Thursday, August 27, 2009

Back to school for 130 million

Listen to an audio version of this post at

Another school year is gearing up — a good time to focus on one of the fastest-growing “people groups” on the planet: college students.

Worldwide, the number of college students has more than doubled — to 130 million — in the past 50 years, according to Ken Cochrum, global campus strategist for Campus Crusade for Christ.

“If taken as a whole, this generation of college students would constitute the world’s 10th-largest country,” Cochrum reports in the August edition of Lausanne World Pulse. “Governments of developing nations have realized that their future depends upon a well‐educated population who can compete in today’s borderless ‘glocal’ economy.”

Those governments, joined by corporations and advertisers, “invest millions of dollars each year attempting to influence students and the choices they will make for the rest of their lives,” Cochrum observes. “What about the church? What level of urgency and intentionality do we give to making disciples and building Christ-centered movements among students today?”

Good question.

Cochrum lists some of the major urban centers that have become magnets for students — Moscow with 1.2 million, Mexico City with 400,000, Rome with 250,000. The list grows, along with the hopes of millions of families riding on their sons and daughters seeking higher education.

I met several elite university students in Moscow a few years ago. They attended a professional development seminar based on Christian principles.

The seminar stressed the “soft skills” seldom seen in Russia’s highly competitive business climate: relating to others, constructive criticism, encouragement and teamwork.
“We’re really trying to help students with their understanding of human relationships,” explained one of the seminar leaders, a Southern Baptist worker. “How do you treat people if you want to build trust? One of the most important principles we focus on with them is the Golden Rule: Treat others as you would like to be treated — with dignity and value.
“We’ve had students who’ve finished the initial phase of training say to us, ‘This is going to change my life.’ Or they’ll say, ‘The Golden Rule is the most important rule in all of life.’ These are lost people saying what Jesus said. It really is business training, but it’s amazing what the Holy Spirit can do when we present truth.”
Maxim, an international business major, had tears in his eyes after the final session as he thanked the leaders. He wrote on his seminar evaluation form:
“I’d like to find out my values. Would you help me? Do you think that career is the meaning of life? When I’m dying, I want to be sure that I was a good man, that I’ve walked through a right life. Is there truth in business that’s going to help me?”
The next step: an invitation to one-on-one mentorships with Christian business professionals. After that, responsive students are invited to home worship groups to delve more deeply into the Gospel. When they become disciples, they will become leaders for Christ in Russia.
Churches and mission ministries probably will never have enough resources to reach every searching student like Maxim. The way to keep up with the global student explosion, Cochrum believes, is to nurture student-led movements that multiply disciples and leaders.

“Healthy student-led movements of spiritual multiplication serve as a leadership engine for the body of Christ,” he says. “Students don’t remain students forever. Within five years most of these 130 million will be on their journey to the marketplace. They will begin leading families and paying taxes. They will shape fields such as government, scientific research, education, sports and entertainment.

“Today’s students will determine tomorrow’s culture. … The next few years represent a significant window of opportunity.”

And let no one underestimate their spiritual potential. American Protestants counted fewer than 1,000 missionaries worldwide before the YMCA launched the Student Volunteer Movement in 1888, led by John R. Mott. By 1920, the movement had directly mobilized more than 8,700 missionaries for reaching the lost — and influenced many more to go — setting the stage for an unprecedented era of Christian expansion worldwide, despite the wars and upheavals of the 20th century.

A new student-led movement might do the same in our time.


Anonymous said...

Hi Erich-

Like your blog. Just stopped by to see what you were up to. The training in Russia sounds very much like the basics I have learned in one+ of blogging into the public square:
1) You must treat everyone with respect and dignity. That shouldn't be too hard for those of us who really believe in the 'sanctity of life'- the image bearer in all of us, no matter who we are or what we have done.
2) In order to honestly do this we must learn and practice the art of listening to people for the purpose of understanding them and finding some common ground to relate around our human condition.

Like the thinking about the university population globally- the plans are already up and running to celebrate Edinburgh 1910 which started a great movement among the young people-you noted the Student Volunteer Movement. It would be the perfect time, 2010, to mount just what you're thinking of. Anything in the works at IMB?

John Paul Todd

Anonymous said...

I hope you don't mind if I savour your post a little more. It is so good. You called attention to the SVM-
"By 1920, the movement had directly mobilized more than 8,700 missionaries for reaching the lost — and influenced many more to go — setting the stage for an unprecedented era of Christian expansion worldwide, despite the wars and upheavals of the 20th century. . ."

This morning I was led to think about Samuel Zwemer and his contribution to that whole surge as the first candidate secretary of SVM. Here is a link for anyone who is interested in the spirit that made a great missionary to Muslim Peoples.

Brian, the old man said...

I enjoy reading your blog. I pray that it inspires others to reach out to these students and spread His word and His ideas and principles. These students are craving knowledge and if we can show them the importance of putting God's principles into all aspects of their lives it will spread like wildfire and hopefully influence big business in conducting themselves as leaders and role models doing His work. Thanks for this article. God Bless You.

Elijah Elkins said...

Hey, I really like all that you said. Very good point about the SVM... I would love for this to happen and believe whole-heartedly that can do this. It would be great to lead or help this happen, but I'm not really sure how this would come about. It seems like the only thing to make this occur is a huge moving by the Holy Spirit in the hearts of all believers... I believe there will be another Great Awakening here in the United States. I also believe that God will come back before I die because of the fulfillment of Matthew 24:14... God bless.