College students “discovered” the Summit in 2003. If I’m remembering rightly, it went something like this: One week about five college students visited. They pulled up in one car at the drop-off zone, parked it there, and then piled out. They liked the service, and because college students travel in herds, the next week they brought back 250 of their friends. They all arrived in that same one car. In a period of less than a month, our attendance doubled. And during that same time, our weekly average giving increased by $13.48. College students bring a lot of great things—enthusiasm, optimism, evangelistic zeal—but money is not one of them.
One of my favorite memories as a pastor is a Sunday morning when an usher came up to me after the first service with a bacon, egg and cheese biscuit from Bojangles. One of the college students had placed it in the offering plate with a little note on it that read (charitably misquoting Acts 3:6), “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have, give I unto you.”
The leadership of our church realized something pretty quickly. With such a huge influx of college students, we might not be the wealthiest church, but we would always have a large pool of potential missionaries. So we began to challenge our graduating college seniors to let ministry be the most shaping factor in determining where they would pursue their careers. We asked our college students to spend their first two years after graduation pursuing their careers in a place where we are planting a church. As we tell them now, “You have to get a job somewhere. Why not get one in a place where you can be part of a strategic work of God?” We tell them, “Give us two years, and we’ll change the world.” Tongue in cheek, we sometimes refer to this as our “Mormonization strategy.” But it has caught on.
Hundreds upon hundreds of these students have answered that call. In fact, recent college graduates account for a third of the people we send on our domestic church plants.
As we have made room for them, God has provided for us. One week, after we commissioned dozens of college students, a guest from the West Coast visiting our church was so moved by the number of students he saw that he committed to give us $186,000. I stood up the next week and told our students, “Okay, guys, for the foreseeable future, financially, you are covered.”
Reaching college students isn’t just about creating enthusiasm and energy for your church. It’s about seeing God fulfill his promise in Psalm 2:8 to raise up a generation that will carry the gospel to the nations: “Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance.”
Saved = Sent
The Summit is uniquely situated to have a large population of college students. We sit in the middle of three world class universities with a combined student population of 120,000. Not every church has this privilege. But I believe that every church has a ready pool of missionaries, if we will just open our eyes to see them.
Charles Spurgeon once said, “Every Christian is either a missionary or an impostor.” What he meant was that all Christians—not just the Navy Seal super-saints among us—are called to leverage their lives and talents for the kingdom. God’s calling into mission, in other words, is not a separate call we receive years after our salvation; it is inherent in the very call to salvation.
Every believer is given a spiritual gift and a role to play in the spread of the Great Commission. “Follow me,” Jesus said, “And I will make you fishers of men.” If you are following him, you have been commissioned as a fisher of men. That’s for everyone, not just those who feel a special tingly feeling they interpret as the call of God, or those who see some message from heaven spelled out in the clouds.
Too many Christians sit around waiting on a “voice” to tell them what God has already spelled out in a verse.
Another way to put it: The question is no longer if we are called to leverage our lives for the Great Commission; it’s only where and how. That’s a refrain we repeat to our college students so often that they can repeat it in their sleep. God made you good at something. Do it well for the glory of God, but do it somewhere strategic for the mission of God.
After all, plenty of factors go into where you choose to pursue your career. Why not make the kingdom of God the largest of those factors?
Not Just College Seniors—But Seniors
College students are some of the easiest people to mobilize. They’re young. They’re already mobile. In this generation particularly, they are eager to make an impact on the world, help alleviate suffering and do something meaningful with their lives. There is no mission more important than the Great Commission and no suffering more important to save people from than eternal suffering.
Our sending God is calling more than students, however. We need seasoned believers ready to leverage their later seasons of life for the Great Commission as well. Forbes magazine notes that the average retiree now lives 20 years after retirement. For many retirees in our churches, they don’t plan to do much with those years. This is the demographic in our churches with the most life experience, greatest stability and deepest wisdom. They need to be challenged to leverage their lives for the Great Commission as well.
We’ve started to ask our retirees for the same thing we’re asking our college students: Give us at least the first two years of your retirement. Essentially, we’re asking them to “tithe” their retirement to the mission of God. We’ve just begun to scratch the surface of the wealth of wisdom this group can offer young church plants.
Expect Great Things, Attempt Great Things
This month we are commissioning the 1,000th Summit Church member to go out with one of our church planting teams, many of those having been compelled by our two-year challenge. Dream about this: What would it look like if every [Christian] college student accepted this challenge and pursued the first two years of his or her career in conjunction with a church plant? Can you imagine the catalyst this would provide for church planting? NAMB and IMB have identified cities and regions ready to host these students, retirees and others ready to transplant their lives for the sake of gospel mobilization.
Many of us bemoan the faithlessness of the next generation, but I wonder if that next generation is simply waiting to be challenged with God’s vision for the world! Perhaps what we have perceived as idleness is not so much an indictment on college kids and their hard hearts, but on us and our failure to paint for them a compelling vision for global mission.
I believe the young people in our churches are ready to hear, once more, William Carey’s charge, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” Let’s offer them that challenge!
J.D. Greear is pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, one of Outreach magazine’s fastest-growing churches in the United States. This article originally appeared on JDGreear.com.