by Don Cockes
More than a century ago, a college student named Evan Roberts was at the epicenter of a movement of God called the Welsh Revival (1904–1905), which swept through Wales and spread to several other countries. The measurable impact included more than 100,000 making professions of faith in a five-month period, which resulted in courts being closed because there were no cases to try, police officers having no crimes to solve, the birth rate for unwed mothers dropping by almost half, and the churches being filled in every town.[i]
Pastor Jeff Noble of Northstar Church in Blacksburg is at the center of a movement of the next generation that is having a sweeping impact in the New River Valley of Virginia. Like in Roberts’ day, this movement began with collegiate and young adults passionately in love with Jesus and longing for God’s Spirit to bring revival. The church’s vision is simple: “Don’t go to church, be the church.” It’s their way of encouraging one another to remember that being a Christian is not about being comfortable but seeking to apply the teachings of Jesus to one’s life and telling everyone who will listen that they too may have real life in Jesus Christ. That vision is contagious, resulting in changed lives, a touched community, and an expanding ministry. Hundreds of college students and young adults gather each week for worship and service through Northstar.
For those who seek to reach the next generation, Pastor Noble suggests the following:
- Love them, not just for what they can do for your church, but truly care about them. Young adults are looking for a warm and welcoming community.
Riley St. Pierre, a Northstar member shared, “People invested in me as a newlywed, challenged me to grow in my faith, and gave me opportunities to serve.” For Kyle Pfeifer, the church showed its care both one on one and in small groups. “Pastor Jeff mentored me privately, and others have been intentional about showing their support in my Connect Group.”
- Have a strong internet presence. Pastor Noble recommends, “Tell stories of what God is doing among the church family; update the content all the time (daily, if possible); get a creative group of volunteers who are knowledgeable and passionate; use multiple means of communication (blogs, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, a YouTube channel); and use ‘evergreen’ stories (which are timeless and not date-sensitive).”
- Provide a place for young adults to serve and lead. The next generation is not the group just waiting in line to be called on later but wants to serve now.
One student said, “I have learned here that the Lord has called me to invest in a church all out and get plugged in.” Another said, “Serving in church and investing in others is vital—it’s not about what’s in it for me! Northstar has given me a new mindset to view the church and my place in it.”
- Help people who don’t know Jesus grasp why we do what we do even if they don’t yet have the same beliefs.
Evin Gladin put it this way: “The church has helped me transition from high school to a faith that I owned as my own. For the first time, it was a church for me.” Tara Zimak stated, “I have gained a conviction [that] the Word of God is not just stories but [is] relevant for application to life.” For James Matthew McCray, the church changed his destiny: “My small group leader helped me understand who God really is.”
- Build healthy relationships with campus ministries. There are many evangelical, on-campus ministries throughout the Commonwealth that would make good Gospel partners in reaching the next generation. For many colleges, a church may not have access to being on campus unless connected with a current on-campus ministry or a campus club. Please consider Gospel partners in the work of reaching college students.
[i] Praying for Collegians: Evan Roberts and the Great Welsh Revival (SBC Life, Winter 2015, page 9)