The Aspen Project


The Collegiate Church Network recently invited H2O Kent to pitch an idea for a missional initiative that would creatively engage our sphere of influence with the Gospel. We tried long and hard to come up with funny, clever, or cutting-edge ideas for ministry that would capitalize on this opportunity. In the end, however, we ended up going with something much more organic. More “Us,” I think.

And since landing on an idea, my excitement has grown — to the point that I thought it would be cool to share our idea here, as well.

When our church planting team was first sent out in 2008, one of the things that led us to choose northeast Ohio was its density of college students. Of course, we loved the idea of reaching out to the 30,000 students at Kent State University. But we also recognized that there were over 150,000 students at 44 institutes of higher learning within roughly a one-hour drive from Kent State University — and we wondered if God might want to use H2O Kent as a launching point for further missional initiatives at some point.

Now we wonder if the time has come to start launching. And we’re borrowing imagery from the natural world — the Aspen tree — as we start to consider a strategy for engaging all the different sorts of campuses in our area: large state universities, branch campuses, smaller private colleges, and specialty schools.

Did you know that Aspens are the most widely distributed tree in North America? They grow quickly, and then they propagate themselves primarily through their root system. From time to time, Aspens send out runners from their root system to different parts of the forest where they will basically scope out the environment for the possibility of a new tree in that new part of the forest. If the conditions are right, a new plant will start to grow. With enough sunlight, water, and nutrients in the soil, a whole new tree can sprout up and extend the Aspen grove further. If conditions are less favorable, the Aspen will come up more like a bush or shrub. And if conditions ultimately prove to be unsuitable, the resulting plant will die, even as other trees from other root runners lead to thriving in different parts of the forest.

Now that our church has rooted itself in Kent (and at the University of Akron), we want to send out “runners” to other parts of the Northeast Ohio “forest” to see what might spring up. We honestly don’t know much about what it might look like or feel like to build a ministry presence at a smaller private school, like Hiram College, or at a regional branch campus, like Kent State University’s Geauga Campus. Still, we want to trust God and see what He might do, as we step out in faith.

We want to empower college students to develop a sense of ownership and initiative for reaching out to students at various academic institutions throughout the area. So our project plan calls for three paid internships, which would allow us to launch missional initiatives at three different campuses per semester, for each of the next three years. This would amount to $40,500, but it is also scalable to involve more (or fewer) internships at more (or fewer) campuses over a longer (or shorter) period of time, subject to availability of funding ($2250 per internship). Each student-intern would be paired with a staff guide from our team at H2O Kent to travel to the new campus a couple of times per week to pray, observe, survey the population, share the gospel, start Bible study groups, and walk through whatever doors God may open along the way. The drive time could be used for discipleship conversations between the student-intern and the staff guide.

With time, we expect to see some missional initiatives fail, some to result in the establishment of new Life Groups that would function like “off-campus” Life Groups of H2O Kent, and some to result in new venues and independent church plants from H2O Kent.

We’re eager to see the Gospel propagated throughout Northeast Ohio, and we invite you to partner with us in prayer and financial support for this catalytic initiative we’re calling the Aspen Project.

Video version, originally submitted to the Collegiate Church Network

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