Students are everywhere at Fulkerson Park. We have students in junior and senior high, undergraduates from a number of area colleges, med students, as well as law students and grad students from a number of departments at Notre Dame – you can’t throw a stone in the church without hitting one. And it’s one of the most exciting aspects of our church. Why?
Our approach here, as everywhere else in how we do church life, is to be missional. Being missional in student ministries means four basic things: we care about pushing the gospel down deep into the hearts of Christians (intensive growth), we care about sharing the gospel out in the world with those who don’t believe (extensive growth), we care about integrating into the broader Christian community (communal growth), and care about sending people out into the world (missional growth).
So the reason we’re excited about students is because students are missionaries – to their schools, to their friends, in their jobs and future vocations. And we get to help build up the Church by preparing and equipping them. So what’s that look like?
Junior and Senior High
We’re at an exciting new stage in our youth program. Like all youth programs, we’ve got teens and pre-teens from 7th through the 12th grades in all different kinds of schooling situations. How could we possibly develop a ministry that meets the needs of such a wide variety of kids? It’s simple: build a high-energy, gospel-driven, church-intensive community where students not only have fun, they thrive. Adults know that you never have as much energy as when you hit that 12 to 18 year old stage. It’s not unspiritual to have fun, intense fun, with students. So we take advantage of it. We’ll be doing cookouts and hiking and mountain biking and trips to the beach and the mall…and more.
Gospel-driven Christians engage culture – they don’t disdain it. (Jesus didn’t come to earth as a generic human, he came as a poor, working-class Jew. He was part of his culture. And Paul did the same thing: he became all things to all men so that by any means he might win some.) So because we’re driven by the Gospel to engage, we’re heavy on the cultural interaction – everything from movies to board games to video games to sports, not to mention retreats, missions trips, and community outreach. Being missional means being sent, and we’re all about being sent out to bring the Gospel into contact with culture.
Last, the youth of a church aren’t a group of second-class citizens. Youth are a part of our family, built on a covenant that cost Jesus his own blood, and they’ve got as much potential as a group in the church can have. We’re proud of the youth. We want them to be visible. We want them to be heard. We want them to take ownership of and profess their faith. They’ve got a lot to teach us.
University Students – Undergraduate and Graduate
Missional college ministry is unique. The last thing students in the university need is to be surrounded only by other students their ages or that share only their interests (academic or otherwise). Instead of keeping all the students together and isolating them from the rest of the church, we train and equip them to imbibe and embody the gospel by being fully integrated and active members of the church family. The best venue for this is through our small group ministry, where smaller groups of people struggle to figure out what it is to live life together. Students join these diverse groups to learn to wrestle with Scripture, develop openness and vulnerability, and share the stress and strain of life with each other.
Students also serve the rest of the body through ministry teams (you’ll see them up front leading worship, behind the scenes helping with audio video needs, volunteering with the children, and more). Our prayer is that they’ll go back to campus encouraged and excited by the gospel – whether they’re undergraduates who live on campus or graduate students who commute but are a presence in an academic department, we hope to equip them to find new ways and avenues to advance the gospel. We also pray that after they’ve graduated or moved on that they’ll have developed strong habits of deep involvement with church life.