Evangelism with Johnny Hunt

#22 – Engaging College Students with the Gospel


They are North America’s future leaders and influencers, and while university students come with their own challenges, influencing them means raising up the next generation of Christian leaders. But how do we reach a generation that appears to snub their nose at Christianity? Learn more about sharing the gospel and leading university students in your local church in this episode as Kevin Ezell and Johnny Hunt interview Nick Floyd, senior pastor of Cross Church, in Fayetteville, AR.


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Announcer: You are listening to Evangelism with Johnny Hunt, a podcast from the North American Mission Board that equips you and your church to share the Gospel. Now, here are your hosts.

Kevin Ezell: Thanks for joining us on today’s episode of Evangelism with Johnny Hunt. I’m Kevin Ezell.

Johnny Hunt: And I’m Johnny Hunt, and at the North American Mission Board, we want to see every church living on mission, and our goal is to provide resources and opportunities to help you pastor as you lead your church in sharing the hope of the gospel.

Johnny Hunt: I’m thrilled about our guest on the podcast today, Nick Floyd. Nick is Pastor and leading out in Cross Church, in Fayetteville, Arkansas, doing a great job mobilizing church members to live on mission and particularly when it comes to college students, which we want to talk about today. So Nick, thanks for being with us today.

Nick Floyd:  Absolutely. So excited to be with you and look forward to the conversation.

Johnny Hunt: And got to be honest, I’m so encouraged by the way God has been using you over these last 10 years on your campus there. Tell us a little bit about Fayetteville community and the people you’re trying to reach.

Nick Floyd:  Yeah, no doubt. Well, Fayetteville is a city in the midst of northwest Arkansas, which really is made up of four main cities, but Fayetteville is the most southern of all of those as you look at the map. Population of about 80,000 people. It’s your typical liberal university town that has a lot of culture. It’s a beautiful area. The university, which we’re about five minutes away from, it’s really just around the corner from our church, has about 26,000, 27,000 students, somewhere around there. And so much of life and much of the community revolves around the university, and so it makes a fun environment to do church in.

Johnny Hunt:  Yeah. Well, talking about the University of Arkansas, and I know you all have done a great job making an impact on the campus, describe for us some of the things that Cross Church does to reach college students in Fayetteville.

Nick Floyd:  Yeah, absolutely. Well, I think years ago we made a decision to appropriately fund it, and to give the necessary resources to hire staff that can specifically focus on reaching college students. It would be hard for me or for one of our other pastors, who have other duties, to be also tasked with this task of reaching those 27,000 students. And so we made a decision several years ago to get the necessary resources to hire staff.

Nick Floyd: And then I think the number two thing we’d done in that, is that we’ve hired evangelistic staff. And now we have a track record of, we’re now on our third college pastor. You all know Noe Garcia who is now pastor in North Phoenix Baptist Church, in Phoenix. Noe was our last college pastor, who just really, the ministry exploded under him. And now we have a guy named Brian Mills.

Nick Floyd: And those guys, along with our first college pastor, were just evangelistic machines. I mean, they cared passionately about seeing college students come to faith in Christ. And so they’ve just done an incredible job. And so we’ve hired staff and then hired evangelistic staff.

Nick Floyd: And we’ve also just tried to build a church that college students would love to attend. We’ve said from the very beginning, “We don’t want to be a college church.” We see the value. Number one, they don’t pay for anything. So that’s another reason you can’t build a college church. But number two, we see the value of them sitting next to a 70 year old and sitting next to a fourth grader on Sunday morning. And so in the midst of that, while not trying to be totally focused on them, we’ve also tried to be sensitive to what is a large, large demographic five minutes from our church. And so I think we’d be dumb to ignore that and to just go on with business as usual. We’ve tried to build a church that they would love to attend.

Kevin Ezell:  The key, obviously Nick, you’ve been very intentional, but that goes way back. I mean, you have an evangelism passion, but it was something that was very intentional. It really started, I’m sure with your dad. Now that you’re the pastor of Cross Church… Hey, would you want to just share, because everybody, knowing that you’re now the new pastor there, would want a little bit about the influence of your dad on you being so evangelistic. I mean, it’s not something that was just casual, and it was very intentional on his part to infuse that in you and your brother. But you want to just address that, about his impact and how he led you to be so evangelism focused?

Nick Floyd: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. We came to Cross Church when I was about two years old, almost three at the time. It was first Baptist Church of Springdale, Arkansas. And so that’s really all that I know, in my growing up years, of church. That’s obviously my dad being the pastor, I saw him lead in that manner of evangelism. I saw him hire staff. Back to that element, hire staff who was passionate about evangelism. And when you’re raised in that kind of environment, with a dad like that and youth pastors like that, different people that just surround, you can’t help but walk away with a real desire to see people come to faith in Christ.

