By Jennifer Johnson
Southland Christian Church (Lexington, KY) has created a way to engage people who are interested in deeper study of the Bible, maintain their interest and involvement, and even train current leaders and discover future staff members: Southland University.
“We’re trying to meet the needs of many different groups,” says Derrick Purvis, formation pastor at Southland. “Weekends are ‘bottom shelf’ and designed to be as accessible as possible. Programs that go a bit deeper are the next step.
“But we also knew a number of people wanted more challenge and more growth. The problem is it takes a huge amount of effort and time to do that right—to prepare material at that level. We also needed to figure out retention, because often people begin something like that with a lot of enthusiasm and then attendance drops.”
To solve these problems, Southland partnered with Cincinnati Christian University to create a Bible Certificate Program that launched last fall. CCU professors teach six classes—Ethics, Old Testament 1 and 2, Paul and His Letters, Christology, and Apologetics—over the course of three years. Each class meets on Thursday evenings for six weeks, and each one costs only $10.
“The registration fee is just so people get some skin in the game and take it seriously,” Purvis says. “We also require students to write a ‘comprehension paper’ at the end of each class to demonstrate that they understood the course work. The whole idea is growth and comprehension.”
He says that compared to other initiatives, retention for the certificate program classes has been “off the charts,” and people have responded well to the higher-level learning.
In addition to this “101” series of classes, Southland also created a Future Leader Program for volunteers who want to learn more or might be considering ministry as a future career. This invitation-only “ministry school” gives participants a deeper understanding and hands-on experience in a variety of different ministry areas, including students and children, communications, local and global outreach, weekend programming, and even finance.
“Spend a little time with the finance team, and you have a whole new appreciation for the budget process!” Purvis says. “Same thing with operations; suddenly you understand the importance of our processes and planning.”
He hopes much of their hiring can eventually come from the Future Leader participants.
“It’s a great group of people who are already invested in Southland and wanting to learn,” he says. “Fourteen people participated in the first cohort, and it will continue to grow.”