ORLANDO– Typically for college students in Florida, February brings opportunity for spiritual growth and transformation during the annual State Collegiate Conference.
However, this year due to COVID-19 travel restrictions and difficulties for many college students to attend the annual conference, Florida Baptist college leaders shifted the focus of their Feb. 19-20 weekend to an application of the truths found in the Challenge 2025 commitment of reaching Florida for Christ.
The collegiate weekend followed the Challenge 2025 Gathering that drew 1,000 Florida Baptist pastors and church leaders to the Feb. 16 meeting in Orlando. The meeting rallied the churches by demonstrating unity in the state with a focus on being multicultural, multiethnic, and inclusive in ministry, mission and methods for all churches.
College ministry leaders built on this unified message by providing strategic outreach events for their students in their local context. Projects included campus evangelism, community restoration, church revitalization, nonprofit partnerships, canvassing of neighborhoods, interaction with international student organizations, and several other service opportunities.
“We wanted to show students how they could be a part of the larger Challenge 2025 goals,” said Nathan Schneider, Florida Baptists’ Next Generation Ministries lead catalyst. “I recorded a sermon that was based on Challenge 2025 and some of the groups watched the message as a part of the weekend.”
Evangelism played a big part in the weekend. More than 140 gospel conversations were reported, with several new believers coming to faith in Jesus Christ.
Conner Johnson, Next Generations director at Mission Hill Church in Temple Terrace, saw the gospel transform a life during the weekend.
“Mission Hill Church, in partnership with the University of South Florida Baptist Campus Ministry, went to one of the busiest venues in Tampa to pray with men and women, give essential items to the homeless, and share the Gospel,” said Johnson. “I am continuing to rejoice that Daron responded to the Gospel that morning as I shared the love of God with him.”
The gospel was also shared in group settings. At the Baptist College of Florida (BCF), while students served their cafeteria workers, Lance Beauchamp, campus minister and assistant professor of Christian ministry, shared the gospel with those in attendance.
According to BCF junior Alexis Winsor, “While Dr. Lance was presenting the gospel, I heard one of our cooks say, ‘I have heard this growing up in church my entire life, but never truly understood it the way he presented it,’” she said. “Just being able to serve the staff in hopes to show the Gospel made the outreach weekend worth it, and that comment made it 10 times more worth it.”
While evangelism played a major role, ministry was also at the forefront. The weekend consisted of college students serving local ministries and churches. Students in Jacksonville, Tallahassee and Miami, served the Florida Baptist Children’s Homes’ One More Child by working in their facilities and preparing meals for those in need. In Miami, BCM students prepared more than 600 weekend meals for children.
Barry Sproles, Tallahassee area BCM director, said the weekend opened new horizons for students. “Collegiate weekend provided our BCM students with the opportunity to step away from the busyness of their semester and this unusual time to grow as disciples through worship, teaching, and service,” he said.
“For many of our students at Florida State University, connecting with a local church revitalization in Tallahassee and serving at our local One More Child location was an important first step in helping them understand the important and diverse ministry that Florida Baptists are engaged in and how they can play a vital role both now and, in the years, to come.”
Schneider acknowledged that the past year forced new challenges on churches and ministries throughout Florida, “but during that same time, God provided new opportunities. While COVID-19 shut down the annual collegiate conference, college leaders across the state provided a weekend for students that should serve as a catalyst for further ministry through the local church for years to come.”
By Florida Baptist Convention staff