BRYAN?Can a church small in numbers impact college students in a big way? Mike Curry, pastor of Christ’s Way Baptist Church in Bryan, thinks so.
Though only four years old and surrounded by much larger churches ministering to students at Texas A&M University and Blinn College, the church still felt God’s call to begin a ministry to collegians. “We basically had nothing in the way of programs to offer to university students, yet God was sending a small group of six to eight to worship with us,” Curry said. “God began to burden my heart for this group.”
Curry began teaching a college Sunday school class himself, which sometimes had only two or three in attendance. “The greatest difficulty of [a new collegiate ministry] is in the beginning numbers,” Curry said. “When you have a small group and a part of them go home for the weekend or on break at Christmas, it leaves a hole. During those times, it is important to stay focused and to keep others focused on the fact that God is laying the foundation first.”
After contacting the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention’s collegiate ministry consultant, Kevin Ueckert, Christ’s Way received a collegiate intern, Jeff Herrington. Herrington spent the first semester teaching basic spiritual truths to the group. Through Herrington’s ministry, the college group has grown to about 20.
Curry said a small church like Christ’s Way can reach students effectively.
“Not every student is looking for a large church with an abundance of programs,” he said. “Some need a smaller family setting and an opportunity to serve. Therein, God opens the door of opportunity for small churches like Christ’s Way. We are averaging about 100 [church members] in Sunday school, yet we have begun a university ministry.”
“Several [students] have told us how blessed they are because they have been received as a part of a family,” Curry continued. “They are welcomed and given the opportunity to use the gifts and talents that God has given them. They need that opportunity for their own growth.” Furthermore, the church has become a “home away from home” for the college students it reaches. “Sometimes the students will say, ‘I just needed a hug,'” Curry said. “Now that might sound mighty simple, but if you’ve ever been away from your family, you know the time comes when you need that kind of family interaction.”
Meanwhile, Christ’s Way has not only reached students, but the students have impacted the church in a very meaningful way. “We receive the blessing of their youth, vision, excitement, talents and willingness to serve, just to mention a few of the blessings,” Curry said. “And God uses them to stretch us in our vision, in our willingness to minister.”
The SBTC’s Ueckert said bearing this kind of fruit is not unusual for any church dedicated to reaching college students, and he recognizes Christ’s Way in Bryan as a great example of this simple truth. “If a church shows any iota of concern for students and gives them a little bit of opportunity,” Ueckert noted, “there’s going to be some level of students that jump in with both feet, and they will impact a church.”
Ueckert also lists several other reasons to reach out to students, as Christ’s Way has. These include the great need for students to learn from the church about marriage, family, discipleship, and other vital topics at this crucial time in their lives. “Students want to be shaped into who they want to be by people who are getting there,” he said.
Another reason to minister in this way is the need of students to understand living as part of a church body, so that they will be significant members of their future churches after graduation. And Ueckert noted that even during their college years, students’ opportunity to serve can be as great as any other portion of the church.
Even if it is primarily to students returning home for the summer or to only a small group of collegians, nearly every church has the potential to reach college students?and should attempt to do so, Ueckert said. “College students are in a position in life where they are making the biggest decisions of their lives. If we as a church of God do not proactively help them follow Christ in those moments, they are not going to connect with the church in the future.”
While some churches may fear their size, style, or lack of resources will discourage student attendance, Ueckert believes collegians are looking foremost for authenticity. Christ’s Way’s staff often connects with students at Sweet Eugene’s, a coffee shop near to the Texas A&M campus.
“They like real, genuine, sincere people,” he observed. “They want to feel like they enter a place that is genuine. From the preaching, to the music leading, to [everything else], they’re more concerned with how genuine this place feels than with whether or not this place is perfectly their ‘style.'”