When they encounter college students who are cynical about church, North American Mission Board church planters Jacob and Jessica Dahl are not surprised. In fact, they see themselves in those students.
Jessica spent her first two years of college at Washington State University (WSU) believing a career in journalism was her future. An engineering major, Jacob was just as determined to pursue financial and career success. Both surrendered to the Lord during their college years and found authentic Christian community at Resonate Church, a gathering that launched in 2007 with the goal of reaching college students for Christ.
The Dahls met in 2009, graduated soon after, and joined Resonate Church as interns. Both had the idea that God could have a year or two of their lives before they entered the professional world.
“Neither of us saw this as long term,” Jessica said. “We were still telling God, ‘You can have some of our lives, but not all of it.’ ”
The Dahls married in 2011 and took jobs at WSU. During their ministry sabbatical, they prayed for God’s direction. The central question was how much God wanted to use them. His answer was “profound and pivotal.”
God began to show the Dahls the missions field of college students. Soon Resonate determined the location of its first church plant—Central Washington University (CWU) in Ellensburg—and called Jacob as pastor.
The student population at CWU is not unlike other small state universities. Ninety-two percent of the college’s 11,000 students primarily come from four nearby counties.
“CWU is not the first choice of a lot of our students, but with that comes a drive to be part of something bigger,” Jessica said. “Many are still trying to find their identity, and they are open to ways they can get involved.”
Most of the students are “nones” with little religious background. The Dahls don’t see the students’ lack of knowledge as a hindrance. Instead, it frees leaders to teach the Bible from a “blank slate” rather than having to “deconstruct a falsely built Christian worldview,” Jessica explained.
The heartbeat of Resonate Church is small groups known as “villages.” At CWU, villages meet in homes and on campus, providing an easy entry point for Resonate Church members to bring their friends. At any given village, there might be an atheist or a Buddhist discussing the Bible and what it means to be a follower of Jesus. The relational element means new people are regularly joining villages, which leads them naturally into church.
Resonate holds church services on Sunday nights in the CWU student union building. Being in the hub of student life allows Resonate members to connect with campus life in a personal way. Another student life connection was made early on when Resonate shared its giant blow-up movie screen for a freshman orientation event. More than 800 students showed up to the event and heard about Resonate during their first days on campus.
“It was huge favor that we got to have with the university and with incoming freshmen,” Jessica said.
The Resonate mission and the Dahls’ prayer is for college students to become disciples who make disciples.
“Since day one we believed the Great Commission is for all of us,” Jessica said. “Our prayer is that God will continue to move people to go.”
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