“I was a clinical do-gooder,” 23-year-old Bryan Lemon admits. “I was always the good kid. Didn’t push the limits too much … just very consumed by seeking the approval of others and making others happy.”

By the time he moved to Bowling Green, Ky., to attend Western Kentucky University (WKU), Lemon was done with church. Or so he thought.

The fall of his junior year, Lemon was invited by a guy he met on a backpacking trip that summer to come with him to a Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) meeting. Initially skeptical, Lemon couldn’t help but be drawn in by the sincerity he found in the group: “They were talking about very real things, like admitting we don’t have it together.” It was a safe place—a place that allowed Lemon to be honest about his “shortcomings and insecurities and uptightness”—a place where he encountered and truly accepted the “good news of grace” for the first time.

Not long after coming to RUF, Lemon learned that the RUF chapter was associated with a PCA church plant—Grace & Peace Presbyterian—just down the road from the university. He decided to check it out. There, he found the same genuineness he had discovered at RUF, just in a more age-diverse setting he found refreshing. “Being around people who had newborns and 15-year-olds and some retired folks was needed, because I didn’t really want to go to my friends who were 20, because they were just as clueless as I was.”

Three years later, Lemon has graduated and is working for the university as an assistant photographer. He didn’t really look at jobs elsewhere. “One of the motivating factors in staying is the church,” explains Lemon, who leads a discipleship group for younger guys in the church. “I wanted to stay and be a part of this community—to see what God wanted to do through our little community.”

Doubling Up

What happened in Bryan Lemon’s life is—and has always been—the motivating factor for RUF: to see a young person transformed and then integrated into a local church’s life and kingdom vision.

“At the end of the day, RUF is not about perpetuating campus ministry,” explains Rod Mays, RUF national coordinator. “It’s about the church.” From its early days in the late-1970s, RUF determined to start RUF chapters only in places with solid PCA churches and to connect students to them.

A little over five years ago, RUF hit a roadblock, Mays said: “There were a lot of pretty significant places where we wanted to begin an RUF, but there wasn’t a church.” Significant places such as University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Indiana University-Bloomington, or Western Kentucky University-Bowling Green.

The question was soon raised: Why not start a new RUF chapter and plant a church at the same time?

That simple idea initiated a new trend in PCA church planting that during the past seven years has led to a half dozen joint efforts between Mission to North America (MNA) and RUF to establish dual RUF chapter-church plants across the country, with several more on the runway.

 Outside the Bubble

Grace & Peace, Bowling Green, and its RUF chapter at WKU became the first tag-team project—a joint effort between MNA, RUF, Nashville Presbytery, and some generous anonymous donors. Brian Howard and Fritz Games had worked together for eight years at Trinity Presbyterian in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and were an obvious pick to beta test the two-pronged approach.

Howard, a former associate pastor, and Games, a former RUF campus minister at Middle Tennessee State University, relocated their families to Bowling Green in July 2007. At that time, there were barely a dozen PCA churches in Kentucky.

“No one was looking for an RUF at the campus. No one was looking for a PCA church,” Howard said. But the two got to work, starting both the RUF and the church with just a handful of people at each.

“The vision was bigger than just RUF. The earlier students especially were very involved with both, whether setting up the nursery, helping out with the sound system, or babysitting,” said Games. “It gave them a bigger picture of God’s kingdom.”

“With the majority of the students we’ve seen, you can certainly get into the bubble of university life,” Howard added. “[With the RUF students], they’ve been outside that bubble very much and involved in a real community of faith … we believe that’s more healthy. We see people that when they graduate, the church is a big deal to them. They want to plug in and be a part of a church.”

As the students benefited from participating in a larger mecca bingo bonus codes, Howard saw that the larger games was ultimately benefiting from investing in the next generation of leaders.

“The future elders, deacons, leaders, businessmen, doctors, lawyers, and teachers are coming from RUF,” said Howard.