Nick Floyd: And I said it the other day to our staff, “I was raised here. You cut me, I’ll bleed evangelism,” just like many of our other staff do, just because that’s who we are as a church. I’ve seen my dad be as a leader and as a pastor, and so you can’t separate that at all, the influence that he’s had on me now as a pastor and this whole idea of evangelism.

Johnny Hunt:  Well, that’s good, and we’re not at all surprised. Being in university town, we’re reading so much in recent days about the millennials and how closed they are to the gospel. Tell me, with all the people you all are winning to Christ, are students open to the gospel?

Nick Floyd: Yeah, absolutely. I think students are. I think this entire community who, when we first decided to plant the campus in Fayetteville, I remember people saying, “Oh, you’re going to Fayetteville.” Almost like Fayetteville was the bogeyman, because it was just known as a lost city. And obviously central to that lostness, is the university. And so we’ve seen a wide open door of their interest in the gospel, because they come to us broken. And in many ways they’ve had 18 years of trying to do it their own way. They come to us emotionally broken because of broken homes. They come to a sexually broken because they’ve bought into the enemy’s lies and all that. And so we’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of students come to faith in Christ over our eight years.

Nick Floyd:  I think in the last two years we’ve baptized right at, or right around, 200 college students. Our college staff have just done an amazing job of not only in the big setting of a college worship service, but also smaller one-on-one settings at the coffee shops of our town and stuff like that, or just leading evangelistically, and they’re just like anybody else. They’re just like a 70 year old who’s in need of Christ or a fourth grader in need of Christ. When they hear the message of Jesus, it’s like a healing balm to their soul. And so we’ve seen a great openness to the gospel from college students.

Johnny Hunt: One thing that excites us, we’re confident that if a church is going to be evangelistic, the pastor must be evangelistic. He must model it. He must preach it. He must lead by example. But at the same time, if you’re going to have church members that follow suit, you’re going to have to equip them. What are you all doing at Cross Church to equip the church members to share the gospel?

Nick Floyd: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. We’ve done what you would imagine any church has done over the years. We’ve trained in 3 Circles. Several years ago, we even in the last few weeks, we’ve held a training for three minute testimonies that any church member could go to. So we’ve done stuff like that.

Nick Floyd:  I want to talk about maybe something that’s underestimated, and that is how the pastor communicates, because I think that’s an intentional way to train your people to understand the gospel, first of all, which in turn, ultimately, will train them to share the gospel. For years, I had described coming to faith in Christ almost every Sunday in the same manner. And I do it in this way. I talk about Christ and what he’s come to do for us. And then I talk about, “Well, how does this happen in your life? ” It’s just such a habit, now that I do it, people probably get sick of it, but I take one step to the right, and I say, “You turn away from a life of sin. The Bible calls that repentance, and you turn… ” And then I step with my left foot towards the opposite direction. I say, “You turn in faith to Jesus Christ and you’re saved.”

Nick Floyd: We’ve even tried to be consistent in using believers baptism of… I’ve instructed our pastors of Fayetteville specifically to say, “Listen, when you baptize people, use the same lingo.” What we say when the candidate is in the water, “Have you turned from your sin and put your faith in Jesus Christ?’ Now that may seem annoying or repetitive for people, but what that is, is that’s giving people a constant picture of the gospel. We are sharing the gospel every time we baptize. I’m sharing the Gospel during every sermon.

Nick Floyd: I think a byproduct of that is you’re training your people what to believe about the gospel and how a person comes to faith in Christ. And so I think that’s going to pay huge dividends down the road.

Johnny Hunt: And I like that, and you are right. The people will probably get sick of it, but they’ve got to get sick of it before they really get it. And they say, “We’ve got to say it so many times that we’re sick of it before they’re sick of it.” But I like that, and I like the consistency, you are being intentional that you’re doing it in your message, and then you carry it over to the baptism.

Johnny Hunt: You think of 27,000 students, there in your town at the University of Arkansas, and I know you’ve baptized a couple hundred, and I know you would like to influence and probably at some level are influencing the entire campus. But what would you say is a struggle that you sense in reaching and even keeping college age students? And what would you say are the challenges that you face that would help us? And then how you’re addressing it.

Nick Floyd:  Yeah. It’s a deal. I mean, we’re walking through it and so by no means, even though the Lord has allowed us to be able to reach many over the years, it’s by no means a finished product. And we struggle with that even today. Some of it is, they’re just thick.

Nick Floyd: And when I think back to my college years, I was exact same way, and it’s usually not even a heart issue. I can remember when I was in college for a year, I went to one church, and then the next year I just changed and went to another church. I had no bad conceptions of the church that I left. I just wanted to do something different.

Nick Floyd:  And so some of that, we just put an arm around them and just help them walk towards maturity, whether they keep on attending Cross Church or they go somewhere else. It’s part of it. We may have them for a season and get to pour into their lives, and they go to another church. They get to pour into their lives, and God works in the middle of all that.

