The Christian Reformed Church in America campus ministry intends to first train GVSU students, with the goal of eventually getting underway microchurches, says Rev. Scott Stark, director of campus ministry at GVSU.
"Microchurches, as we define them, take complex things and make them as simple as possible but they're not simplistic," says Stark. "I'm talking about small communities of people — 5 to 30 people — that are centered around the person of Jesus Christ. They're started by believers but are often designed missionarly in order to welcome de-churched or unchurched people either with shared interests, characteristics, location, and vocation."
Not traditional churches
The campus ministry has served at GVSU since 1965 but is independent of the Allendale Township-based university. Microchurches will be different from traditional churches in that they will likely meet in spaces other than a sanctuary, such as a break room, house or café. And they will not necessarily meet Sundays.
"The context in which the microchurch is forming will help guide the kind of content and process in which community life develops," says Stark.
The GVSU campus ministry is collaborating with Calvin Theological Seminary and Resonate Global Missions to help its microchurches bear fruit.
Another leadership pathway
Microchurches will be an option for students who graduate and serve in a secular vocation but do not discern a call into full-time ministry either at a church or parachurch outreach.
"The microchurch initiative allows us to have another pathway of leadership ministry," says Stark. "It allows students to explore ministry and vocation concurrently with their current vocation. What I mean by that, it's a very old concept. The Apostle Paul, as we understand him historically, was an artisan who made tents for the marketplace. We call him a tentmaker but that just means he was a man with a skilled trade. And as he plied that trade, it was within that context that he would share the Gospel with people. Now, sometimes he would take breaks from that particular skilled trade and do that alongside his Gospel work. Now, try to reimage that life where you are fully engaged in ministry while also actively working in a vocation that is not full-time ministry."
The microchurch program is a training and development two-year ministry. Students who join it will likely do so in their junior year of college. They first must have been part of the campus ministry leadership team and then a ministry intern in order to step into this next level of leadership and empowerment.
According to Stark, students do not necessarily need to be a member of the CRC but it will primarily be within the construct of Christian Reformed polity and theology.
The cycle continues
"By the end of that year, the Lord willing, that microchurch will have been formed and taken on some sense of a core team and a core mission together," says Stark. "So by year two, that person graduates and they're working for XYZ firm in Grand Rapids and also leading a microchurch of recent alumni or maybe some folks in their main pathway track and are saying, 'How do we missionally engage as young professionals in this field?'
"By the end of that second year, that microchurch is well formed and have a clear sense of who it is, its purpose and its mission so it can continue on with whatever season its next life looks like. And as that's going on, we've already been raising up another generation of microchurch leaders who are going to come up with the next generation. And the cycle continues."
Once launched, microchurches will have a relationship to a local church so they are ecclesiastically supported, have structure, mentorship and accountability, according to Stark.
"There's a clear tie for where and how that happens because microchurches, by their nature, are transient," says stark. 'They have shorter life cycles for the most part."
Stark says microchurches is in part a response to students who have ministry leadership skills but are not necessarily called into full-time, staff ministry.
"We've been looking at what are some other pathways for ministry leadership for the folks we would say God's call for them is not to go to seminary and be a parish pastor but they have gifts for ministry that are not being fully deployed in part because a church doesn't necessarily want to ordained someone until they are at least 23," says Stark.
Creating new spaces
What's challenging is that some churches have the unwritten attitude that young people shouldn't deploy their gifts and services unless they're married and have children.
"The fact is many young adults are not getting married and having kids until they're well into their 30s. So then what?" says Stark. "So there's a large group of young men and women who are passionate about their faith who fully seeking to pursue Christ but don't find a real outlet for that in a traditional congregational context.
"Part of the question is how we might create new spaces that allow for them to fly in ways that don't fit well in the traditional congregational context?"
Stark says the first string of students will be recruited next spring. And when microchurches come into fruition, so too will God's peace.
"We believe when we find ways for the church, the campus and city to collaborate, we get to see pockets of shalom happen," says Stark. "That's always been true for us especially with our Grand Rapids ministry as we work to disciple students in that space. So we're very excited that this initiative could further that vision and that goal to create those kind of collaborations so that we see shalom, that is the peace of God, beginning to take root more and more and more."
- Next Article: Nonprofit starts construction on $10m campus renewal
- Prev. Article: Bulthuis & Crew Poised for Benefit.