UBF: Back to para-church?

Over the past 10 years, the on-campus, Bible study front-groups for University Bible Fellowship have grown in popularity (in the USA; perhaps elsewhere also). They have, in some cases, become a new ministry. If the main UBF leaders have been moving away from the para-church style of ministry, in order to form an official church, why the rise of the para-church groups?

There are some clear reasons why the para-church movement (which begain in the 70’s) has re-surfaced in UBF since 2000.  The para-church groups I am referring to are the “Seed” or “Narrow Gate” campus groups that UBF has formed. Twenty years ago, in America, these groups did not exist.

1. Official link to campus

In the 1980’s, American campuses were still “open doors”. In fact, openness is a hallmark of the American university system. America is the land of the free. However, in recent years, that openness has been challenged. The Yale lab murder. The Virginia Tech massacre. The Ohio State shooting. All these have contributed to danger and fear on campuses. Often, these open universities are forced to increase campus police and begin closing doors to the openness that once existed.

My point is this: You can no longer just walk on campus, grab some students for Bible study and create a ministry. It is not so easy. Universities require “official club status” to use campus rooms or even to be on campus. For years, campus ministries such as InterVarsity, were officially registered clubs or organizations. UBF was kicked off a few campuses early on, but flew under the radar, for the most part.

Now UBF finds that in order to remain connected with new college students, they must register as an official club. So they create “Narrow Gate” or “Seed” or “Deeper Roots”, appointing a “president”, “vice president”, etc. I found this rather easy to do. On the campus near me, I could create an official club with just two students and one faculty adviser.

2. Retention of Second Gens/Students

The 50th Anniversary Book mentions the fourth “crisis” in UBF. This crisis is yet another exodus of long-time leaders and members, this time from chapters around the world. UBF members are still pondering whether to leave or not. One of the high ranking search terms that leads people to this blog is “how to leave UBF“.

The real crisis for 1st Generation Korean UBF missionaries however, is their 2nd Generation children. In the past 10 years, those children in America have become adults. They have gotten married and gone to college. And they have rejected the spiritual heritage of UBF, in many cases. A rather surprising number of these 2nd Gens dutifully play along with their parent’s UBF activities, but secretly question whether God even exists. Many of them have become trapped.

Where will you find the 2nd Gens in UBF chapters? You’ll find them in the seed groups. UBF church has become irrelevant to young people, but the seed groups have found ways to not only attract students, but to help them. As UBF church stifles and struggles, UBF para-church is even thriving in some chapters. The recent event called “The Well” is evidence of this.

3. Mutually Beneficial

So then the Bible study front groups on campus became a sort of contract of compromise. The 2nd Gens would have left UBF all together en masse. The seed groups allow them to be counted as UBF members, but have the freedom to express themselves. UBF senior leaders like this because they get to count all the numbers. They can say “See, UBF is still relevant to students!” And the 2nd Gens like it because they get their parents off their back, for awhile.

This is all “well and good”… pun intended :)  But where are the American families in all this? They are squeezed in between UBF church and UBF para-church. There really is no good place for them. They are simply demanded to suffer and sacrifice their family life in order to remain part of the campus ministry. For example, my wife and I had to live like single college students for 15 years in order to remain part of UBF ministry. The solution for American shepherd families is often to leave or pioneer a new UBF chapter.

What do you think? Are there other reasons for the rise of the para-church groups? Am I understanding this correctly?

2 thoughts on “UBF: Back to para-church?

    • Indeed… you can survive in UBF well-enough up until marriage time. Then you are forced to commit everything to UBF or leave in shame. If UBF leaders were more honest about the divorces and people who left the ministry during marriage training, things would perhaps be more healthy.