ICOC).

The Boston Movement had some pretty serious issues. In C of C campus ministry circles, when you start talking about multiplying, many people are fearful about repeating the abuses of the Boston Movement. It’s unfortunate.

Scott said it simply, “The Boston Movement scared people.”

4. Too much division.

Division is definitely a part of our history. And, Milton has experienced it firsthand. He said…

“I think that churches got tired of us because we split the brotherhood too many times. It became easier not to deal with us than have the negative results that came from us. 

“As a result, fewer people desired…to be campus ministers because of our reputation. And fewer churches wanted a group with a track record of splitting churches.”

5. The misperception that college students aren’t open.

Many people might think college students aren’t open to the gospel. This just isn’t true. College students are one of the most receptive people groups on the planet.

[bctt tweet=”College students are one of the most receptive people groups on the planet.”]

According to Chris, some “believe Christian students who attend state universities will usually drift away from the church and faith during the college years but will return at some future time.”

I’m sure plenty of Christian students drift and return to the church later in life. I’m also sure that many drift and never return.

6. There aren’t many doing campus ministry well.

According to Chirs, “Many Christians’ experience of campus ministry…is of an odd little group out on the fringe of campus that is virtually irrelevant to students’ lives.”

With only 125 ministries in the nation, it’s clear that not many churches/ministries are doing campus ministry well. But, when it’s done well, campus ministry has the potential to change people’s lives.

Chris articulated it well, “When I think of campus ministry, I see a true disciple-making, life-altering force…I know of no other form of ministry in the contemporary church with more potential for disciple-making and life change than campus ministry.”

What did we miss? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  12 comments for “Why is Campus Ministry So Weak in the Churches of Christ? 6 Reasons

  1. December 7, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    Great post Neil! Thanks for the mention as well.

    • Neil
      December 7, 2015 at 1:00 pm

      No problem! Thanks for reading the post.

  2. December 7, 2015 at 12:14 pm

    I hear an echo of words we’ve been saying about this forgotten mission field for 13 years. Delaware Christian Campus Ministry Foundation is an organization built to support a small congregation in Newark Delaware to bring campus missionary (we prefer that word to ministry) to the University of Delaware, a secular university. Our vision is to some day expand enough to help train campus missionaries and plant them and subsidize them around the world. Ultimately the college church would finance it full time after they see the results of honoring the great commission on campus. Milton and Scott are right on the money.

    Churches of Christ who have missionary funds have insisted this is a local ministry and miss out on singularly great opportunity to teach Jesus Christ as a result. Thanks for writing your article and I pray that it gets picked up by the Christian Chronicle and given the publicity it deserves.

    • Neil
      December 7, 2015 at 1:04 pm

      That’s an awesome vision for the University of Delaware and beyond. Go for it! And, thanks for that high praise. I’d love for more people to hear these thoughts. So, please share the link! There needs to be a greater awareness about this incredible need within our fellowship. Have a great week!

  3. John K. Wood
    February 19, 2016 at 1:02 pm

    Good analysis… I think that the shrinking numbers leads to budget issues which leads to less staff. Not sure if cost of living also impacts this. Churches will keep their primary minister and also have a youth minister if members have kids but forego a campus minister. I do wonder also if they are subconsciously scared of the ecumenical spirit that this generation of college students will bring to their church.

    • Neil
      February 19, 2016 at 1:12 pm

      Thanks for chiming in, John! Good thoughts.

  4. Devon Sears
    February 19, 2016 at 2:04 pm

    Sociologists have recently come out with research that found that college is not the faith killing institution we sometimes make it out to be. All people from ages 18-24 tend to stop being religious, and the numbers are actually lower for those that attend college! Great insight Neil.

  5. Bob Tuerck
    February 19, 2016 at 4:33 pm

    I was reached through a Campus Ministry. I can tell you that it changed my life in a very profound way. I think lack of kingdom vision is a great way of putting it … it IS a very costly endeavor to something that might not help their church in the future as the kids leave college to get a job. But I think the local church IS strengthened in its worship and in its outreach because of a vibrant campus ministry. It is a matter of looking long term for the good of THE church–not the good of THEIR church.

    • Neil
      February 19, 2016 at 4:41 pm

      Bob, I couldn’t agree more! And, thanks for sharing your story. My life was also changed through campus ministry. Thanks again for chiming in!

  6. Randy Gore
    August 22, 2016 at 8:21 am

    Hey Neil. In your paragraph, “A Word About Churches,” are you thinking that it’s better for our campus ministries to be independent entities rather than part of local congregations?

    • Neil
      August 22, 2016 at 8:33 am

      Hey, Randy! Thanks for chiming in. That’s a good question. No, I’m not saying campus ministries should be independent. I lead a campus ministry that’s overseen by a local church and we have a great relationship. I added that paragraph to point out this reality: as the church goes, so goes the campus ministry. It’s hard to have a vibrant, growing campus ministry that’s connected to a dying, shrinking church. Thanks again for chiming in!

  7. Mark
    January 23, 2018 at 6:09 pm

    If you have a church with leadership that reaches out, things may be better. However, too many church leaders and the leadership as a whole are insular. They want to keep their members happy and not upset them. College students are a highly educated group who will discuss any topic including those which would make a cofC roof cave in. I only saw one minister willing to take on a Sunday school class of (under)graduate and law students for about 6 months. I actually went to it a number of times. No topic was off limits if it came up. This is risky though because your members might not like it.

    I was on a state university campus for years and saw the cofC student ministry. It’s weak because they always wanted you to come to the church building for their Sunday services. No one ever came over and had a service in the univ at like 4 or 5pm. I was not up on Sunday morning and really did not want to a church on Sunday night with majority older people. I was envious of the Methodists because their church did not have a Sunday night service and their minister would come over and participate with the campus ministers in a service and then have a dinner that was open. They let both males and females participate which is one thing the cofC generally will not tolerate.

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