In his book Center Church, Timothy Keller writes significantly on the need to reach global cities. After effectively arguing that cities are going to grow in population and influence for the foreseeable future, he lays out four additional reasons for reaching the city with the gospel. These four reasons, which are actually four strategic groups of people, further show why the city is important. As I read these four reasons it dawned on me that these same four reasons can also be used to show the importance of reaching universities. The strategic groups within cities are as follows: the younger generation, the cultural elites, accessible unreached people groups and the poor. We also see these four groups within a university context.
The Younger Generation
In a New York Times piece entitled “I Dream of Denver” David Brooks wrote: “Cities remain attractive to the young. Forty-five percent of Americans between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four would like to live in New York City.” It is obvious that young people flock to cities and probably always will. This is also true for universities. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 68.4% of high school graduates will go to college. In the fall of 2016 some 20.5 million students attended colleges and universities in America. That is up from 15.3 million since the fall of 2000. Young people are flocking into colleges and universities at high rates. This makes colleges more strategic than ever.
The Cultural Elites
Keller defines the “cultural elites” as those who “have a disproportionate influence on how the human life is lived in a society.” Almost all of these cultural elites went to college before attaining their prominent positions. Not only are young people flocking to universities, they’re doing so to be equipped for, or find out, what they want to do with the rest of their lives. Reformed Theological Seminary Chancellor Ligon Duncan posed this question to Tim Keller, “How are we… to engage our cultural moment?” After explaining how the PCA has lost how to communicate to this secular age, Keller opined on the importance of the college campus. Journalist Zoe Eller summarizes his answer: “According to Keller, if you’re on a college campus, you’re on the culture’s cutting edge. It is, he says, our best leadership development pipeline. By exposing people to the cutting edge of culture where they have to deal with the modern mindset, where they have to deal with non-Christians — that, in Keller’s opinion, is the best way to develop pastors and lay leaders.” Not only are college campuses strategic for the sheer amount of people, but college campuses are strategic because those people are the future leaders of America and the world.
Accessible Unreached People Groups
Many people rightly emphasize reaching “unreached people groups” who are hard to reach and have little to no access to the gospel. Keller also believes that the city is key to reaching these people: “… the currents of history are now sweeping people into cities as rural economies fail to sustain old ways of life” (Keller, 161). This is also true of the university. In 2015, there were 975,000 international students on US campuses. Many of these students come from cultures with little gospel influence and some of them have no gospel influence.
Many of those relocating to cities are poor. Loving the poor is not only a biblical command but is also strategic to giving validity to our gospel witness. When the church loves and reaches the poor within a city they become a city on a hill for the entire culture. Although college students are statistically considered a part of the economically poor, college students are not considered a part of common poorer groups, like the homeless, refugees, single mothers and so on (See notes). That being said, college campuses do have a unique idealism. In short, helping the helpless is “sexy” on a college campus. Emphasizing the poor is not only good for appealing to college students but it is strategic to have future church leaders and lay people who are willing and able to engage “the least of the these” with the gospel and good works.
Seeing that all of these strategic groups are accessible on college campuses should mobilize the church to reach their local colleges and universities. Universities are hotbeds for change, either for the good or the bad. Historically revival movements have been seen on university campuses. Lord willing, we’ll see revival on campuses today.
Over time I’d like to respond and apply the entirety of Center Church to college ministry. All of these posts will be hereon categorized under “Center Campus.”
*“… a poor medical student who suddenly graduates and moves at once from “low income” status to “moderate/high income” status in one year and soon after that to “high income” status. A similar thing happens, in general, to poor college students once they begin climbing their career path.” Wayne Grudem. Politics. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2010), 303.