This is an article from the July-September 1999 issue: Winds of Renewal

Walk Me To The Field

Bridging the Gap from High School and College to the Frontiers

Walk Me To The Field

One hundred years ago, the Student Volunteer Movement shook the nation and placed what would be one of the more exciting bookmarks in Christian history. Some 100,000 students committed to going to the mission field, and within 20 years were either in the field, in training, or committed to sending. Students of great caliberphysicians, scientists, engineersgave up successful careers to serve the uttermost parts. By 1920 approximately one student volunteer sailed for the field each day. In time, 20 percent of the 100,000 volunteers were on the field.

With the recent stirrings in the student world, a number of people at the U.S. Center have been moved to help facilitate student mobilization nationwide. Clearly, though, it's not just the U.S. Centerand it's not just recently.

Every three years the small, rural Illinois town of Urbana has an atmospheric transformation. Thousands of students together cry out for the Lord in this place, seeking vision and direction about world mission. During the most recent 1996 event, 19,300 students collectively worshiped and nurtured a passion for unreached peoples. Urbana is just one of the more established examples of the Lord's stirrings in the student world.

At the 1996 Urbana, 15,857 students made commitments ranging from yielding to Christ's Lordship to full-time mission work.

In Urbana's 50-year history, this number has never been matched. Yet statistics show a decreasing percentage of students are actually following through and making it to the mission field. At the last Urbana, 2,867 (almost 7 percent of attendance) committed to life work as a missionary. During the decade from 1910 to 1920, the SVM ushered an average of 10 percent from their Convention to the field each year.

A special interest group at the U.S. Center began initial research on Student Mobilization in the Spring of 1998 and found powerful whispers from God in many ears. Sparks of passion can be traced across America, students are bowing before the Lord, and groups are rising up to see what God is doing.

Numerous colleges have boasted growth in their student mission movements. Dr. Timothy Tennent of Toccoa Falls College reported last year that

"We are in awe this year at the remarkable things that are happening. It is student-led, student-initiated, student-directed...

This is one chapter of close to 100 student mission fellowships active on Christian college campuses throughout North America."

"There has been an exponential growth in the number of worship fellowships that have started in the past five or so years -- especially since the revivals that swept college campuses four years ago," said Brad Jones, Interim Director of the Office of Christian Outreach at Wheaton.

"We are in awe this year at the remarkable things that are happening. It is student-led, student -initiated, student-directed."

Gatherings seeking to discuss and nurture these movements nearly overlapped on the calendar. For instance, The Ivy Jungle College Ministry Conference, gathering Nov 18 - 21 in Orlando, provided evangelicals in college ministry an opportunity to share ideas, track trends and learn how to more effectively grow student movements that honor God. The USCWM arranged a consultation in the Chicago area on Nov 6 - 8 for key mobilizers to hear from each other, from the Lord, and to evaluate current strategies and to collaborate efforts (see Chicago Consultation page 14).

Through correspondence with numerous mobilizers over the last year the term "bottleneck" has come up many times. This term illustrates the difficulty young people have in following through on mission commitment. Many students express a commitment and call to serve the goal of the Great Commission but a much smaller percentage actually walk that commitment out and become full-time missionaries. The reasons students do not make it to the field are the same virtually everywhere. Among the most prevalent are debt and marriage.

While the "pool" of interest may be growing, it seems the bottleneck is growing too. Can we continue to ignore this? There is no denying the great leap from mission commitment to mission work. Caleb identified the problem, also known as the "funnel," in the mid-80's while examining the ministry's effectiveness and barriers. Their study recognized seven stages of mobilization.

  1. Initial Exposure
  2. Growing in Biblical and Global Awareness
  3. Gaining a Vision of What Can Be Done
  4. General Commitment to Do Something
  5. Waiting and Guidance
  6. Specific Commitment to a Particular Ministry
  7. Active Role in Completing World Evangelization

The broadcast method (conferences, dramas, posters) is used by most organizations for the initial exposure stage, and it is very effective. This general approach seems to work as a guide for students through stage two, three and four as well. However, the method must turn more personal in order to be effective for the important stages four through six when a student is moving towards the specific commitment.

"Once someone makes that initial general commitment, we need to focus our efforts and work with them on a more individualized and personal basis," stated the Caleb report. "We need to do more to ensure that committed people take those last few steps to strategic involvement."

The irony is that most mission agencies and campus ministries focus their efforts on the first 4 stages. We are seeing today that there is a great need for mentoring as the students grow in their mission commitment in order to make the many necessary decisions. For the mission-oriented student to plan his future effectively, a like-minded person must be available to influence those decisions.

Through much research, the most recurrent "need" stated is for mentoring, church involvement, and unity among mission efforts. We challenge you, individually and as ministries, to evaluate your mobilization efforts in each of the seven stages. We may be raising more questions than answers, but our intention is to encourage thoughtful consideration of this crucial topic. We invite you to respond with input about your student mobilization thoughts and experience. We wish to learn more of God's movement amidst young people today. Send feedback to [email protected].

God is stirring this generation. Let's examine how He's moving amidst us and join Him in His work.

Lydia Reynolds served at the U.S Center in the World Christian Experience program. She is a working on her Bachelor's in Journalism at Spring Arbor College, Michigan. [email protected]

The Great (and Not So Great) of the Student Volunteer Movement

The Student Volunteer Movement is estimated as responsible for sending one-half of all missionaries from the U.S. in the period 1900-1920.

A move of comparable scope today would raise up roughly 1,000,000 foreign missionaries.

But SVM missionaries also severely crippled the indigenous African church by replacing "under-educated" African church leaders themselves, creating largely Western-styled ministries. For these reasons, the church "never grounded itself in the life fibers of the African community."1

Stateside, John Mott admitted that "the greatest weakness of the Movement is its comparatively feeble prayer life."2

  1. Sempangi, Kefa, A Distant Grief. Glendale: Regal, 1979, 34.

  2. Smith, Cindy and Joseph L. Cumming, Rebuilding the Mission Movement. Pasadena: National Student Missions Coalition, 1982, 488.


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