Nick Floyd: But one of the challenges, and I think it is part of this arm around you, walking towards maturity together, is to help them realize what real life church looks like, compared to what a Wednesday night college service looks like. When you walk into our college service, which is called C3, which just crushers, colleges, what that stands for, I mean it is electric. But every college student has come ready to hear the word of God, ready to worship. And then you contrast that, when they walk into a Sunday morning gathering, and it feels no doubt different. But you got to have grace for those other people who are there. You’ve got a 70 year old widow who is having the anniversary of her husband’s death on that same exact day. And she didn’t know if she was going to make it to church, but she pulled herself out of bed and did that.

Nick Floyd: You’ve got a young couple who, one kid puked on the way to church. Another one was screaming the entire way. They barely made it in and just had sat down and taken a breath. Well, that is going to affect the field in a sense of the church, the atmosphere of the church. But I mean, that’s the church.

Nick Floyd: And so as I said just a moment ago, we find value, and then having a relationship with the 70 year old and a fourth grader at the same time. And so I think part of this journey with them is just a journey towards the maturity of just having grace for other people, of understanding they don’t have it figured all out, because none of us do.

Nick Floyd: And so that’s one of our issues that we’re even dealing with right now, just trying to walk alongside. Just say, “Listen, I understand it’s different and that’s okay. And this is how we operate together as a church and grace and bearing with one another.” So that’s a little about what we’re walking through right now, that I think is probably true for other churches as well.

Johnny Hunt:                        Yeah, that’s really a good word. It really encouraged us, though, to hear your heart in the multi-generational relationship in the church and then to see those challenges. And I would even go back and say, as a pastor up, I’ve watched the same thing with college students or high school students. You have a Wednesday night where it’s nothing but high school. The place is on fire. It’s so much fun. And I’ve even seen a good number of them just consider that their church, which that’s going to really hinder, especially with the next question that I want to ask you. And that is, if we don’t get them connected to the real live church, get them to understand that these are like your mother and your grandmother. These are like some of your siblings that are not where you are, how then would we ever challenge them to be on mission after they leave the university, graduate, and even possibly leave the Fayetteville area?

Johnny Hunt:  So I really like how you processed it. And the reason we’re asking these questions, and we don’t expect anybody to have all the answers, but even what you’re sharing is going to really help our audience, and it’s going to help people. Here you are 35 years old, and to get what you’ve gotten already in life and to have, God willing, such a long runway in front of you, you’re going to really help every one of us to understand how we can do a better job with the challenge of college students.

Johnny Hunt: So when you think about helping them and challenging them to be on mission afterwards, is that sort of a part of the intentional ministry that you have with the college students as well? I mean, you’ve only going to have them for years at best.

Nick Floyd:  Yeah, absolutely. It’s a win to be able to send them out. Really, what we’re dealing with at some level is the theological issue of tying together being on mission with the Church of Jesus Christ. And I think they always go together in the scriptures, and so I think part of the way that we can equip them and challenge them to live on mission, when they leave us is to encourage them to live on mission while they’re with us and to be a part of the church. And so over the last year we’ve had about 300 students who are actively serving in the church at one of our campuses and one of the ministries. That could be helping with teach children. That could be working with the student ministry. That could be serving in some other element of the church.

Nick Floyd:  But I think again, and it’s the same principle with what you mentioned about high schoolers, if they buy into the church and buy into the mission that the church is on together, well that’s not a shock when they leave and they end up in a secular city or in a setting where, “Man, there’s not a church like I used to attend, and so am I just not going to attend now because that doesn’t fit what I like? Or am I just going to say, ‘Listen, it’s about the greater mission and God has placed me here with the church that I could do that with?'”

Nick Floyd: And so I think Brian Mills, he’s done so well at that, of really seeing the value of placing them into service, into the church. And I think that will help them transition, where regardless of where they go after graduation and regardless of what city and ultimately what church they end up in.

Johnny Hunt: Yeah. Hey, thanks for sharing that with us. Brian Mills is a stallion. He’s a good guy.

Nick Floyd: Yeah, he is.

Johnny Hunt:  We’re kind of fond of that Knolly guy as well.

Nick Floyd: Oh yeah. Those guys have been great.

Johnny Hunt:  You all have been blessed, to say the least, because what you’re realizing now is, you have trained them up in such a way they can leave you and go really do what you’re doing, which I think is the ultimate mentoring process. So, how impressed.

Johnny Hunt: Hey Nick, thanks for joining us on the podcast today. Only heaven will reveal how many people are being helped by what you’ve just shared. And we’re going to look with great anticipation how God uses you as pastor of Cross Church.

Johnny Hunt: Hey, thank you, Pastor, for listening. If you have any questions for us, email them to Evangelism at namb.net, and we’ll try to answer them on a future episode. So see you next time.