By Karen L. Willoughby
Fifty colleges and universities across Canada are virtually untouched by the Gospel, but that’s changing.
Three of the 50 that are in Quebec, and one each in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, can expect to have a Gospel presence on or near campuses by January.
“Things are beginning to happen,” Kelly Manire told the Horizon. He’s a self-funded collegiate ministry strategist in British Columbia. “It’s exciting. The word has got out. People are seeing the list.”
The “it” he spoke of is the “Forgotten 50,” an emphasis on planting campus ministries and churches in North American towns that have one of the 6,927 institutions of higher education with the least Gospel presence. The first 50 colleges and universities on the list are in Canada.
“This information opened our eyes to the tens of thousands of students attending campuses where there are no evangelical churches close by,” said Mel Cruikshank, national student minister for the Canadian National Baptist Convention. “They are going to be the future leaders of our world.”
“In addition to Canada’s finest, many international students are coming to study in North America,” Cruikshank continued. “When you reach these indigenous leaders for Christ, you change the future of the world.”
The Forgotten 50 is a grassroots effort to raise awareness of the need for people to pray for, financially support and send campus ministers and church planters to towns where college and university students don’t have ready access to hearing the Gospel.
In June 2016, campus ministers from across North America met in New Orleans for their annual get together. The subject of “which schools need a better Gospel witness” came up. Discussion showed that some campuses had several Christian ministries, while others had none.
“We were trying to see which campuses needed the most attention,” Jonathan Yarboro told the Horizon. He’s director of student ministries for the North Carolina Baptist Convention. “We started asking a
lot of questions and no one had
A $10,000 data-collection process ensued, paid for by the state Baptist conventions in Arkansas, Kentucky, New England, North Carolina and Ohio, with data collected by the Georgia Baptist Convention, North American Mission Board, International Mission Board and parachurch organizations InterVarsity and in Canada, Power to Change.
A formula was created that eliminated colleges with on-campus ministries: The number of churches within a 10-mile radius of each of the remaining schools were counted, and that total was divided by the campus enrollment. The quotient became the school’s Gospel Accessibility Value. The higher the number, the lower the possibility that a student would hear the Gospel.
Examples: A 5,000-student campus in Mississippi with no on-campus ministries, but 200 churches within a 10-mile radius, has a GAV of 25. A school in Vermont with no on-campus ministry, which is within a 10-mile radius of only 20 churches, has a GAV of 250.
The university with the highest GAV—meaning the lowest Gospel accessibility—is Saint Mary’s University in Halifax. It has a GAV of 2,383 because of its 7,150 students and three churches within 10 miles of the university. The good news: Having heard of the Forgotten 50, a couple from the southeastern US are on their way to start a campus ministry and a church in Halifax.
“This is all about reaching the lost, getting to these campuses where students have no access to the Gospel,” Manire said. “We want to reach these students for Jesus. Why do we even care about this? Jesus said I’m going after the one, the one forgotten.”
Thousands of college and university students who could change the world do not have a way to hear the Gospel, Yarboro said. “Yet college students are the most sendable demographic on the planet. They can leverage the rest of their lives to carry the Gospel to the ends of the world. They’re going to be the next businessmen, doctors, teachers—and they’re going to be the ones who change the world.
“If you think about it, when a college student graduates from college, they’re going to move somewhere to get a job,” Yarboro continued. “If they’re in love with Jesus and on mission with God, they can strategically move to a place that is strategic for the mission of God. If you are a college student graduate who is a teacher, why not be part of a team that’s planting a church on a campus in Canada that has no access to the Gospel and be a teacher there?”
The Forgotten 50 acquired that name “because they have gone unnoticed or ignored by parachurch campus ministries, denominational campus ministries, established churches and church plants alike,” according to the website forgotten50.com, and because 50 is a manageable number that yet requires cooperation. “These campuses continually slip through the cracks.”
French-speaking Quebec, which has 34 of the colleges and universities on the list (seven of the least accessible ten) in addition to not having on-campus ministries—which in some cases are forbidden—or many churches, also doesn’t have many books for Christian growth in French, and the province has only one Christian high school.
In addition to Quebec’s 34 colleges/universities with high GAVs, Ontario has eight; Alberta, British Columbia and Nova Scotia each have two colleges with high GAVs; New Brunswick and Saskatchewan,
But with the grassroots growth of the Forgotten 50 movement, Canada is seeing advances. Three mission teams from Baptist Collegiate Ministries in southern states have already been to Quebec, and new work is anticipated by the end of the year.
Six teams from Oklahoma are coming at spring break to the Forgotten 50 campus in Edmonton, Alberta, where 80 percent of the students are international. A church plant in Victoria, BC, has begun forays onto its Forgotten 50 campus.
“We need both campus ministers and church planters to do this,” said Manire, referring in part to the numbers of high school graduates who are Christian and need a support system to help them grow in their faith. “Where is the present spiritual battlefield? It’s on the college campus. I would call it an epidemic of lostness.”
“The cults and the devil are out there to wreak havoc in students’ lives,” Manire continued. “If we’re not out there, on these Forgotten 50 campuses, the future is bleak for the students. There is a measure of urgency. Now! They need the Gospel. They need the Lord.”