ALEXANDRIA –By calling its own “campus pastor,” Main Street Baptist Church in Alexandria is taking a fresh look at young adult ministry—discipling and commissioning young Christians to serve as missionaries on their school and college campuses.
“The only way for us to know what’s going on at the university is for us to be there,” senior pastor Bob Franklin said, using nearby Northern Kentucky University as an example.
Noting that a campus pastor puts a new spin on the traditional youth pastor position, Franklin said through the approach, “We can then help (young people) be ready to move into this reality” no matter what type of school they attend.
The transition Main Street Baptist is undertaking is an example of what will be discussed at Changing the Channel, the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s young adult ministry conference April 12-14 at Cedarmore Camp & Conference Center in Bagdad.
Usually aimed at Kentucky Baptist Campus Ministry staff and leaders, this year marks the first time the conference has been promoted heavily to young adult and collegiate ministers across the commonwealth.
“In the past, our emphasis has been on the core leadership of Baptist Collegiate Ministry,” said Brian Combs, KBC’s interim collegiate evangelism strategist. “Now we’re trying to reach out beyond BCM and bring in more church-based ministries.”
The early-bird registration deadline is March 1. The $75 per person fee includes meals and lodging. After March 1, the fee increases to $95, with a deadline of April 1.
Registration can be completed online at www.kybaptist.org/channel or through the network of Baptist ministers currently serving on 20 Kentucky college and university campuses.
Keynote speakers will be Ron Edmondson, senior pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington; and Brian Frye, collegiate evangelism strategist for the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio.
The conference also will feature breakout sessions on leadership essentials and engaging young adults in seven key areas: arts and entertainment, business, church, education, government, media and the social sector.
“Brian (Frye) will talk about the strategic importance of the university campus,” said Combs, pointing out that nearly 6,000 international students enrolled at Kentucky colleges last year. That number represents an increase of more than 13 percent from 2011.
“There are opportunities for our churches to take the gospel to unreached people groups right here, right now in Kentucky,” he continued.
“Sharing Christ with college students from other countries, discipling them and then helping them prepare to return to their home countries as missionaries costs much less in Cooperative Program dollars than training people to serve through the International Mission Board. It’s a way to add to the work of our IMB.”
Not only has there been an explosion of international students in recent years, Combs said other cultural shifts are affecting outreach efforts.
No longer can churches rely on traditional Bible education programs and time-honored methods to reach young adults, he said.
Churches that are effective at reaching young adults emphasize building relationships. When college students sense a connection with a congregation, they will drive 30 to 60 minutes to be part of it, Combs said.
“This can be a person or a couple who visits (a college) campus, shares Facebook messages or takes the student to lunch,” said Combs, who served for 11 years as Baptist campus minister for Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights.
“It’s a discipling relationship. We need to develop connections that go beyond Sunday morning,” he added.
This emphasis on one-on-one relationships is good news for Kentucky Baptists who attend churches with small staffs, Combs continued. An estimated 1,300 KBC congregations have an average weekly attendance of fewer than 100 people. Hundreds more churches have a weekly attendance of fewer than 300.
“No matter what size a congregation, people can meet and support young adults and help them reach others for Christ,” Combs said.
He said young adults often react negatively to the impression that churches only care about them when they need Sunday school or nursery workers.
“Where young adults get excited is when the church sends them to their campus and says, ‘We’re sending you as a light in a dark place,’” Combs said. “When we do, we will support them as we do international missionaries. We will pray for them and support them.”
This kind of missionary outlook is what inspired Main Street to hire a campus pastor to their young adults. The new staff member is expected to begin serving in early May.
Some may see the “campus pastor” step as ground-breaking, but Franklin said it represents a return to the past.
Before the Industrial Revolution, young men and women were typically trained in job skills and faith by older adults, he said. However, with the onset of factories, life-long learning was reduced to specialized tasks that could be acquired in a matter of days.
The pastor said churches imitated this mindset, trying to teach young people Christianity through educational programs. However, with up to 80 percent of modern teens raised in church later walking away, it is obvious that system has failed, Franklin said.
He hopes to explore this idea further at Changing the Channel, which Franklin said can help churches interact more effectively with the unchurched and unbelievers.
“We can’t sit behind the walls of our buildings and expect this culture to know we exist,” Franklin said. “We have got to be out there engaging them. This (conference) can help us be strategic with our resources.”
For additional details on Changing the Channel, visit www.kybaptist.org/channel, follow @kybcm on Twitter, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (502) 489-3573 or 1-866-489-3573 (toll-free in Kentucky).