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Collegians find spiritual depth via church’s small-group studies

COLLEGE STATION, Texas (BP)–A young person’s first taste of freedom as he graduates from high school and goes off to college is the stuff of legends.

Freshman orientation; the first day of college classes; football games; making new friends who come from faraway places; choosing a major; thinking about a career; thinking about marriage. It’s no wonder many psychologists call the early 20s “the dream years.”

For parents the same time could be called the “nightmare years.” Watching their “baby” wave goodbye and head off toward the ivy-covered buildings of academia, parents look back on their own experiences in college and shudder.

College student ministries are sometimes overlooked when churches speak of youth ministries. It’s not that churches do not care about college students; it’s more that churches do not catch a vision for how influential and important “church” is and should be in the life of 20-somethings. Churches often hope that denominational campus ministries or para-church campus ministries will shoulder the responsibility.

Some churches, however, have caught a vision to reach out and minister to college students; among them is Central Baptist Church in Bryan, Texas. Kyle Hoover has been the university minister at Central for nearly four years. Along with his wife, Christine, Hoover works at nurturing, guiding and encouraging college students at Texas A&M in nearby College Station, Texas, as the collegians deal with the question, “What should I do with my life?”

“Students are hungry for truth,” Hoover said. “They want something real, relevant and legitimate for their lives…. They are in the marketplace of ideas and are really trying to discern what is truth and what is error. That is something that is a constant in college ministry.”

Texas A&M is a mammoth land-grant university with more than 45,000 undergraduate and graduate students in 10 different colleges and schools housed in 100-plus buildings across a 5,200-acre campus. Tradition rich, Texas A&M is famous for things like the 12th man at home football games.

Central’s outreach to A&M students has been on a growth curve for more than 10 years, Hoover said. At the beginning of the school year, up to 1,000 students come to church there on Sunday mornings. Of course, that number declines as the semester wears on, and during summers the college ministry draws only about 200 students.

Remarkably, Hoover’s college ministry does not try to implement fancy ideas or newfangled techniques to reach students. Hoover says the success of Central’s college ministry is due to two familiar and time-tested attributes.

“The two strengths of our ministry are our senior pastor and our Sunday School classes,” Hoover said.

Chris Osborne has pastored Central since 1986. His role in and support of the university ministry at Central cannot be overemphasized, Hoover said.

“The college students really enjoy our pastor,” Hoover explained. “He preaches expositionally. He explains the text and gives it firm application for their lives. When the student comes, they get the Word proclaimed to them.”

After the corporate worship service, students are directed to Bible study groups during the Sunday School hour. Hoover’s approach to those groups is based on careful thought about the college student’s stage of life.

“We try to think of every step of where a college student could be,” Hoover said. “Then we try to offer something that’s going to really meet them where they’re at: from someone who just needs the bare bones basics, or needs a book of the Bible, to someone who really wants to comprehend the scope of theology.”

Freedom University Ministry is the name Central has adopted for the collegiate Bible study ministry. Much of Freedom is accessible and administrated through a website, www.freedomcentral.net, where ministers, students and Bible study leaders can find everything from event scheduling to descriptions of Bible study courses to curriculum.

Freedom allows college students to choose from open enrollment Sunday School classes that cover diverse topics such as “Eve to Esther,” “Every Young Woman’s Battle,” “Every Young Man’s Battle,” “Genesis 1-11: A Theology of Origins,” or “The Freshman 15,” to name a few.

Students are not tied to any single class but are free to move from class to class, or remain in one class, according to each student’s needs and interests.

The freedom Freedom gives for students to move about as they please has one downside. About three years ago, Hoover noticed that even though the college ministry was growing and many hundreds of students were being brought into the Kingdom of God and being discipled, there was virtually no sense of community among the students themselves.

“We knew we needed to break things down into small groups to build community,” Hoover said. But the church at the time had no place for a multitude of small groups to meet.

“We started these small group Bible studies that meet at church families’ homes.” At the same time, he continued, “We realized that college students get spoon-fed so many spiritual truths that they don’t learn to dig for those truths themselves. We needed to provide them with tools to study the Word for themselves.”

Out of these needs, Logos groups were born.

“The curriculum is an inductive Bible study process…. The curriculum helps them walk through the text, section by section, each week for the course of a semester,” Hoover said.

The curriculum is developed by a team composed of Hoover, two fulltime associate university ministers and an intern. The team meets together weekly to study and outline a passage of Scripture, assign parts for developing the inductive study and plan for the future. Lesson plans are posted for downloading from the Freedom website.

The team draws on commentaries to make sure the curricular interpretations are theologically sound. But apart from some basic historical background, Hoover said the team is trying not to give the Logos students too much information on the passage. That would defeat the goal of Logos to train students in how to get the answers from the Bible themselves.

More than 30 Logos groups are active, ranging in size from five to 25 members. Logos groups meet one night per week during the semester, on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday night. Hoover estimates “there are between 300-400, or roughly half, of our students who participate in Logos groups.”

“Each group has a guy-and-a-girl student leader that facilitates discussion and teaches everything that is in that entire passage,” Hoover said. The curriculum is accessible for students who have not had the time to study ahead yet challenging enough for students who do their homework.

“These groups are also a way we do a lot of our ministry teams,” Hoover said. “A lot of our ministry happens through Logos groups, like service, evangelism and evangelism training comes through these.”

Hoover thanks God for the impact Logos groups are having on the students.

“We are seeing incredible fruit of people who have been in Logos from the first step,” he said. “We are seeing students who are graduating who are really strong in their faith, who have gotten to know the Word, who have studied and meditated on the Word, who know how to apply it to their lives, who know how to interpret it well and not pull it out of context. So many more of our students are more grounded in truth now.”

One of the important side benefits of the Logos groups is that college students get to be inside the homes of church members and are exposed to what godly families look like. The level of involvement of the sponsoring families with the Logos groups varies. Many sponsoring families sit in on the discussions; some even cook dinner or provide desserts for the Logos group that meets in their home.

Bringing college students into church homes is something that the Hoovers likewise do. He said his wife, Christine, has the gift of hospitality, and so they are constantly inviting students into their home.

“College students love to see a functional family operate,” he said.

Reflecting on what he has learned about building a successful college ministry, Hoover confesses that he feels unqualified to give advice. However, there are some key components he would always put in place, whether in starting up a new college ministry or stepping into an existing one.

“I would make sure there was solid biblical teaching that is relevant to a college student’s world,” Hoover said. “Then I would enlist and help college students take ownership of the ministry: planning events, recognizing needs and meeting those needs. I would help them really understand what it means to be a part of the body of Christ.”

    About the Author

  • Brent Thompson