After three and a half years without its own building, Baptist Campus Ministries at Auburn University is back in its own — and brand-new — site.
“We had great transitional space and are very appreciative of that,” said Stephen Thompson, senior campus minister of Auburn BCM.
For the past several years, the ministry has worked out of a bank building and rented from a nearby Methodist church.
“It was a great partnership,” he said, “but we’re glad to be in our own home.”
In November 2017, messengers to the Alabama Baptist State Convention annual meeting approved a deal that sold the BCM property to the city of Auburn for use as a seven-level parking garage, but included a provision for the city to build a new place for the ministry on the bottom level.
Funds from the sale provided a large chunk of funding for renovations at 10 other BCM buildings around the state.
The new Auburn facility sits on the same spot as the original building, just facing a different direction. Where it originally faced College Street, it now looks onto Wright Street.
Though Thompson was initially unsure of the new placement, he said it has turned out to be “a better location and vision than we had before.”
Previously, the building had a prime spot facing merchants and restaurants, but during those years many Auburn students lived on the opposite side of campus in the dorms and had to trek to the site.
But in the past several years, the face of downtown Auburn changed significantly and it has become home to a number of high-rise student residences.
Now the BCM is “in the shadows of those buildings, so we’re seeing students all day long walk right in front of our doors,” Thompson said.
That is significant, because not only has the face of downtown Auburn changed in recent years — the face of student ministry has too. Students don’t seek out BCM as a place to go for worship and fellowship like they used to, he noted.
“I think if you talk to campus ministers across the board, this year following the pandemic and trying to get geared back up into the full swing of campus life, it’s just been different,” Thompson related. “Students are a lot harder to connect with, and they’re not as interested in connecting with campus ministries. We have to go to them.”
So with the new building has come a new strategy. Instead of a “y’all come” approach where students come to the BCM to engage, Thompson and other leadership are using the new building as a base of operations for outreach. It’s used for worship, discipleship groups and fellowship, but also as a place from which to go out and engage students on campus.
Mike Nuss, director of the office of collegiate and student ministries for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, said it’s an example of how student ministry on college campuses as a whole is shifting.
“We really have tried to couch the use of those buildings as an evangelistic outpost on a mission field that is 95% unreached,” he said of Alabama’s college campuses. “The day of ‘If you build it, they will come’ is long gone. It doesn’t work that way anymore on a college campus.
“The vast majority are never going to darken the doors of a building, church, anything. The facility really serves as a hub or outpost for our evangelistic outreach on campus.”
Thompson noted he’s keeping that in mind as Auburn BCM retools its vision.
“In many ways for us it’s kind of a restart,” he said. “We’re very appreciative to Alabama Baptists for their commitment and investment in the lives of college students, and commitment to providing these kinds of resources, especially now.”