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Conference Table to study nuts and bolts of campus ministries

Conference Table to study nuts and bolts of campus ministries

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Conference Table to study nuts and bolts of campus ministries

Feb. 17, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0443}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

Local United Methodist churches can plant the seed for a relationship with Jesus Christ in the hearts and minds of young adults, but the college campus also offers a significant opportunity to meet that discipleship goal.

How to do that and other issues related to meeting the spiritual needs of students on today's college campuses will be the topic of discussion at the 13th Conference Table Feb. 25, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., at University Carillon United Methodist Church in Oviedo. All clergy and laity are invited to attend the session, titled "Reaching the Collegiate Community."

Dr. Steve Moore, former vice-president of Asbury Seminary in Kentucky, will help participants identify the cultural context of the college community and the environment that shapes students today. Participants will also discuss the development of campus ministry in the Florida Conference and the status of the conference's seven campus units and two United Methodist-related colleges. The day's agenda will end with two discussions on future opportunities for growth and what the local church can do to bring the message of Jesus Christ to the college community. The Rev. Denny Heiberg, pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Gainesville, will lead the last part of the session and share his church's experience offering a college ministry to Gainesville's students.

The Rev. Thomas Jay Kowalski, a member of this Conference Table's planning team and chair of the Florida Conference Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry, said the importance of campus ministry can't be overlooked.

JACKSONVILLE — Access218 campus ministry students "claim the land" during a mission trip. Access is a church-based college student ministry that provides worship opportunities for more than 13,000 students, faculty and staff at the University of North Florida. Photo courtesy of Kelly Moore, Florida Conference Connectional Ministries, Photo #06-311.

"Campus ministry is absolutely critical," said Kowalski, pastor of First United Methodist Church, Naples. "It holds the future for The United Methodist Church. Campus ministries are reaching an age group that most churches are not."

Kowalski said the Florida Conference does not receive a passing grade on capitalizing on the under-tapped area of campus ministry.

"We'd be lucky to get a 'D,' I'm afraid," he said. "We have failed to keep up with the changes in this age group and the ways to attract them. Everybody is struggling with this."

Kowalski said the conference can no longer accept that failing grade because research indicates young people who aren't reached by age 30 are less likely to become Christians.

"Whether or not your church is involved with campus ministry, the local church needs to take it more seriously," Kowalski said. "This Conference Table will be a place to learn what's going on with our young people on college campuses, how they are being reached and how it does have something to do with all of us."

Steve Hambrick, campus minister at the University of Central Florida and a member of the session's planning team, agrees. He said the call of the church is to reach all generations, find that age group of young adults who aren't being reached and offer them a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

"Religious organizations are having a hard time connecting with this generation because there is not a brand loyalty, if you will, in terms of denominations in the younger population. I think that's why many non-denominational churches are flourishing, because denominations are seen as having baggage," he said. "This is something that's happening across denominations. This is not just a problem in The United Methodist Church."

Hambrick, whose ministry regularly reaches 90 to 100 students in weekly worship services and offers seven to eight weekly small groups, said the church is charged with the goal of making itself relevant to this generation.

The Rev. Vance Rains, head of the Wesley Foundation at Florida State University, said the $1.4 million in apportionment funds the conference puts toward higher education and campus ministries shows the conference realizes the importance of reaching college students. He said he is also encouraged by the conference's plans to hire an executive director of higher education and campus ministry.

"We are taking a step in the right direction," said Rains, also a member of the planning team. "A new day is dawning."

Part of that new awakening is for local churches to realize what campus ministries are about and what they do, Hambrick said. While the conference does a good job of financially supporting campus ministry, he said many churches are ignorant about how the funds are being used, what campus ministry looks like, and the impact it is having on campuses and, more importantly, the lives of young adults.

"We appreciate all the local churches because we realize the money comes from apportionments, so we have great appreciation and respect, but we also want them to know we are doing the same things local churches are doing," he said. "We are involved with discipleship, counseling and other activities. We're more than a glorified youth ministry. We're so much more than that. We're doing ministry on the front lines."

And it's never too late to reach this generation of college students and those to come, Rains said, adding many college students have no church-related backgrounds, but are most open to making decisions about their spiritual life while in college.

Rains is doing what he can to make inroads to future generations by repeatedly trying to get the word out about his Sunday worship on campus, involving about 200 students, and the Wednesday night meeting attended by about 100 students.

Claiming these young lives will take active campus ministries and local churches working together to reach young adults, Rains said.

"We (campus ministries) are an extension of every church in the conference. Through us you are there," he said. "To retain this generation it's going to require everybody."

Individuals interested in attending the Conference Table are asked to register at Lunch is provided at a cost of $7 per person. For more information visit the Florida Conference Web site at and click on the Conference Table icon on the left-hand side of the home page.

The gathering will also be webcast live for those who are not able to attend. To enter the Web cast on the day of the event visit the conference Web site at


This article relates to Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry/Conference Table Gatherings.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.