Simply put: Ohio is extraordinary in its ordinariness. It’s the heartland of America. Louis Bromfield once said something to the effect that Ohio is the furthest west of the East, furthest east of the (Mid)West, furthest north of the South, and furthest south of the North — and it’s a description that just fits. Ohio’s mix of industry and agriculture positions it as a place with people that can relate to others just about anywhere. Political pundits, marketing researchers, and social scientists often look to Ohio as something of a bellwether for the rest of the USA. So it occurs to me: Why shouldn’t the Church consider the same? Ohio actually strikes me as something of a contemporary “Galilee.” Outsiders and Ohioans alike will often scoff, “Can anything good come out of
Nazareth Ohio?” (á la John 1:46). Yet the humble, honest, hard-working, team-player, trouble-shooting, tireless sons and daughters of Ohio have contributed an astonishing number of game-changers throughout history! Because of their inherent cultural DNA — not in spite of it — I believe God can use Ohioans powerfully.
In addition to this general assessment of Ohio’s strategic potential, consider the following:
- On the college campuses of Ohio in particular, the percentages of people without Christ are alarming: ~ 1% of the student body @ Kent State University maintains any kind of active involvement in a Christian ministry! For all intents and purposes, today’s college students are an unreached people group — and I believe we need missionaries to reach out to all kinds of spiritually-lost people.
- University campuses are also unique in their demographics. The population of Kent State University is overwhelmingly concentrated among people age 18-25 who are at a critical juncture in their personal, emotional, spiritual, and moral development. Many college students are living on their own for the first time in their lives — making their own autonomous decisions about what they really think and believe for the first time in their lives. This provides an immense, unparalleled opportunity for spiritual influence.
- While I’m a huge proponent of multi-generational churches (and I am keenly aware of the disadvantages of mono-generational churches!), college campuses in the USA are a unique set of communities unto themselves. As such, they require a unique missiological approach. In the same way that a church in Shelby, Ohio differs from one in Mansfield, Ohio — or a fellowship in Amsterdam differs from one in Utrecht — a church for a college campus differs from a church with a broader community focus. Cross-over between communities is certainly possible (indeed, it happens all the time). But insisting on some kind of cross-over can be an unnecessary hindrance to the Gospel. Creative problem-solving to integrate various generations of believers should be a priority, but disengagement on the college campus and insistence that students come to community turf for interaction seems like it could lead to unfortunate results.
- The potential for leadership development and missions mobilization among college students is amazing. College students (or recent college graduates) are inherently idealistic and available. If properly equipped, envisioned, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, they can be a nearly-unstoppable force for good in the world today.
- Kent State University is home to 32,000 students (the second-largest university in Ohio, with the second-largest residential student population in Ohio).
- Since its inception in 2009, H2O Kent has experienced 1000% growth.
I would never want to suggest that one geographic location is “better” for ministry, or somehow “closer to God’s heart.” In fact, I’m very glad that the Church is a living, growing organism that’s stretching its tendrils into all kinds of different peoples and places. Still, I’m glad that God has me in Ohio right now. I’m glad to be at Kent State University, in particular. And I’m looking forward to what the years ahead will bring.