What started as a small group of students meeting for a sermon and worship back in 2007 has now exploded in growth, both numerically and spiritually.

Oasis college ministry at GracePoint Wesleyan Church in Brookings, South Dakota, began as a worship service geared toward college students in 2007. Back then, approximately 20 – 30 students from nearby South Dakota State University attended.

Now, approximately 300 students attend each Sunday night (with about 150 – 200 of those in attendance Sunday mornings) and are doing more than just worshiping on a Sunday night. They are growing in their faith through regular discipleship and mission trips.

“We have student small groups that meet throughout the week,” said Rev. Aaron Cloud, pastor of ministry development at GracePoint. “These are all student-led small groups, divided into guys’ and girls’ groups. The small groups take the sermon content from Sunday nights and engage that further in the small group setting, digging into Scripture and reflecting on discussion questions.”

A leadership team of about 30 – 35 students meets weekly and they plan events, serve on Sunday nights and are led in discipleship and leadership development by both the college pastor and eight student leaders.

Rev. Rick Wipf started Oasis at GracePoint 12 years ago. According to Rev. Aaron Cloud, assistant pastor at GracePoint, Wipf’s leadership “with his intentional focus on helping students rest, refresh and renew” helped the ministry grow to more than 100 students at the time. Wipf, who left GracePoint in 2011 to plant another church in Minnesota, also focused on intentional campus outreach, which also caused the group to grow in size. Oasis is primarily a ministry of the local church but many of the students are involved with SDSU campus ministries, such as Cru, Navigators and Intervarsity.

Since then, Cloud, who was hired in 2011, has sensed the Lord asking him to be intentional in prayer for the students of SDSU and the Oasis ministry at GracePoint. He’s been engaging in regular prayer walks on campus since 2013 and encouraging students to do the same. Some student leaders also gather at the church from time to time to pray during the lunch hour.

“We challenged the students to claim their campus by using the walk to and from classes to pray for their peers and professors,” said Cloud. “We also challenged them to pray about ‘one life’ — one person whom God was calling them to invest in, in a spiritually intentional way. That year the ministry grew by about 100 students.”

Lizzy Hagen is one of those students who has been involved with Oasis since her freshman year. When Hagen, a pharmacy major, first arrived at SDSU her freshman year, she “claimed to be a Christian but I did not have a relationship with the Lord.” Now Hagen, an upcoming senior, has a vibrant relationship with Jesus. She credits the Oasis ministry for having a hand in that.

“I have been able to grow in my relationship with the Lord and I know that this ministry has helped me to become the person I am today,” said Hagen. “Oasis has brought me my community in college and became my home away from home.” Discipleship through Oasis has also played a big part in the depth of Lizzy’s relationship with the Lord.

“I was able to find an older friend who showed me what it means to be a godly woman,” said Hagen. “As I have grown, I have been able to take what I have learned from her to be godly woman in the life of my friends and the women in my Bible study that I help lead.”

Brennen Schmitt is another student leader with Oasis. Schmitt is an economics and communication studies major who recently graduated in May. He’s been involved with Oasis for three years and been a leader for two.

“My involvement with the leadership team of Oasis was above and beyond the most enriching experience of my college career,” said Schmitt. “Our goal is to help organize and facilitate our Sunday night worship service so that the 300+ college students and young adults who come can encounter God in that space. From making all the coffee to setting up snack tables, our team focuses on the details to help students engage with Christ.”

Cloud is grateful for the ways in which the students are growing and the hand that GracePoint has in their relationships with Jesus. He’s also thankful for how other generations in the church minister to these students.

“We have a group of ladies who volunteer to cook a free meal once a month for all of our college students,” said Cloud. “They regularly serve 150 – 200 students on a Sunday with lunch after church. It is just one more avenue that helps students build community and feel a sense of connection with the church as a whole.”

During finals week, GracePoint opens the church for students to have a place to study and provides snacks and coffee. It’s just one other way the church hopes to have a transforming presence in this college community.

Lead image: Oasis student leaders gathered to pray before the first service of the school year.