Our church has been thinking about church-planting for years. Recently, however, it’s been getting more serious. Yesterday seemed like a significant milestone. A portion of our Staff team traveled to Cleveland to visit Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland State University. We wanted to explore the potential for establishing a new ministry presence in these particular university environments — but also to more generally stimulate our thought and imagination about church planting.
Church reproduction has some striking similarities to human reproduction. We acknowledge that it’s a possibility at any point, once we reach maturity. But we also recognize that bringing another life into this world is a pretty big responsibility — so we want to be careful and considerate about it. When the conditions are right, things start with flirting… then dating… then engagement and marriage. (In our case, this is recruiting, building, and training a Staff team). After marriage, there’s usually some desire to wait, to provide time for cultivating the marriage relationship. (In ministry terms, this is raising up qualified leaders for a church plant). And then, when the time seems right, we move from prevention… to a lack of prevention… to a period of hoping and wishing… to more actively “trying”… to, Lord willing, pregnancy and birth.
I think our Staff team is somewhere between “Lack of Prevention” and the “First Trimester of Pregnancy.” We’ve got a strong and healthy Staff team. We’ve identified qualified leadership who could direct a new church plant. And we’re increasingly eager to send out a team in the next year or two. But it also makes us a little bit queasy to think of all the change that comes with a life transition such as this.
Case Western Reserve University
So we started yesterday morning by rallying a team on the campus of Case Western Reserve University. It’s one of the top universities in the region, with a level of scholarship on par with Ivy League institutions. It’s also a beautiful old campus in Cleveland’s University Circle district.
Our team separated into teams of two or three to case the campus. (Get it? Case Case?). I got to walk around with Jana. And our first conversation of the morning was super-awkward. We approached a young man with a bad haircut and polo shirt, asking him if there were any good places on campus to get a cup of coffee. He nervously pointed out a couple of possibilities, but it seemed like he had a hard time making eye contact and speaking clearly. He seemed like the classic scientific savant, and I worried that everyone else at Case Western Reserve University would be like that.
Fortunately, our second conversation — with a first-year student named Madeline — went a little bit better. We found an even warmer reception with Helena, who was handing out moon cakes and rabbit figurines for the Asian Mid-Autumn Festival. And then we enjoyed a really long, really helpful conversation with Caroline, in the Student Activities Office. She gave us a solid picture of what’s involved with starting a new student organization (which seems to be far easier at Case than we’ve seen with most other private universities). She even had some personal experience with some other organizations doing Christian ministry at Case. And we just had a really pleasant conversation that gave us a lot of hope.
After our time at Case Western, we grabbed some lunch in a nearby neighborhood known as Little Italy. While eating some pizza and cannoli, we took some time to process our campus conversations from the morning and to share our own feelings about the prospect. Emotions ranged widely. We’re not ready to “paint the baby’s room” Spartan Blue and Gray — but we all agreed that there were some intriguing possibilities at Case Western Reserve University. After we finished eating our lunch, we got in our cars and drove 15 minutes up Euclid Avenue to Cleveland State University.
Cleveland State University
The afternoon felt very different from the morning. Part of that was because we had less time to explore Cleveland State than we had at Case Western. In addition, we were dealing with a bit of post-lunch digestion fatigue and the weariness that comes with a lot of walking. Even so, we were glad to explore the campus right in the heart of downtown Cleveland.
Cleveland State is significantly larger than Case Western, in terms of enrollment figures. But even under normal circumstances, the on-campus population at Cleveland State University is relatively small. Even factoring in the students who live just off-campus, in adjacent apartment complexes, Cleveland State has a smaller residential population than most other universities in the area. The school serves more commuters, and it’s also just more generally blended in with the city.
I was paired with Griffin for our time at Cleveland State University. We walked around on the streets and through the tunnels that connect the majority of the university buildings. It was harder to find people to talk to at Cleveland State in the afternoon than it had been to talk with people at Case Western in the morning. Still, Griffin and I learned the most from a conversation with a young woman named Peyton, who happened to be a Resident Advisor in one of the residence halls on campus.
She didn’t know much about the student organizations on campus, and she didn’t seem to be very interested in spiritual things — so our conversation was limited on that front. But she was especially helpful in describing the culture in the residence halls. She also talked about the ways that students enjoy the nightlife of downtown Cleveland. Peyton was a junior Nursing major, so she was able to provide a valuable perspective of Cleveland State both before and in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When we weren’t talking with Cleveland State students, Griffin and I got to talk with each other about his thoughts and feelings regarding church planting. It was just good to explore possibilities together — and with the rest of our team from Kent, as well. We’re eager to report back to the rest of the Staff team at H2O Kent.
When we reconvened at the Student Center just before driving back to Kent for the night, we prayed for the individual students we met and for the university communities as a whole. We actively wondered together about where God might take us. And we dreamed about our next opportunity to explore possibilities together.