Reaching the next generation

November 17, 2017

Contrary to the spiritual principals most of North Paul Sabino, pastor of Candeo Church on the America’s earliest universities were founded on, today’s university context is overwhelmingly secular. Barna Research has found that 64 percent of Christians in North America accept Christ before the age of 18, and only one in four born-again Christians embrace Christ after their 21st birthday, meaning college is one of the last times people are open to receiving the gospel.

“There are only a couple of windows after high school when people are open to learning,” says

Paul Sabrino, pastor of Candeo Church on the campus of Northern Iowa State. “One of those is college. After that, there is the first year of marriage and the birth of a first child. There aren’t many windows in people’s lives where they are truly open.”

A collegiate network

The Salt Company campus ministry was founded in 1986 by Troy Nesbitt, a man determined to reach students on Iowa State’s campus. 

After a few years as a collegiate outreach, the Salt Company campus ministry decided to establish their own brick and mortar on campus called Cornerstone Church.

As a freshman at Iowa State in 1992, Paul found himself at a Salt Company event during his first week of college. Paul remained active in the church throughout his college career. Upon graduating, he joined the staff at Cornerstone as director of Salt Company and then as family pastor. After a decade, Paul felt God calling him in a new direction.

“I began to have a growing desire to emerge as a teaching pastor,” says Paul. “I didn’t initially think that would be through church planting, but when Troy asked me if I would be interested in planting a church at Northern Iowa, I felt it was time for me to move forward in faith.” 

Candeo Church launched in 2013 when five families from Cornerstone moved to plant a church at Northern Iowa State—the last university campus in Iowa where Salt Company was not represented. 

Candeo is one of eight church plants Cornerstone has sent to reach university students. Their goal is to plant at least 20 churches in the next five years with an ultimate aspiration of planting at all 81 major campuses in the Midwest in the next 12 years.

“If we accomplish this, it would be a miracle and a pretty cool thing,” says Troy. “I recently transitioned from being the lead pastor at Cornerstone to direct the Salt Network, through the North American Mission Board (NAMB), to focus more on expanding our network to reach more college students. Kevin Ezell (the president of NAMB) has really motivated us to look beyond Iowa and be more strategic about planting in areas that reach the city and the campus.”

Raising up leaders

“The vision that drives our church is reaching the next generation,” says Troy. “If you want to continue to reach the next generation, you have to allow them to have vested leadership within your church. 

“We have partnered with Midwestern Theological Seminary and started Cornerstone School of Theology, where you can get a Master of Arts degree in theological studies. The interns in our residency program are getting their theological education while doing ministry at the same time. The purpose is to raise up new leaders to go and plant in different places.”

One of those leaders is Stephen Jones. Stephen attended Iowa State and was introduced to Salt Company his first semester of college, too.

“College was a turning point,” says Stephen.

“I was thankful for my Christian upbringing, but I wasn’t sure if it was for me. God providentially put guys into my life who pointed me toward Christ my first year in college. Being around a community of believers who were my age, learning to live on mission in a secular context and learning to share my faith with students far from Christ was very transformational for me.” 

Although Stephen spent his college career pursuing a pre-dental degree, he admits his plans were “flipped upside down” when he started to feel called into full-time ministry during his senior year. His calling was confirmed by leaders at Cornerstone, and he is now in their residency program through the school of theology.

A modern revival 

“Our goal has always been to be a multigenerational church that aggressively pursues the next

generation,” says Troy. “We have all the ministries you would want in a church, but college ministry is our primary ministry since that is our context.” 

Troy has been amazed at how God continues to bless and grow all the churches in the Salt Network. Across all of their campuses, they see a weekly average of 2,242 college students, and in the past year they have baptized 465 in their congregations.

“In my opinion, every church should do everything it can to invest in university students. People get away from college ministry because students don’t pay the bills, but when you have 20-year-olds fully engaged in worship, it does amazing things for your church.”

Meredith Yackel writes for the North American Mission Board. 

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