Why Are There So Many Different Ministries?

I recently received an email from a student asking me why there were so many different campus ministries at Stanford. I think a lot of students have similar questions, so I’ve decided to tweak my reply and post it here.

Do The Various Campus Ministries Compete?
Only in intramurals.

Seriously though: I sure hope not! Ideally, we should each view ourselves as having a small role in accomplishing what God is doing on campus.

Then Why Don’t They Merge?
There are at least two significant reasons: we believe slightly different things and having different groups maximizes ministry.

Why Should Different Beliefs Lead to Different Ministries If You Agree On the Essentials?
Because beliefs drive behavior, and at some point different beliefs will call for different behavior. Let me give you a concrete example: some groups believe that you must celebrate communion at every weekly meeting and others don’t. In a given group, only one of those practices can prevail. By having two different groups, both sets of believers can flourish.

OK, Maybe. But How Does Having Different Groups Maximize Ministry?
In the same way that having multiple churches maximizes ministry in a town. Suppose there was only one church in a town of 10,000. Even if the church building can accommodate 500 people, it would take 20 services a week to accommodate everyone if they all decided to come!

Suppose, on the other hand, that you have 10 churches each of which can accommodate 250 people. If each church had 4 services a week everyone could attend.

In the same way, there’s limited meeting space on campus (and we’re not allowed to build our own buildings). We need to have different groups scheduling meetings at different times in different places.

Also, since each group develops its own flavor, personal preferences can be accommodated. There are some people who would never consider attending a religious group that worshiped God by means of 45 minutes of continuous light rock. There are others who would never consider attending a group that worshiped God by means of incense and hymns. By having multiple groups, there is a greater likelihood of a person finding a group that they click with.

But Shouldn’t We All Be In Unity?
Absolutely! But that doesn’t imply that the groups should merge into one. Just as you can be in unity with other Christians without becoming the same person as them, groups can remain distinct and exist in unity.

We are in unity in that we proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ and consider one another a part of God’s plan for exposing students to the gospel. We encourage one another on to love and good deeds, and we pray for one another. We rejoice at one another’s successes and commiserate over one another’s failures.

We do not, however, merge. To do so would be a bad strategy for reaching the campus.

Don’t You Ever Do Anything Together?
Yeah. There are some special prayer meetings and worship services–you’ll find out about those as the school year progresses.