SPRINGFIELD – It’s a simple idea, but a revolutionary one in the world of college ministry: group church visits. Starting this semester, MBCollegiate Apprentice Levi Springfield and his girlfriend, Kaelyn Denham are taking their group of Missouri State University college students on monthly church visits to help them find and plug in to a local church.
Springfield has seen a trend in BSU ministries that he says has “been here since the age creation of the BSU”: students often find their community at the BSU but don’t connect with a local church; if they do, their involvement is largely limited to Sunday pew-sitting. The BSU effectively becomes their church. Springfield finds that mentality problematic, and he wanted to reverse the trend within his own ministry.
“My fear is that we typically only have these students for 4-6 years. When they graduate, where are they going to be? They’re not going to come back to the BSU,” Springfield says. Teaching them to be part of a local church while they are still in college sets them up for a long-term investment in the body of Christ years after they have graduated the college.
Denham concurs. “The church as a whole is important,” she says. “Our goal with the BSU is to help students see that our ministry doesn’t replace the church but goes alongside the church.”
Springfield believes discipleship must involve the whole body of Christ. “If it takes a village to raise a child, how many people should it take to disciple men and women in the truths of Scripture?” he asks. “I think as a body it takes many to equip and prepare for all the stuff we face in the wilderness of this world.”
When students are only connected to a college ministry, they miss out on a key aspect of the body of Christ – diversity. “In a church, you find people without college degrees and those with; people that are old, middle-aged, and very young,” says Springfield. “Some might be married, some have kids, some are single. Backgrounds on where/how they grew up will be uniquely different in the local church. As a BSU of a college campus, we often lack those diversities.”
Denham finds great value in being around older women and couples, especially as she and Springfield pursue a godly relationship. “You gain some wisdom and advice from people your own age or a few years older,” she says, “but there’s a lot of wisdom from people who have been believers for a lot longer, who have been through those life experiences already.” She wants their students to experience that fullness as well.
While Springfield and Denham have a church home, they recognize that not every student will connect well with their church. “Everyone is created different and unique,” says Springfield. “So are our churches. The theology is there, but how they do things and live it out is uniquely different.” They want their students to “express what they value and prefer and help get them plugged in somewhere that will help them grow,” says Denham.
The monthly visits provide a context where they can expose their students to different congregations in the Springfield area, invoke conversation about local church involvement, and prod students to find their own church home. The visits themselves are just a springboard to show their students the value of the local church and spark the desire in them to get involved in one. “We are opening the door for them to see, ‘I need to be involved in the local church, in the body, the family of Christ,” Springfield says.
The couple often uses lunch time on Sundays to text the students in their ministry about their church experiences – or lack thereof – that morning. After the group visits, they encourage the students to consider if the Spirit is pushing them to go there. “This isn’t an event that we do and never talk about,” Springfield says. If a student is reluctant to return alone, Springfield and Denham are more than happy to go with them again and help them get connected.
After just two visits in January and February, they are already seeing fruit. Springfield tells of one student who he has been trying to help overcome harsh feelings toward the church. In January, this student went home after the service “realizing they really want to be connected in church and desperately now see a need to be connected to His Family,” Springfield says.
Several students who weren’t already invested in a local church have plugged into the two churches they have visited so far. A non-believing student who is “just beginning to open up to Christ” came with them on one visit.
Denham sees that their students have been both surprised and encouraged by this new aspect of their ministry. Students are used to college ministries providing a worship service experience in the evening that gives them a good reason not to get up on Sunday morning. “A ministry that is pushing both college ministry and church involvement has been really refreshing for some students,” Denham says.
The church visits aren’t just for the students’ benefit, however. The couple sees them as a way to “share a little love and pour a little back into” the churches who partner with their ministry by providing meals for their weekly dinners and other forms of support.
Springfield firmly believes that God provides the right tools and people every believer needs to accomplish His plan in their life, and the local church is a key piece of that. “I believe we will see this more and more once students are connected to a local church and not just a BSU,” he says.