ST. LOUIS – A July 2021 InterVarsity Christian Fellowship survey found that today’s college students, identified as Generation Z, experience isolation and lack social interaction in their lives. For church they desire community, Scripture study, and prayer.
Jordan Cox, lead pastor of College Park Church, which meets at Missouri Baptist University (MBU), saw the same characteristics among students, leading him to plant the church a year ago. Fellowship of Wildwood in St. Louis County was the sending church, and NAMB’s Send Network provided support. Cox is bi-vocational: He’s also assistant professor of music, director of choral activities, and fine arts chairperson at MBU.
“Our students want to learn more about what many mature Christians think are the basics: how to study the Bible, prayer, and evangelism, and then how that practically plays out in their lives,” Cox says. “This generation wants discipleship. They want people to pour into them. They want someone to live life with them.”
Cox says that he and his wife, Kasey, learned as they worked with students (she’s an MBU assistant professor of theatre) that “they were struggling to connect with a local body” if they weren’t from the area. If they were, some “didn’t feel like they really belonged to the church their parents were connected to. They weren’t engaging.” Also, though it’s a Christian university, MBU has “a lot of students on campus that don’t know the Lord. So, there’s an evangelism opportunity.”
The church focus is similar to other churches that serve the communities around them.
“On a college campus your immediate community is those that are on that campus,” Jordan says. “I probably see my congregants more than most full-time pastors because I see them at the coffee shop on campus. Or, I walk past them on the way to class or I’m going to chapel service with them. We’re in community throughout the week.”
He says ,“We have a unique opportunity here to have our (church) framework built around the crazy schedules of a college student.”
His wife Kasey explains that “college is a very busy time for most students. Most of them just do not have the time to engage outside of a Sunday morning. Their schedules are weird. They might work through the night, then they have a ten to noon slot open for a Bible study but they’ve got to find a church that has that. Then, they have to go off campus for it.”
College Park’s Sunday morning service started with the 2020 fall semester in August with about 50 members—MBU students and families from Fellowship of Wildwood. During the summer attendance dropped to about 40 but Jordan sees that increasing when the fall semester begins.
On Palm Sunday the church had its first baptism service with eight baptisms. “That was so exciting to get that affirmation from the Lord that He was at work and He was moving,” Jordan says.
College Park’s small group Bible study is handled through MBU’s Office of Faith and Service. The partnership boosts participation in a program MBU was already providing, and provides College Park members additional discipleship opportunities.
Resource sharing between church plants and established on-campus organizations, such as the Baptist Student Union, is a model Jordan believes could be used to meet the NAMB Send Network goal for multiplying churches.
He also says that though other churches might not have the close exposure to congregants that he enjoys, they should still strive to engage students. Pastors, student leaders, and other adults can connect through students’ interests and activities, participate in their lives by attending their sports or extracurricular events, or keep connected when they’re away from church.
However, such actions should be around student needs. “We need to know our students and not assume their thoughts and concerns,” Jordan says. “This generation greatly values authenticity and that extends to our conversations and relationships.”
The Coxes say that a young person’s life can be a critical time between youth ministry and the individual becoming fully engaged as an adult church member. If a student has a lack in their life during that critical period, Kasey says “the enemy comes along and he finds that void and he will find something to put there.”
College Park meets at 10:30am Sundays in the campus coffee shop, The Perk.