What Would It Take?

Brian Musser, Baptist Campus Minister at Drexel University
  • What would it take to reach a community college with over 24,000 students?
  • What would it take to reach a community college where there is no majority demographic among students? What would it take to reach a school where the largest student demographic (African American) is well below half the student population?
  • What would it take to reach a community college with international students from over 50 different nations?
  • What would it take to reach a community college in the heart of Philadelphia and the shadow of center city where parking, public transportation, limited meeting and activity space, and competing activities are normal?
  • What would it take to reach a community college where 73% of the students receive financial aid?

A large, community college in the middle of a major east coast city comprised of nothing but commuter students does not fit into the traditional campus ministry model. A single mid-week large group worship and teaching service might not be a successful strategy to impact this campus. Student discipleship and leadership will be accelerated by the majority two-year associate degree program. Fellowship would be different with 53% of students under 25 years old and 47% over. 

Because of these complications most ministries invest in reaching one of the other 83 colleges and universities in the greater Philadelphia area. Nearby Temple University has twice as many students in a traditional four-year university setting with some residential students. The University of Pennsylvania across town boasts the largest enrollment of any of the prestigious Ivy League schools. Drexel University has an unique classroom-to-work pipeline that attracts out-of-the-box ministries. There are mid-sized state schools and small private religious institutions. All of these give ample opportunity to ignore the Community College of Philadelphia (CCP) for easier ministry fields.

I asked Rev. Stanley Williams, the State Director of Baptist Campus Ministries for Pennsylvania, and South Jersey, what would it mean for there to be a thriving ministry presence on CCP. His response, “It would be placing ourselves at the front door for higher education in the region.” He went on to talk about immigrant and international students learning English or leveling up their international credentials so that they can proceed into other local schools. He highlighted how the college takes underprepared Philadelphia high schools graduates and turns them into university material. He talks about those who at one time gave up on the dream of higher education because of financial, academic, or family issues but came back to CCP or the non-traditional student trying to change career paths and re-tooling for a complex new world. 

It would mean we were there ministering to a school that closely resembles the demographics of our city. Take a minute to compare the student population numbers with city census numbers and you will realize that CCP represents Philadelphia. This demographic distribution looks similar to the breakdown among churches connected to the Greater Philadelphia Baptist Association as well. Out of our 125 churches 59 are Black or African, 24 are predominantly White English speaking, 14 are definitively multi-cultural congregations, 10 are Asian or Pacific Islander, 6 are labelled as other, 5 are Haitian, 5 are Romanian, Russian or Ukrainian, and only 2 are predominantly Hispanic/Latino.

Demographic GroupingCommunity College of Philadelphiahttps://www.ccp.edu/about-us/key-factsCity of Philadelphiahttps://www.census.gov/quickfacts/philadelphiacountypennsylvaniaGreater Philadelphia Baptist Association Churches 
African American41%44%47% (Black or African)
White Only (non-Hispanic)23%34%19% (White-English Speaking)
Asian/Pacific Islander11%8%8%
2 or More3%3%11% (multi-cultural)
Non-resident Alien2%

There are reasons why ministry at other types of colleges is easier but what could be possible at CCP? What if we had a ministry that connected that one incoming CCP freshmen student from Great Commission Church with students who are attending our other churches? What if there was a network built between local congregations from the various ethnic and language groups sending students to CCP? What if the Christian presence on CCP’s campus truly represented the student population, the city population, and our church population? What if this Christian presence was motivated to engage the campus that looks like them with the gospel of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection? What if it was possible to reach our city by reaching the campus that looks exactly like our city?

Redemption City Church (RCC) is a young church that was a recent plant near CCP’s campus, that will be specifically adding a ministry staff person with the intention of reaching the nearby college students. Now resources are limited and for church plants the time investment of staff is crucial. More traditional campuses like Temple, Drexel and UPenn might make more sense for their staff to connect with to maximize their impact.  Developing a ministry at CCP would be time-consuming and difficult with probably several missteps and restarts. But what if that ministry already existed and all RCC needed to do was connect as one of the churches that support the students at CCP?

What would it take? It would take several committed individuals to prayerfully connect our churches and their students together. It would take the whole-hearted partnership of the ethnically diverse Baptist churches to reach the ethnically diverse student population of the Community College of Philadelphia. It would take an individual (or individuals) with the heart of Christ to look at this campus that most of us look over. It will take the Holy Spirit engaging hearts with a passion for the 24,000 students at the Community College of Philadelphia. Is that you?

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