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. Today, two-thirds of Adventist college students are at non-Adventist colleges and universities; though campus ministry efforts are growing, Adventist Christian Fellowship still 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.
Some look at campus ministry as a means to retain Adventist young people who might drift away from the church. But that’s short-sighted. Consider this: there are 19,000,000 students on campuses throughout North America, as much as the combined population of New York, LA, Chicago, Houston, and Phoenix. Imagine ignoring those cities. Imagine having no churches in them. 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.
Campus ministry is a unique ministry–it is evangelism of higher education. It requires an incarnational and missional vision that must start with a love of higher education and of the university community. That’s my first question to anyone who wants to do this ministry–Are you engaged in this community?
Here are some suggestions for its strategic development.
- Identify key campuses in each conference. These might be places where there are already sizable numbers of Adventist students, or because these universities are large or influential.
- Awaken a vision for campus outreach in the congregations near those campuses, or plant a church near the campus. This is especially important in cities where the churches moved out to the suburbs.
- Conferences should appoint pastors to these churches who have experience in campus ministry, as well as passion and vision. The work on each campus should be led by an experienced pastor with the educational qualifications to be an Endorsed chaplain.
- Identify students, faculty, and staff at the university who will be the core team. They can then get the ministry recognized as a student organization.
- The Conference and Union need to support campus ministry through evangelism funding.
- Gather and train student leaders, both on the campus and in wider areas.
- At the Union and Division level, provide coordination and advocacy, developing a trained cadre of professional campus ministers who can specialize for a career.
- Develop a professional association for all those involved in campus ministry. The backbone of the association will be the Endorsed chaplains who can mentor junior campus ministers.
- 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.
- Build campus ministry through Development (i.e., Fundraising), including planned giving. Starting with a student organization and a congregational focus, Adventists need to develop student centers on campus, with full-time professional staff.
These ideas aren’t new. They are the things that have worked for other campus ministries. Adventists don’t need to reinvent the wheel; they just need to be willing to learn. But first they have to catch the vision.