The United Methodist Church Wesley Foundation ministry (Wesley) is at a strategic crossroads. Most Wesleys have declining participation and decaying (if any) facilities. Virtually all Wesleys fall into the “home away from home for Christian kids” category of ministry. They are basically a young adult church on campus with free food. Leadership development is done through the leading of “ministries” and serving on church-like committees. The clear focus is on modeling “church” leadership and this is not an inherently bad thing. If there is a critical mass of “church kids” or “youth group” kids on the campus (more than 200) then some Wesleys can attract enough of a crowd to be the effective continuation of their church experience. “Thriving” Wesleys are the exception that proves the rule and validates this traditional model of ministry. While successful under ideal conditions, this model cannot be replicated on most campuses.
The reality is that while surveys show more than 15% of college students identifying themselves as “born again”, the institution-oriented “church kids” probably make up no more than 2% of any campus population and generally gather according to their faith tradition (Baptist, Methodist, Jewish, etc.). The other 98% of the student population (the post-Church majority) view Wesley as irrelevant, or invisible. Wesleys do not appear to have an intentional strategy for engaging the majority of the students on campus in a “relevant” way. The “words” most Wesleys use to market themselves, “Worship”, “Fellowship”, “Missions”, and “Bible Study”, carry a largely negative stigma for the vast majority of the students on today’s college campuses.
The Road to Revitalization: The Campus As Parish
This “crossroads” calls for a paradigm shift in strategy and ministry focus. The current model of Wesley ministry must be revitalized with an infusion of relevance and leaders (director, board, and student) who are committed to reaching their entire student body with the love of Christ in exciting new ways. The Director and Board must seek to make a campus-wide impact by seeing the campus as their “parish”.
Relevant Worship Experience, Relevant House, Focus on Leaders
Today’s worship “experience” should be vibrant, multi-sensory, and culturally relevant. The music and visual norms of the campus must be evident when Wesleys gathers to worship and celebrate God. High energy, 75-minute (or less) experiences with great music and creative preaching are essential to change the perception.
Today’s Wesley House should be architecturally significant, aesthetically welcoming, and technologically cutting-edge. Wesleys House must become a safe and peaceful place that most students would want to “hang out”, study, watch a game, play a game, or pray.
Finally, Wesleys should establish an identity that distinguishes it from other campus organizations. Surveys have validated today’s student’s need for leadership training and development. The United Methodist Church and Wesleys are uniquely qualified to meet this “felt” need, and become a dominant force in developing “holistic” leaders. To achieve this goal Wesleys “congregation” should begin with the most influential leaders on each college campus as its core focus. A strategic initiative to identify, connect, and resource this highly visible group over a 2 to 3 year period will maximize the “reach” of Wesleys. It will also create a group of holistic leaders who view Christ as the most outstanding leadership model in history. Wesleys’ commitment to equipping this group to fulfill its leadership potential through projects and events will not go unnoticed by the larger community. These leaders will attract cohorts, team members, fraternities, sororities, classmates, and friends to the “big net” events that expose the masses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His unconditional love. Discipleship oriented “conversations”, small groups, and projects provide students the opportunity to deepen their relationship with Jesus. Justice, mercy, and community-oriented projects provide students the practical opportunity to demonstrate the love of Christ and live their faith.
An Urgent Need
Without a central ministry theme that makes Christ relevant and valuable in the 21st century student’s world, Wesleys will continue on a path to irrelevancy and eventual dissolution. There is an urgent need to make the necessary strategic changes on most campuses because the “window of opportunity” to revitalize Wesleys is closing.