College Students and Church

I was speaking with a friend of mine named Joe a couple weekends ago. Joe and I, along with 500 and some college students from all over Ohio attended a weekend retreat. h20 church( the church we both attend-him at BGSU and I at KSU) holds a fall retreat of sorts each year, and all ohio college churches attend. This was actually my first fall getaway with h20 and it was a great deal of fun, and the weekend all in all was an edifying one. I myself was able to witness the larger movement/body that makes up h20. Can you relate with the encouragement that comes from looking out into a crowd of like-minded people who are worshipping something that is worth their worship, not to mention their lives? I could have witnessed the worship alone that weekend and in that received so much. We received some awesome teachings and a considerable amount of truth was fed to us (borderline prophetical). Anyway, hopefully you are able to gain a good picture of what we experienced, because I have yet to write about the conversation I had with my friend Joe.

Joe goes to Bowling Green State University. It is a joyous occasion for me whenever we are able to interact, and considering we hardly see each other, these conversations have only taken place twice. As you might assume, we were able to talk the weekend at the retreat. After the first session we saw each other and began to catch up on life. We talked about what God has been teaching us and doing through our separate but united bodies. Somewhere in the midst of this conversation, we took a turn into the theological realm (which at our young age can usually result in a multitude of ways-but this one went somewhere good) Soon after this directional change, Joe began a sentence in which he stated, “h20 is the future model of college church planting”. Now, I wasn’t so much caught off guard by this statement as I was intrigued by such a bold claim. While we were having this conversation, the sound of the newest hip-hop songs were playing in the background for a dance party that Joe and I decided not to attend (don’t let this make you question the integrity of our church-hip movement was forbidden). Joe and I moved our conversation to the bonfire outside and I began pressing him for answers to why this conviction resided so deep within him. I asked him about ministries on campuses, multi-generational churches, community churches, the difference between campus ministries and churches (much of which I wrestled with last year, but still did not have rock-solid answers for). As Joe answered and I continued asking, I could tell we were both thoroughly enjoying the conversation. Then, when talking of multi-generational churches, Joe, I believe, said something simple yet profound to the predicament all campus churches find themselves in. He said, “Colleges students just want to be with college students”. It hit me, and I couldn’t keep talking without addressing what he had just said. We talked more about it, and then we ate some s’mores.

All the questions that I was asking Joe, I had once asked myself. So, the concepts themselves were not new to either of us. As I have I taken time to reflect on this question, I have come up with little, but I intend to share it just the same. The question that seems to echo throughout every evangelical lately is “How are we to do church?” This indeed is a necessary question and one to be answered in alignment with the Scriptures. No doubt. The church isn’t merely an institution, but a people, not only a people, but a movement of people. This movement has a message. This message necessitates proclamation, a heralding, by this movement of people. I had once heard someone say, “Contextualize the gospel, don’t compromise it!”. There is distinction here. I think that is exactly what Joe did when he said that college students simply want to be with college students. So, if it is true that college students just want to be with college students(would love to hear an argument against this), how is the gospel to be found in that? What shape does it take? Is it distinct? A college CHURCH? Why not? I quickly forget the opportunity God has given us in a place such as this. A group of young people in such an isolated environment is incomparable. So, in discussing what church is and how it is to look, are we considering our surroundings, are we considering the culture. I can assure you the culture of a college campus is different than that of suburbia. I am not proposing the church is the church without the “close-handed issues” or the non-negotiable’s, but I am proposing that college churches will look vastly different than for instance community churches especially in terms of the ages found within them.

Paul says this “For though I am free from all, i have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win the Jews. To those under the law, I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”-1 Cor. 9:19-23.

This is the Biblical contextualization, not a justification, as I once confused it.



  1. Anthony: I am at peace with your decision to join H2O, so that is not the issue. The reason why you chose to switch from Navs to H2O is still a bit fuzzy to me. The above article really does not clear things up. If it is as simple as college students want to be with college students (which is unquestionably true, for the most part), how is that different from college ministries such as Navs, which are mostly college students? And what happens when you graduate – do you still belong to your “church”? What happens when we try saying that people of the same race like to be with people of the same race, people of the same gender like to be with people of the same gender, people of the same economic class like to be with people of the same economic class? A lot of issues arise when we start contextualizing and calling it church. How about calling it “mission.” Contextualizing appears to me to be a strategy more appropriate for doing mission than for doing church. In short, I still think your best argument for joining H20 is simply that God has called you to serve in another mission and/or fellowship. That requires no explanation. Love ya, bro. KP

    1. K.P.:

      Great to hear from you brother! Thank you for the comment. You are the first, since this blogging thing for me is new. I can see why you might be confused as to why I did go from Navs to h2o, especially if this blog post were a defense or a reasoning as to why I did end up switching. This blog post was not a defense nor a reasoning for why I ended up switching ministries. You are completely right, God called me, and thats it.

      “College students just want to be with college students” was a basic idea for churches (like h2o) on college campuses. It it a basic idea, but a powerful one. You asked the difference between college students being together in a “church” and in a “ministry”. In essence we are asking the same question you and I have both asked. That being, “What is the difference between a church and a ministry?” This is at least what I got from your beginning. I think there is distinction between the two and it may come off sounding legalistic and petty, but I believe you know my heart well enough. My question that always seems put this in perspective is, “Why would Navs encourage it’s students to not attend weekly Navigator meetings, but also attend a church.” Now let me preface this with the acknowledgement of your question regarding students when they graduate. h20’s vision behind this is a powerful one to me, we believe we are not loosing students but sending missionaries out into the world. Missionaries who will be present in hospitals, in businesses etc…That is the vision. A church that is sending people out, and yes, to be apart of other churches. Anyway with that aside, Navs must recognize differences themselves if they also encourage students to attend other churches. Some may be: the sacraments that are practiced, Pastors being present…these things are also found in h2o. Even if Nav students do attend other churches, they are probably near Kent also, so there is also a high likelihood that when they graduate they will be starting all over too.

      I love what you are saying about contextualizing and mission. In my opinion, to have one you must have the other. I believe contextualization is a necessary part of mission, for we see this blatantly in Acts. I would argue that mission (not synonymous with contextualization by any stretch of the imagination, but assuming they are connected) is apart of the churches DNA. Mission is not merely a program of the church but it is the heartbeat and the purpose of the body of people. I do agree, contextualization is not the church, but it is necessary for the church. So, when you argued that contextualizing is more of a strategy for mission than church, I would say that you cant have the church without mission and the mission without the church. They are completely interdependent. A church without the mission of Jesus, is not a church.

      Love ya brother. I really appreciate these thoughts and I hope this answer was honoring to you. Hope you are well brother.

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