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You're equipping campus ministry students to start and lead churches with a missional edge.

Every year, Resonate Global Mission partner campus ministries send out hundreds of students who graduate with leadership skills.

“Campus ministry students are trained leaders,” said Mark Wallace, Resonate’s campus ministry leader. “They’re often trained at leading large groups. They’re good at ...  having conversations about God with friends who don’t believe.”

But after graduating, many of these students have trouble finding opportunities to use their leadership skills in church. Some go onto seminary, but many become leaders in businesses and nonprofits—which is good and something campus ministries want to see. It’s just that those graduates often have trouble finding a place in the local church where they can continue to grow as leaders.

So, what if these students were trained to plant churches?

That’s exactly what Campus Ministry at Grand Valley State University (GVSU), Calvin Theological Seminary, Resonate Global Mission, and local CRC congregations in West Michigan are working together to accomplish.

“We’re creating another pathway for students who have a calling, and who have training and gifting from the Lord, to lead in ministry,” said Scott Stark, a campus minister at GVSU. 

Not Your Traditional Congregation

Campus ministry students will be equipped to start and lead churches—but these churches won’t look like your traditional, established CRC congregations. These student leaders are going to be trained to start and lead micro-churches, which are small communities of anywhere from five to thirty people who share a specific interest, characteristic, or location.

Micro-churches have a missional edge. They are specifically designed to reach people who have never been part of a church, or people who have left the church.

“And I think that’s going to be a whole bunch of people coming out of Covid times,” said Cody Zuiderveen, a campus minister at GVSU who has been leading this project.

Cody said that students who have served as leaders in campus ministry are ideal candidates to start micro-churches. 

“The way campus ministry functions is pretty similar to what we’re asking micro-church pastors to do,” he said. “It fits well with our DNA and the kind of way we do ministry and leadership.”

“It fits well with our DNA and the kind of way we do ministry and leadership.”

It’s also important to note that these graduates will be covocational. That is, they’ll be working in whichever field God has called them to while also leading a church. It’s exactly how student leaders work while part of campus ministry.

“They are covocational in the sense that they are full-time students while giving significant time and attention to leading ministry in a missional way,” said Scott. “That would continue as they graduate—start their new job as a nurse at Spectrum Health, or start their new job as a sales representative for a local business organization—while growing and learning and developing this micro-church.”

Being covocational is often a key aspect of micro-churches. It not only eases a financial strain on a faith community because the leader is self-supporting, but a micro-church leader’s workplace is often a mission field. 

“It offers different imaginations for being church. It’s less of going to church and more in line with living life on mission and joining God at work in their workplace,” said Mark.

With the right support and training, leading micro-churches will be a natural transition for student leaders graduating from campus ministry.

It Takes a Denomination of Support

So, what does it take to support and equip these young leaders?

Resonate provided the funds to kickstart this project through an Innovation Experiment grant, and Resonate staff will continue to provide support as needed. Micro-churches are a relatively new model of church for the CRCNA, and Resonate staff members are also excited to continue learning from campus ministry and these student graduates as they join God at work in their communities.

This academic year, Cody and Scott will be identifying and recruiting students to join a cohort starting in the fall of 2022. The cohort is a two-year commitment for students: Cody and other campus ministers will coach students; Calvin Theological Seminary will provide support for biblical and theological training.

“Our hope is to make ministry training more accessible to a wider range of emerging ministry leaders,” said Aaron Einfeld, Director of Admissions at Calvin Theological Seminary. “We want to partner with other dynamic learning communities that are equipping the priesthood of all believers at all points on their ministry journeys—not just those attending seminary for a full-degree program.”

Local churches will play an important role, too. As students graduate, pastors and churches will take over mentorship roles for graduates.

“They need a context in which they can flourish in ministry after graduating. A congregation, a pastor, that affirms their call to ministry and is willing to walk alongside them to continue encouraging them,” said Cody.

Jim Boer, pastor of Monroe Community Church in Grand Rapids and member of the Grand Rapids Area Church Planting Collaborative, is the first local pastor on-board with this project. He’s been part of the conversation from the start, when Amy Schenkel, Resonate’s Regional Mission Leader for the Great Lakes region first pitched the idea.

“Working with campus ministry students gives local churches the opportunity to partner in the work of mission in a new and potentially significant way,” said Jim.

Resonate and campus ministries often seek ways to help build a bridge from the campus to the church, and this new project is one opportunity.

“Whenever we can find ways in which the church and the campus and the community work together and collaborate … we can actually see little pockets of shalom,” said Scott.

Jim and his congregation are ready to help support these new missional expressions of churches started by young leaders who are passionate about sharing their faith—but these graduates will need more churches to partner with them.

“I get excited when I see the church find new ways to reach people with the message of Jesus,” he said. “I also get excited when our young and emerging leaders are given the opportunity to grow and sharpen their ministry skills. This is what being the church is all about.”