We began as a campus-focused church in 1981, and were located just a block away from the UC Berkeley campus. Around the mid 1980s, our first wave of graduates decided to stay with the desire to build up the church, and to minister to college students as they themselves were ministered to. These members became our “staff.” Since then, with each successive graduating class, some stay and some depart with our blessings. Around the mid-1990s, about half our graduates were choosing to stay, and many of them formed the core of our adult ministry, now called Praxis. Praxis started to build up our children and youth ministries, and along the way, other ministries were started. Praxis also provides much of the background support for our college ministry. Because most of our members have been together since their college days, our church retains the stamp of the college campus experience in many ways. We’ve continued to grow in size, and have become more diversified in ministry areas, but we’ve remained true to our roots and focus as a campus-oriented ministry.
Like a Parachurch
Often people visit our church and say it’s quite different. While we are a church in the conventional sense – a body of local believers that functions as a church – we’re different from the typical church in that we’re actually more like a discipleship-oriented campus parachurch ministry (e.g., InterVarsity or CCC), and our culture and practices reflect this reality. Like other parachurch college campus ministries, our ministry is mostly run by home-grown lay leaders, recent (and not-so-recent) grads raised right within our ministry.
Our ministry looks like this: on-campus Bible studies, small group meetings, relational evangelism, the nurturing of new believers and discipling them to maturity, through life lived together. Eventually, we hope to invite the people we disciple to become co-workers in the same ministry, just as Paul invited Timothy to “join with him in suffering for the gospel,” and exhorted Timothy to continue to pass on the gospel. “And the things you have heard me say in the presence in of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” 2 Timothy 2:2 (NIV) Because of this campus discipleship focus, in some ways we are much more informal than many churches. Sunday worship service isn’t the most important aspect of our church, although we love getting together as a church for rousing times of praise and to hear the Word preached. And, we don’t consider the ministry of ordained clergy essentially different from what lay leaders do. We consider the ministry that happens throughout the week to be the heart of our church: all the relationship forming, bonding, mentoring, and daily devotions in the Scriptures that our members engage in Monday through Sunday, is the real life of the church.
Our Church-Planting Focus
The dream of “an Acts 2 church in every college town” makes our hearts pump and our eyes tear up. One distinctive in the way we plant churches is that we send off a whole team of people at a time – for the sake of our church-planters and so that from the beginning, there will already be a close community to invite people into. We usually hope to send off around 10 to 15 people. For the most part, the teams consist of our staff (i.e., lay leaders who have been engaged in ministry), who volunteer to go. In the grand scheme of Christian mission work, going to a college town in America is not all that heroic. But every time people volunteer to go, we are so proud of them. There’s the pain of relocating, saying goodbye to many friends, getting new jobs, waiting months for a job offer to come, and all the sheer labor of starting up a new ministry. But we know it will all have been worth it once they meet students on the other side who need the gospel, and who are spiritually hungry. Because the teams who go leave our existing churches, and because they do so as part of our collective vision, our church plants retain our name to continue our sense of oneness as a church. Our dream is to keep planting churches in college towns, and our hope is that these churches would, in turn, become church-planting churches, to reach more and more lives for the sake of the gospel.