Students responding to gospel, looking for authentic leaders, panel says

INDIANAPOLIS (BP) — Teens and college students are not looking to be the future of the church. They are looking to be the church right now, according to a group of student and college ministry leaders.

“We’ve got to focus on teaching them how to pour in and how to dig into God’s Word,” said Scooter Kellum, team leader for church and leader mobilization for the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana.

Kellum was a part of a panel discussion at the 2024 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting focusing on reaching teens and college students with the gospel.

The panel was moderated by Shane Pruitt, national next gen director for the North American Mission Board (NAMB). Ben Beck, a campus minister at Purdue University, and Paul Worcester, national collegiate director for NAMB, also joined the discussion.

“I’d say I’m really excited,” said Beck. “I’ve been doing this for 22 years and this is the best I’ve ever seen college ministry.”

“I’ve seen students accepting the Lord. I don’t know if I’d call it a revival right now but it’s a big movement right now on college campuses for the Lord,” he said.

Beck said the majority of evangelism he’s seeing comes from students sharing with other students.

Kellum said student leaders in local churches also play a key role.

“I think a lot of that is because there has been an emphasis across our nation for reaching the lost students,” he said. 

When students see that authentic youth ministers are investing in the lives of students, they are responding, Kellum said.

“They want to see adults that are investing in their lives, that are available, that love them,” he said.

Kellum believes the greatest struggle in reaching students is the lack of youth ministers. He is leading efforts in Indiana to reach out to people who are called to ministry and asking them to invest their lives in student ministry.

The panelists agreed there is a deep hunger for God among the next generation.

“They are not afraid of the Holy Spirit,” Worcester said. “They want to experience God, they (want) to testify. They want to grow deep roots in prayer. They’re even interested in kind of the spiritual formation practices and things like that.”

Worcester said the need is great and the time is now to lead the next generation toward Jesus Christ and spiritual growth.

“We need to be modeling that deep walk with God and that passionate prayer life,” he said.

“We need to be helping them lead.”

Fear of failure should not keep leaders from the giving the students opportunities to get on the front lines of ministry, the group said.

“I think that we can’t be afraid. They are going to fail,” Beck said. “And that’s OK because we all have, and we learn from failure.

“We have to go alongside them and learn from those failures and then pick them back up and let them try again.”

The panel was one of more than 20 presented at the 2024 SBC annual meeting.

“The CP stage panels are designed to inform Southern Baptists while they’re at the annual meeting,” said Jonathan Howe, SBC Executive Committee vice president for communications.

“But we also hope people will share the videos throughout the year to promote the work of spreading the gospel,” he said.

All of the panels can be found at the Cooperative Program channel on YouTube.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Brandon Porter serves as associate vice president for convention news at the SBC Executive Committee.)

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