In the Pre-Convention 2015 issue of SBC LIFE, much was said about bringing college students to Columbus to participate in Crossover, the Pastors’ Conference, and the SBC annual meeting as a part of the “ForColumbus” mission project. Some thought the idea was brilliant. Others were a bit more skeptical. One concerned voice asked, “Is it really a good idea to bring college students to our national business meeting?” Fortunately, the idea worked incredibly well, and the 504 participants gave us our answer: “College students absolutely belong at the SBC.”
As the dust settles from the 130+ ministry projects completed over the ten days, we’ve realized that the impact of ForColumbus exceeded our planning and expectations. Columbus-area churches and communities alike continue to experience strong returns on SBC missional investment. The commitments of college students and church planters now preparing to return and/or relocate to Columbus are showing us that God is preparing us for something great in the city.
The “wins” related to the ForColumbus project are numerous, and we are daily hearing more feedback and stories from those who came from the outside and from locals invested in Columbus. So far, we’ve recognized nine high-value “wins” around engaging students in ForColumbus and the SBC.
Win #1: Accelerating the Mission By Five Years
Rich Halcombe, director of missions for the Metro Columbus Baptist Association, explained the impact best: “Crossover ForColumbus has accelerated the mission of our ministry and churches five years across the city. This process has been incredible.”
Win #2: Completing the Stowe Mission Build-Out
The SBC Pastors’ Conference decided to allocate their annual offering to complete the resident ministry center at the Stowe Mission, an inner-city ministry of the Metro Columbus Association that helps meet physical, emotional, and spiritual needs in the community. NAMB leadership, seeing the impact of the ministry, presented Stowe with a check for half the funding needed and committed to do a dollar-for-dollar match of all funds given at the Pastors’ Conference. During the week, Stowe Mission saw their goal achieved and exceeded, and college students had front-row seats in watching God orchestrate an incredible fundraising process.
Win #3: Engaging Mosques, Temples, and Cultures
During ForColumbus, college students were trained by IMB and NAMB leaders to engage other cultures in Columbus and share the Gospel in the process. This training gave numerous students their first opportunity to share the Gospel with people of other faiths.
Win #4: Scripting Gospel Sharing
All participants at ForColumbus were challenged to share the Gospel three times daily. Most spent time on Ohio State’s campus doing direct evangelism. For the majority of participants, ForColumbus marked the first time they had personally shared the Gospel with someone. This step, though small, has huge ramifications for Columbus and the locations to which the college students will return.
Win #5: Calling Students Back to Columbus
Each night of ForColumbus, students heard from local church planters in the process of starting churches within the next twelve months. The planters invited students to move to Columbus to work alongside them. By the end of the project, at least a dozen students had committed. The goal locally is to see 10 percent of all those who came to Columbus move here for ministry. Early indicators show that that goal may happen sooner than expected.
Win #6: Challenging Students to Leverage their Lives
Throughout the project, participants were also challenged to give two years post-graduation to finding jobs in places where they can assist in the starting or expanding of local churches. Several students shared how they had a completely new vision of what ministry can look like for their lives. It will take time to assess the impact, but if participants accept the two-year challenge, it could have a huge impact across NAMB’s Send Cities and in cities around the globe.
Win #7: Connecting College Students with SBC Disaster Relief (DR)
ForColumbus presented a valuable opportunity to connect participants cross-generationally as SBC DR participants (many of whom are retired) worked alongside college students. Shower and feeding units aided the mission work process, and the NAMB collegiate DR team painted a clear picture of how important the SBC response system can be in providing “help, healing, and hope” through the mission and ministries of local churches.
Win #8: Designing of Projects Locally
To prepare for ForColumbus, local ministries and churches were asked: “What can participants do to help your church engage your community more effectively with the Gospel?” As a result, students participated in all types of projects, from trash pick-up, to community gardening, to VBS, to community canvassing. As they did field-designed projects, students saw simple ways to engage communities. They were able to share the Gospel broadly and they were able to forge church-centric partnerships that will last well beyond the duration of the project.
Win #9: Collaborating Across the SBC Tribe
At the forty-thousand-foot level, ForColumbus created a local missional convergence of the SBC family. Local churches, Baptist Collegiate Ministries, seminaries, mission boards, agencies and their leaders, and community leaders all cooperatively engaged Columbus. The project made it clear that the Cooperative Program is far more than a funding mechanism; it is a collaborative missional framework.
In essence, ForColumbus resulted in a win/win/win opportunity. The city of Columbus “won” through the completion of projects that it deemed meaningful to its residents. Local SBC churches “won” because missions efforts performed around their campuses granted increased opportunities to share the Gospel with their neighbors. College students “won” because they engaged in work that will have a lasting impact far beyond the time they spent on the ground in Columbus. Cumulatively, these wins allowed everyone to see and experience SBC missions partnership at its best.
In an era when many lament denominational decline and the exodus of millennials from churches, ForColumbus helped us see how bright the future can be. Big mission activity happened as a part of the SBC’s annual meeting this year in Columbus. As students gained positive exposure to the SBC’s many ministries and current leadership, they sensed that they are a part of something far greater than themselves or even the churches they attend. For the first time, many of them became aware of the multigenerational, multicultural, and geographically diverse strength of the SBC.
In the final analysis, our prayer is that ForColumbus will do two things: 1) serve as a defining moment for participants to commit their lives to making disciples and living their lives on mission; and 2) serve as a template for engaging college students to engage in city-reaching missions around future SBC gatherings.
Will you begin praying now for Saint Louis (2016) and Phoenix (2017) as the SBC annual meeting moves to other great Send Cities? May God continue to do great things in and through college students as they take on increasing leadership within the Southern Baptist Convention.