Two Heads

A year after Howard and Games moved to Bowling Green, Bart Moseman and Chad Brewer moved to the Twin Cities (Minneapolis-St. Paul) to plant CityLife Church, and subsequently RUF at the University of Minnesota.

Like Games and Howard, Brewer and Moseman were longtime friends and built off that camaraderie in their approach to inaugurating a PCA church plant and an RUF ministry in what they consider to be a liberal, over-churched culture. The year they started the church, Brewer, who was to be the official RUF campus minister, devoted the majority of his time to helping Moseman plant the church. Meanwhile, Moseman joined Brewer in taking a bowling class on campus to get to know students.

During the past four years, as Moseman increasingly focused on the church and Brewer invested himself in the campus ministry, they often feel the push and pull of being part of the same and separate callings.

“The blessing is that you come with a buddy and labor and work to the same ends. It’s so good to have Chad in it with me,” Moseman said. “But you’ve got this two-headed thing. As these heads get a life of their own, you pull away … it’s challenging to maintain this sense of working together, rather than just working in the same place.”

Town and Gown Churches

Joseph Pensak, pastor of the newly planted Redeemer Burlington, didn’t have a teammate when RUF and MNA invited him to start a church plant in Burlington, Vt. Pensak, a musician who previously served in ministry in Europe, was captivated by the need to bring the gospel to one of the most unchurched cities in America. One of the first things he did after moving to Burlington in 2011 was to set up an art gallery—a place where the church could serve artists, a population that often feels isolated and unsupported. It wasn’t until a year into the plant that John Meinen joined the effort as the RUF campus minister for the University of Vermont. Together, the two have started building what Pensak calls “a town-and-gown church.” In a place traditionally cold to Christianity, Pensak says, “the church community can be such a blessing to college students by extending hospitality and sharing their lives and ministry. It changes students’ lives.” Already, they have seen skeptics and atheists indicate interest, some even coming to faith.

Like Redeemer Burlington, the Bloomington Project at Indiana University, a dual effort started in 2011, is bent on reaching culture shapers—intellectuals, artists, and scientists.

“University cities are the most important cities in the world to be planting churches in,” says Dan Herron, church planter of the Bloomington Project. “World-class cities are important, but world-class cities are formed in little towns like this with universities and professors who are shaping the kinds of people who end up in Manhattan, Chicago, Indianapolis, Tokyo. Those are the people who go out and end up creating culture for better or worse.”

Believing For Each Other

Mays believes that these church plants and their RUF counterparts are the future of PCA church planting, largely because RUF is a breeding ground for church planters.

“It’s a natural transition for us,” he explains. “For a lot of our guys who have done campus ministry for 10 years, it’s the next thing they’re going to do—plant a church.”

And it’s self-perpetuating. Once an RUF campus minister has spent several years working alongside a church planter and has seen firsthand how a church is built, he can plant a church and bring a new campus minister along with him.

Funding may be one of the main roadblocks to this model’s growth.

“You can’t do this without a lot of financial support,” Games says. “You need big supporters who have a vision for the kingdom and church planting and RUF.”

So far, generous donors have filled this role, supplemented by the support that many planters and RUF pastors raise on their own.

Mays also sees a need for a full-time person overseeing these various efforts. He has played that role to this point but hopes to hire someone specifically for this position as the tag-team strategy continues to spread. In the works already are efforts at the University of Wisconsin (Milwaukee), Kansas State (Manhattan, Kan.), and University of Colorado (Boulder).

Looking at the model’s rapid growth, it seems that going in twos is working out well, even—or especially—in the harder moments.

“There have been rough spots, but God has been faithful … there’s something about going two by two and God preserving the relationship,” Games says.

“A lot of what we do is still plodding along, praying, encouraging one another, believing for one another when the other doesn’t believe,” Howard adds. “If it was just me planting a church, I probably wouldn’t still be here.”

 

Zoe S. Erler is a freelance writer and editor based in Indianapolis, Ind. She has written for Prison Fellowship Ministries, BreakPoint Radio, The Indianapolis Star, The Washington Times, and World Magazine.