Nestled in the midst of a diverse community of young professionals, blue collar workers, large minority populations and deep poverty is the University of Massachusetts, Lowell — about 30 miles northwest of downtown Boston.  Enrolling more than 10,000 undergrads, UMASS Lowell is becoming one of the most influential state schools in all of New England.  The campus is also home to Christian Student Fellowship, the largest Baptist Campus Ministry in New England (and one of the largest student organizations on campus). 

Each week, 80-100 students meet in a campus auditorium for worship and Bible study. But it hasn’t always been this way. Just 15 years ago, just a handful of students met to study and pray in a small classroom. What accounts for the dramatic change? Well, the Lord, of course. But leaders also point to a few hallmarks of the ministry that have fostered Great Commission-growth. 

A culture of evangelism and discipleship.  Campus ministers raise up student leaders challenging them to share the gospel and invest their lives into other students. 

Short-term mission trips.  Each year, students have the opportunity to serve on an international team over winter break or a domestic team over spring break.  These trips cultivate gospel-principles and leadership skills within students like few other opportunities do. 

Conferences and retreats.  God uses weekends away with staff and peers to eternally change students’ hearts.  There is something about getting away from their normal routine that fosters life-change and forges Christian-community.

Church-planting.  In 2008, God used students and alumni to plant Mill City Church—a collegiate and young-adult focused church seeking to bridge campus and community.  Today, Mill City is filled with college students, alums from the campus ministry and members of the Greater-Lowell community.

These hallmarks (and more) are at the center of transformed lives at UMASS Lowell.  Students constantly remark how Christian Student Fellowship (CSF) and Mill City Church have changed their life.  Flavio, a recent graduate, says, “CSF changed the way I saw the gospel and the world.  It made me realize that the pursuit of God is made easier when shared between believers — not when contained within ourselves.”  And Alicia shares this, “CSF is a community where students can come explore their beliefs and discover faith by seeking answers to some difficult questions.  This group is one of the most welcoming and warming communities you will ever encounter in your life because of their deep love for Christ.”              

New England is the educational and historical epicenter of America.  But most missiologists identify it as one of the least-churched areas of the country too.   Mill City Church and Christian Student Fellowship believe that the key to changing an unchurched culture begins by investing in the next generation.  That’s why they’re so passionate about investing in college students and young adults.  There are schools with larger enrollments and bigger names than UMASS Lowell.  However, it is there you’ll find one of the most fruitful works of God on a college campus in New England.

Chris James is a collegiate missionary at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell, the BCNE's Greater Boston collegiate coordinator and pastor of Mill City Church in Lowell, Mass. This article was first published in LifeWay's magazine Parenting Teens