The Shining Light of Baylor’s Christian Mission
Baylor University’s recent classification as a “Research 1,” or R1, university has been widely and fittingly celebrated throughout the Baylor Family. To be sure, such recognition forms a landmark achievement in Baylor’s long history and positions the University to shine more brightly as a beacon of hope in a world facing many pressing challenges.
Our increasing scholarly activity and growing research capacity have been priorities of our strategic plan, Illuminate, because they reside at the heart of Baylor’s mission. As is the case with all aspects of the University’s operations, they are firmly grounded in and thoroughly informed by our Christian faith.
Studying Our Students
At Baylor, we believe the many ways our individual faith is expressed impact our interactions with one another and play a significant role in the health of the University.
Our ongoing Faith and Character Study, which tracks the long-term impact of a Baylor education on a person’s faith and character, has served as a central resource for guidance as we continue efforts to enhance our shared life in Christ on campus and our ability to reach out to the world as a Christian research university.
Through this study — which since 2018 has annually surveyed new students, seniors and recent alumni — we have gained a better understanding of which practices and spiritual life programming have the most impact on our students’ faith and character formation.
Having conducted this survey for several years now, we know that 93% of new Baylor students and seniors identify with a religious tradition, establishing the typical Baylor student as someone who has a strong religious mindset.
Digging into the details a little more, our most recent survey revealed that 55% of Baylor students exhibited a stable or increased frequency of church attendance and 68% of students maintained or increased their frequency of Bible reading from their first year on campus to their senior year.
We do, of course, hope to increase these percentages — as well as the results from other areas of the Faith and Character Study — and we have accordingly engaged in strategic planning and directed financial and personnel resources to help our students grow in their faith and develop those aspects of their character that will allow them to make a difference in the world.
One very noticeable change can be found in a longstanding Baylor tradition — Chapel.
Based on what we learned is most important to students, we have “re-imagined” how Chapel can be offered to ensure we are presenting the gospel in Chapel in a manner that is consistent with Baylor’s Baptist heritage and that helps students develop wherever they happen to be on the continuum of faith development.
In practice, what this means is that we now offer almost 50 different options for Chapel. Of course, we still have what we call “big Chapel,” which many students find rewarding. In addition, we now also allow students to choose from a variety of options in both size and experience. For example, our upcoming semester’s offerings include profession-specific, small-group chapels like “Faith and Business” and “Faith and the Healing Professions,” as well as chapels designed for creatives (“Theology Through Art”) and chapels designed for people with similar experiences (“Faith and Athletics” and “Faith and the Veteran”).
The feedback from students and faculty alike has been very positive, indicating we are having success in meeting students where they are and helping them more fully develop their faith. We certainly want every student to have a positive experience as part of Chapel.
Another finding of the Faith and Character Study is that attending a local place of worship serves as a powerful component of the spiritual development of our students. Consequently, we are actively partnering with area churches to develop ways for our students to connect with a local church family, where they can feel cared for, nurtured and loved while they are here in Waco.
Each fall and spring, we host a Community Prayer event with Waco-area pastors. This time gives me the opportunity to make personal connections with pastors and faith leaders from through-out Central Texas who have a tremendous impact on our students. These times also focus on prayer for our students, faculty and staff and on the ministries of these churches in the community. In addition, we have appointed Charles Ramsey, B.A. ’97, M.A. ’00, Ph.D., to serve as associate chaplain and director of Campus Ministries and Church Connections. In this role, Dr. Ramsey provides nurturing guidance to the more than 30 campus ministries and strengthens the relationships between Baylor and local pastors and college ministers.
Expanding God’s Kingdom
As we move forward, inspired by the findings of the Faith and Character Study and eager to live more fully centered in Christ each day, we are finding new opportunities for growth in this aspect of our community at Baylor.
Having seen the success of our student-focused initiatives, last fall, I established a Spiritual Wellbeing task force to explore the needs and opportunities for programming that will nurture the faith of faculty and staff, initiate programs that arise out of that exploration and make further recommendations for ongoing activities by this May.
One of the first fruits of this collaborative effort has been the creation of Faculty and Staff Chapel, which we now hold each semester. This gathering reinforces the understanding that faith is central to who we are as an institution. Our relationship with Christ profoundly guides the minds and hearts of faculty and staff as we strive to prepare students for a life of leadership and service in the world.
Serving as a preeminent Christian research university fulfills the vision of our Baptist founders. We have been blessed at Baylor with amazing leadership and outstanding faculty, staff and students over generations. We have been equally blessed by the gifts of time, talent and treasure that so many in the Baylor Family have contributed to our development into the largest Baptist university in the world and one of the truly exceptional universities in the United States. We believe it is our responsibility, as Christians, to be good stewards of these many blessings and to use them to advance the Kingdom of God.