In the wake of an ever-growing gospel gap, heightened social and personal anxieties, and deep national and global divides, one man, his daughter and their team are working to inspire change in one of the nation’s most vulnerable battlefields: public schools.
Jeff Eckart is the founder of two nondenominational organizations, Never the Same and Claim Your Campus. He and his daughter, Olivia, are passionately and purposefully working with others to ignite a prayer movement within schools through Claim Your Campus 2020, an event aimed at encouraging middle and high school students to pray intentionally for their schools.
An ordained pastor in The Wesleyan Church, Eckart said the idea for Claim Your Campus, where students would join together once a week in prayer over their school, had been in the works since the early 2000s but began to really take shape in 2009, when he left his job as youth pastor for Kentwood Community Church to focus on the school prayer ministry.
Eckart was especially inspired to develop the ministry having seen God working in the local Kentwood schools when students had been meeting weekly to pray.
“Eight students would meet every Tuesday morning to pray over the issue of fighting, [an issue that had grown increasingly prevalent],” Eckart said. “And then Wayne Schmidt (General Superintendent of The Wesleyan Church and former senior pastor of Kentwood Community Church), of all people, was at a school board meeting about three months after [the students] had been praying weekly about fighting, and the school board reported that there’d been no more fighting at the school.”
Eckart said this answer to prayer changed his perspective on what prayer can do for school campuses. He began to consider how God could move if every school was participating in obedient prayer. From those few students who gathered in Kenwood over ten years ago to know, CYC has grown to 40,000 students committed to weekly prayer for over 3,000 school campuses.
And that is what Eckart, Olivia and their team are pursuing with the launch of a new prayer movement at the Claim Your Campus 2020 conference.
“Our goal with this prayer movement is to get a prayer group, led by students weekly, in every middle and high school in the country,” he said. Eckart’s goal is to have one million students committed to praying every week, which would average about 15 students per school.
As a voice and champion for the next generation, Olivia not only echoes her father’s sentiments on prayer but has joined him at the forefront of this movement.
“I am mobilizing churches across the nation to stand with us this summer at [Claim Your Campus 2020] because I have tasted and seen what God wants to do when we call our young people to pray,” said Olivia, Claim Your Campus 2020 mobilization strategist. “I believe that this generation needs something outside of the norm, outside the regular rhythms of our comfortable lives. They need a moment that stands out and is different than anything they have experienced before. It is there that God will reveal ‘the more,’” she said.
This “more” Olivia references echoes what students learned at the TWC youth conference, FOLLOW. In December 2019, conference attendees were taught “There is More,” referencing a call for students to actively participate as an Unleashed Kingdom Force.
“Claim Your Campus 2020 is a great companion to FOLLOW because now the students are seeing their opportunity to live out what they’ve experienced at FOLLOW, which is such an important event for our denomination,” said Eckart. “It’s a great event that offers so much opportunity for changing.
“So, when a student goes to FOLLOW, they can see a way to live out their faith and then see their campus as a mission field,” Eckart said. “And that’s the number one place that they can have the most influence right now in their life is the school campus.”
“How invigorating to have Wesleyans at the heart of a multidenominational, nation-wide prayer movement,” said Schmidt. “The momentum created by the FOLLOW Youth Conference will be practically activated by the inspiration and equipping provided at Claim Your Campus 2020. Our Next Gen will be involved in student-led, school-based prayer groups across North America, bringing the transforming presence of Christ to even more ZIP codes.”
But beyond the Eckarts’ heart for a growing number of students to participate in prayer is a deeper desire for these students to understand the sacredness of prayer, the intentionality that is to go behind it.
Eckart said, “Prayer is important because it defines our communication with God, it defines how we listen, it defines how we interact, how we speak and what subject matter we’re talking about.”
As General Conference 2020 approaches, conversations about The Wesleyan Church becoming an Unleashed Kingdom Force to close the ever-widening Gospel Gap continue to gain momentum. Eckart believes Wesleyans are being positioned in the center of a movement of the Holy Spirit to spark a change in culture, across the nation and around the world, starting with prayer.
“There’s something God is stirring up within The Wesleyan Church, and within the church in America, and that is just a wind of the Holy Spirit to bring about change in our society and culture. And at the forefront of that is the school campus,” Eckart said. “Through these different streams — The Wesleyan Church, our organization at Never the Same and lots of really diverse parts of the church in America, all the way from Catholic to Protestant to campus ministries to National Day of Prayer — there’s this similar theme that that’s really emerging, and that theme is the power of the Holy Spirit.”
“We are really praying that our denomination will stand behind this and join this national movement of prayer. God is moving mightily in this nation, and we want The Wesleyan Church to be on the forefront of what God is doing,” Olivia said.
For more information on Claim Your Campus 2020, click here.
To witness the transformational power of prayer ignited by Claim Your Campus in the Marion High School student community in Marion, Indiana, click here.