"We are seeking ways for our ministry to reflect the campuses we serve"
“Everyone wants to be seen,” said Philip Thomas, Area Director for Campus Outreach Charlotte. “Christians are generally very welcoming and inviting, and that was the case (when I was a student) at Wingate. Oftentimes, beyond that initial meeting, there were plenty of times we would walk by those same people and not even be recognized or seen. There was no sense of ‘I want to engage with you personally beyond the event.’”
As a football player at Wingate University, Philip’s two worlds - Campus Outreach and athletics – didn’t seem to collide. Though he was leading a Bible study for the team, inviting those friends into the bigger CO culture was challenging.
Philip recognized a need.
During a student-leader strategy meeting, he was asked, “How can we cast a wider net? How can we engage with more students?” The answer was deeper than handing out flyers at the student center. It required a commitment to change a culture from the inside out, to build a bridge wide enough to lead all students to Christ.
Now, 10 years later, Philip serves as the area director for CO Charlotte and oversees two campuses. The changes under Philip’s leadership may seem subtle, but the impact is overwhelming. Shifting a retreat from the mountains to the city and making the focus basketball instead of dodgeball, appeals to the larger student body. Suddenly, that retreat is culturally relevant.
Diversifying speakers, testimonies and worship styles helps students experience the gospel’s power to reach beyond race, gender and socioeconomics.
“The cross breaks down barriers, we are just building a bridge for people to get there,” Philip shared. “If we’re not willing to shift how we think about reaching students, we will forever be stuck in the 1970s when we started this ministry.
“We’re not talking about changing what we believe or our theology. We are seeking ways for our ministry to reflect the campuses we serve.”
As a new generation fills college campuses, demographics will continue to shift with the changing culture.
“Several studies predict that by 2050, there will no longer be a racial majority in the U.S.,” Philip shared. “College campuses already reflect that trend. The campus is a melting pot. We have to evolve beyond the black and white conversation if we’re going to reach students in the coming generations. We have to crack that barrier in every level of our leadership. I think for CO specifically, a defining moment will be looking at the leadership makeup in 5 years, then 30 years. By then, I believe we will have addressed some, if not most, of these questions.”
Philip’s bridge-building mentality applies to every aspect of ministry, from large-scale event planning to student leader training.
“When it comes to building a cross-cultural bridge, we may not all have the same call, but as Christians, we’re all called to serve Christ,” Philip said. “We’re all called to be bridge builders for the gospel, bridging the gap by giving others the opportunity to experience what life with Christ would look like.”
That call reaches beyond those in the field.
“Supporters and alumni play a much larger role than they realize,” Philip shared. “We have to start with prayer. Where we are, currently, is a product of people praying. We have to ask God to help us maintain a Biblical foundation and not to get sideswiped by the culture of the day. Prayer is critical.”
Taking that one step further, supporters are also invited to actively participate in campus ministry.
“I have one donor who offered to buy a personalized Bible for any student who needed one. Other supporters speak at Bible studies, encourage leaders, send care packages and host meals in their homes,” Philip said.
“Those who believe in the work we’re doing don’t have to sit in the stands, they’re invited to come down on the field with us. Supporters should know that they are more critical than they ever imagined.”
Please join us in praying for Campus Outreach to keep building bridges around the world as God continues to grow the ministry to glorify His purpose and reflect His people.