Dan Herron became a Christian through an atheist, a professor who taught him how to think. As Herron struggled in community college, this professor reached out to him and encouraged him to ask hard questions that spurred Herron’s academic revolution, then led him to faith in Christ, into campus ministry, and now to Bloomington, Ind., and the campus of Indiana University. There, he and Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) campus minister Brad Tubbesing are starting a dual church-campus plant: The Bloomington Project.
Over the past seven years, Mission to North America (MNA), RUF, and local presbyteries have been collaborating to plant partner churches and campus ministries in select university cities. CityLife Church in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., Two Cities Church in Lafayette, Ind., and Redeemer Presbyterian in Burlington, Vt., are also being established with this model.
“For church planters, university cities need to be our highest priority,” Herron stressed. “World-class cities are important, but world-class cities are formed in little towns like this with universities and professors who are shaping the … people who end up in Manhattan, Chicago, Indianapolis, Tokyo. … Those are the people who end up creating culture.”
During the past year, Herron’s church-planting strategy has consisted of prayer and what he describes as “demographic and ethnographic research” conducted in books, his laptop, and lots of lunch dates with Bloomington locals: punk rock band musicians, members of the IU Secular Alliance, a café owner, IU professors, construction workers, the homeless, Ph.D. students, and fellow church planters.
He’s even spent time with leaders of local liberal, mainline churches, quickly learning that “no evangelical pastor pursues these people for conversation or relationship.” His goal is to grow in understanding of the community and to find ways to follow Francis Schaeffer’s challenge to “co-belligerency” with others of differing traditions for the common good.
Herron discovered a trend in many of the theologically conservative churches: to develop “parallel Christian cultures — homogenous ghettos that tend to avoid thoughtful engagement with the “world of liberal or secular America.” In Herron’s opinion, this contributes to the university community’s skepticism of the evangelical church.
“We’ve got to deconstruct people’s worldview in this way, and, in the course of genuine relationship through the Spirit’s counsel, reconstruct what gospel-centered Christianity looks like.”
That’s what The Bloomington Project is setting out to do. Over the next year, Herron and Tubbesing — who has been serving as RUF campus minster at the University of Alabama-Huntsville — will begin forming a core group and planting a church. Tubbesing is gathering students and hopes to launch the RUF group at IU in the near future.
In the long run Herron’s desire is “to see the Holy Spirit establish a community of faithful people who have constant dependence on the grace of Christ … who are infectious and willing to give themselves to others as servants and sacrifices for the sake of the gospel.”
To learn more about The Bloomington Project, visit thebloomingtonproject.org.