On July 14th Dr. Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, released an article urging churches to prioritize reaching, baptizing, and discipling students. If you haven’t read the article, you should. In it, Dr. Floyd gives a sobering statistic: 60% of Southern Baptist churches reported no student baptisms. Yes, you read that correctly. As someone who has been called by God to student ministry for the last 14 years of my life, this statistic causes a variety of emotions. I agree with Dr. Floyd when he states in his article that this is “unacceptable and must change.” I hope you agree as well.
This is not merely a denominational problem. Regardless of your denominational affiliation, or non-affiliation, there is an increasing challenge in reaching students with the gospel. I think you would agree that now is the time for those of us in student ministry to ask some important questions.
1. What has God called you to do?
Let me draw you back to the Lord’s call for all disciples found in Matthew 28:18-20: go make disciples, baptize them, teach them. There are many student ministry philosophies that exist in the church today, which is good and healthy because churches have their own unique context. However, if we aren’t accomplishing these three things given to us by Jesus, can we really call what we are doing “student ministry?” God hasn’t called us to keep a group of students busy until they go to college. He hasn’t called us to make sure that a group of students stay out of trouble until they leave our watchful eyes. He hasn’t called us to huddle up with one group of students only making sure they know the Bible and theology really well.
He has called us to reach students with the gospel. You can’t go and make disciples without going. We can’t sit in our churches hoping that it happens any longer. We must go to the lost students in our communities and we must mobilize our students, that know Jesus, to do the same. This isn’t a call for every student ministry to be a large student ministry. Each context is different. However, it is a call for each student ministry to reach students.
2. What are you doing specifically to reach students with the gospel?
What does the next year look like for you in ministry? Strategically think through this year around the purpose of reaching and discipling students. Don’t just copy last year’s calendar to this year’s without stopping to evaluate in light of a Kingdom purpose. Don’t stop with just your ministry and your church. Are there other churches in your region that you can partner with to have a greater impact for the gospel? Are there resources, programs, and training that you can offer to other student ministries who need them? For us to truly see a revival among this generation of students it is going to take working together.
3. Do you actively pray for God to move in this way?
Salvation is from God. He is the one that draws the heart of a student. Do you pray for Him to do this throughout your ministry? It seems like such a simple thing to do, but I think we would be embarrassed by the collective amount of prayer that happens for this one thing in student ministries across the country. I don’t doubt that it happens, just that it happens consistently and fervently. We should be praying for this to happen more than just before a service or an event. It should permeate our prayer life. It should be modeled to the students and families in our ministry as we disciple them. If this isn’t happening in your life, it won’t happen in theirs. For many, we need to repent of our lack of prayer.
4. What can you do this year to reach more students than you did in the previous year?
Set a goal. No, goals aren’t bad. Numbers aren’t bad. You need to have something to aim for, something to pray for. You don’t need to be defined by your number, but you should have one. I can’t tell you what your goal should be, but I can ask you to ponder this question: what would it be like if the churches who reported no baptisms last year each baptized one student per month for the next year? Some of you will need a much higher goal based on your context. Again, I can’t tell anyone their goal, but I believe that each student ministry can do something. There are people to reach in your region. Go reach them.
Things must change, and we can be part of that change. I’ve given my life to student ministry because of God’s call and because I believe He wants to do something unimaginable with this generation. I know you believe that as well. I know that you are in student ministry because of your passion to reach and disciple students. This generation is not gone forever. The stats of years past don’t have to be the stats of years to come. They can be reached. Revival can happen. The harvest fields are ripe. Will you join me in prayer and will you join me in action that this is the year it begins?
Ben Trueblood serves as the Director of Student Ministry for Lifeway Christian Resources and has served the local church as a student pastor for fourteen years.