Back in the 1890s Ellen White called for Seventh-day Adventists to embrace the public university and see it as a mission field, sending students to it to evangelize through a ministry of presence and positive witness. Two-thirds of Adventist college students today are at non-Adventist colleges and universities, but Adventist Christian Fellowship says maybe 150 campuses, at most, have any Adventist ministry presence. Maybe 1,500 of the 50,000 Adventists on campus are connected with an Adventist ministry.
But we can’t look at campus ministry merely as connecting with Adventist students. There are 19,000,000 students on campus, as much as the combined population of New York, LA, Chicago, Houston, and Phoenix. It’s a vast mission field that Adventists are ignoring. Imagine ignoring those cities. Imagine having no churches in them, despite knowing there were members. That’s the situation with the public university campus.
Campus ministry can’t be hit or miss. The church needs a strategic vision, embraced by the GC, NAD, union conferences, and conferences. Here are my suggestions.
1. Identify key campuses in each conference (in Texas, that would include Texas A&M, UT Austin, UTPA, UT Arlington).
2. Awaken a vision for campus outreach in the congregations near those campuses
3. Appoint pastors to these churches who have experience in campus ministry, passion, and vision
4. Connect with students, faculty, staff already attending the congregation
5. Conference and union need to support this outreach through evangelism funding
6. Gather and train student leaders–not just through blanket advertisements, but through intentional building up of these identified centers
7. At the Union and division level, provide coordination and advocacy, developing a trained cadre of professional campus ministers who can specialize for a career
8. Develop a professional association for campus ministers
9. Collaborate with Adventist colleges and universities so that Adventists on secular campuses can get credit and academic stimulation through classes that they can transfer to their secular campus
Campus ministry isn’t youth ministry. It can’t be done by just having retreats and rallies for students. It needs to be embraced as a unique ministry, as evangelism of higher education, through an incarnational and missional vision.
In Houston, it means abandoning the church growth philosophy that has located new churches in the suburbs, to plant a church within the 610 loop, where students and young adults live and study, investing in a church presence in the heart of the city, claiming it for Christ.