Mission on Campus: How one ministry is recognizing and releasing Gen Z

By Bonnie McMaken

Throughout the Diocese of the Upper Midwest, you’ll find churches thriving in school gyms, worship services flourishing in nursing homes and Iowa cornfields, and robust college ministries reaching Gen Z on college campuses.

Alyssa O’Connell

Just a few years ago, Alyssa O’Connell was a college student. When her dreams of becoming a teacher came crashing down her senior year, she realized that the Lord had slowly been preparing her for ministry since her freshman year. “During college I literally stumbled into the church that became home,” Alyssa says. “There I really began to form a heart for the kingdom, having seen a beautiful glimpse of heaven through my church.”

Now Alyssa serves on staff with Chicago Campus Initiative (CCI), where she lives out that kingdom calling among college students. She shares the gospel through on-campus Bible studies and in organic relationships, connects students with a local church family at Trinity Anglican Church, and raises and strengthens young leaders for ministry.

Kate Warren of CCI trains young leaders for ministry

Bearing Fruit
“What we’re currently seeing are significant moments on college campuses,” says Tom O’Connor, one of CCI’s managing directors. “Students are open and seeking. It’s not just happening in places like Auburn and Asbury—it’s happening everywhere.” Alyssa echoes that excitement—this year, she’s already seen ten students desire to follow Christ!

CCI partners with both Trinity Anglican and CRU (formerly Campus Crusade). It focuses on three Chicagoland campuses: University of Illinois Chicago (UIC), Roosevelt University, and—just recently—Aurora University, where leaders are forming a partnership with another diocesan church, City of Light.

Increasing numbers of students are interested in CCI’s leadership pathway: a two-year fellowship program led primarily by leaders at Trinity Anglican, including Father Nate Beasley (Rector of Trinity and Director of CCI). He and his wife Sarah have been serving and pioneering ministry in university contexts and providing leadership pathways for younger leaders for over 11 years.

CCI aims to give students a lifelong love for the church

Deepening Roots
In the last four years, CCI has hired 11 college grads, including Ryan Crowley, who got involved as a college student. He embraces CCI’s mission—in his own words—to give students “a lifelong love for the church and to set them up for holistic health for longterm ministry.”

The training includes theological and discipleship training, but goes deeper. Alyssa says, “When passionate young people get into ministry too early, with too little support, and with too little training, they can hurt themselves and others.” So, the fellowship program also helps young leaders like her develop practices for emotional health and spiritual rhythms that they need in order to thrive and shepherd others for years to come.

Branching Out
A focus on church partnerships distinguishes CCI from other campus ministries, Father Nate says. “We try to come alongside local churches and assist them to start a student ministry to give students the stability and love of a multi-generational spiritual family.”

“The impulse to stay alone is so strong for a lot of young adults,” Tom says. “So much of our ministry is one of extravagant hospitality, convincing them that they’re wanted in community and part of the Body of Christ.”

Right now, Trinity’s Sunday evening service is a main source for that goal and is growing organically. Ryan says, “Students are inviting other students and experiencing God and falling more deeply in love with him.”

Alyssa hopes that through CCI’s witness many more students will share her experience. “I was a lost student that didn’t truly experience the fullness of Christian life until I was connected to a local church,” she says. “The Chicago Campus Initiative has changed me, the way I interact with the Bible, the way I share the gospel, and has transformed my view of God and his love for me.”

Learn more about the Chicago Campus Initiative here.

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