This is an article from the November-December 2009 issue: Committed!

College Students

The Powerful 1%

College Students

We don’t have to look far to see the incredible potential of the almost 70 million college students who currently inhabit our planet. Even though only one percent of the world’s population are collegians, what a powerful one percent they are! This small sliver of humanity provides, and will provide, leaders for every facet of society. Each country sends their best and brightest to the university for education and training. Focusing much of our evangelistic, discipling and mobilization efforts on this one percent is a very strategic way to expand the Kingdom of God and fulfill the Great Commission. Dr. Bright of Campus Crusade believed it: “If we can win the university today, we will win the world tomorrow!”

Over 17 million university students (about 1/4th of the world’s collegians) reside in the U.S. and are some of the most reachable, recruitable, trainable, and sendable category of persons anywhere. As I travel and interact with student workers in the U.S. and other countries, I observe a new generation of students worldwide who want to give themselves unreservedly to a cause that really matters. They’re more open than ever to new ideas, philosophies and beliefs. Who and what will fill that hunger for meaning? Will it be world religions, cults, secularism, or the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ?

The challenge, as always, is the lack of workers compared to the ripened harvest. Patti Burgin, author of The Powerful Percent, tells of the need, “There are 3,300 colleges in the U.S. and 25,000 around the world. Despite the efforts of so many groups, more than a third of the world’s college campuses still do not have any contact with full-time Christian workers.” How about you? Will you take some radical, tangible steps to help fill that gap?

Taking a look back, we can see that the Student Volunteer Movement (launching in 1886 a 50-year run of laborers sent to the world) had incredible impact, yes, but also produced conflicts and lessons learned. If we’re going to capture and unleash this generation’s powerful percent in a way that extends the Kingdom most effectively, we should seek to create a healthy synergy between local churches, student ministries and mission agencies. Working together with a “Kingdom” mentality, our ministry and mobilization of students needs to be:

1. Church-Based

Jesus said, “I will build My Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Mt. 16:18). Local fellowships all over the world must feel strongly enough to pray, give and send troops to the final frontiers. Just as the roots of a tree provide stability and resources for the trunk and branches, “World Christian” churches do the same for student ministries and mission agencies. View these two groups as partners, not competitors, in your efforts to identify and launch young workers.

Note: The word “church” is taking on broad expressions, from the big traditional, denominational congregation all the way to the eight-student “cell church” on dorm floors. We need them all!

2. Student-Focused

Could the 70 million college students in our world today comprise one of the most powerful sources of manpower (and womanpower!) in all of history? Nearly every major mission movement in modern history had college-aged young people at the forefront. Then and now, they supply the crucial personnel for the bottlenecked task of which Jesus spoke in Mt. 9, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”

Note: All laborers obviously don’t come from universities. Many are singles, young marrieds, mid-life, even retirees. But the Body of Christ dare not neglect the winning, building and sending of collegians and recent grads if we are to sustain students and grow the number of short- and long-term laborers on the field.

3. Agency-Linked

The roots illustrate the essential and foundational teaching, nurturing and supporting that local fellowships provide. The trunk of the tree is sunk down into those roots to sustain students, a ready and willing vast army of world changers. But the roots and trunks can’t reach up into the sky to heights unknown; only the branches are designed to do that. The branches symbolize the hundreds of excellent mission agencies spread out around the world, praying and waiting for fresh recruits to join them. They are seasoned “on-the-field” strategists who can place, guide and shepherd the workers sent their way.

Note: Some local churches are taking on the entire process of preparing and sending long-term mission teams themselves—without the aid of agencies. This is fantastic as long as they provide experienced leadership on the field and hands-on care and direction to the team. If not, you can partner with an agency, but still have a “church-based” team birthed out of your fellowship!

History Makers: The Power of One

So, what is the potential of just one student? I’ve observed that great campus revivals can usually be traced back to just one radical student (not staff!) who took the person and purposes of Jesus Christ seriously. As I look closely at the lives of these visionary young men and women who have great impact, they fit into one of these categories:

1. Those who watch history
2. Those who study history
3. Those who make history

Let’s recommit ourselves to focus on and unleash this powerful one percent of humanity to make history and help complete the evangelization of the world—in this generation!


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