Focus on discipleship leads to expanded ministry


First Denton
Nearby campuses: University of North Texas, Texas Woman’s University, North Central Texas College
Student population: 50,000-60,000
College Ministry: Led by University Pastor Austin Wadlow
Ministries:

  • Overflow Worship (Tuesday nights)
  • Equip (Sunday morning discipleship training)
  • Communities (24 student-led small groups in apartments and dorms)
  • Discipleship program with adults and students

Between 50,000 and 60,000 college students are located in Denton County attending the campuses of the University of North Texas and Texas Woman’s University, providing a great opportunity for ministry for First Denton. Austin Wadlow serves as University Pastor, overseeing the Overflow Ministry which reaches 500 students each week.

When Wadlow joined the church staff six years ago, the ministry averaged 40-50 student at their weekly Overflow worship service on Tuesday evenings. A handful of students attended the church’s worship services on Sundays. As he began to build community and reach out to students, he saw the need for discipleship to be part everything they did.

“The way I realized my call to ministry was through leading a discipleship ministry,” Wadlow said. “I want whatever church ministry I am leading to have discipleship as part of its DNA.”

When Wadlow and his team shifted the focus, ministry began rapidly growing. It was important to involve adults from the church body who were willing to disciple students and help them learn how to seek after the Lord. He began praying for the Lord to stir a passion in the hearts of adults in the church for reaching college students. One Sunday, on his way home from church, he recalled praying, “Lord, would you put this unquenchable fire into the heart of some of our adults to serve in college ministry?”

Two weeks later, a couple came up to him, telling him of this unquenchable burden the Lord had given them to serve in college ministry. Wadlow knew they were a direct answer to prayer and the couple became some of his cornerstone leaders in the growing ministry.

He met face-to-face with multiple couples in the church over coffee, lunches and dinners, sharing his vision for ministry to students in their vicinity and asking the couples to prayerfully consider joining the efforts. The first year, four couples committed to serve. In subsequent years, more adults began joined in.

His goal for ministry this year is to have an adult disciple every student leader in their ministry and every student leader, in turn, disciple a younger student. 

“I want students to know if you come here, you are going to be discipled and you are going to be expected to disciple,” Wadlow said. 

Through the emphasis on discipleship, Wadlow has seen many students grow in their relationship with the Lord and begin serving throughout the church, on their university campuses and in the city of Denton. While college students may not be able to give substantial financial contributions to a church, their ability to serve and contribute to the church body is unparalleled, Wadlow said. 

“First Denton is not the same church that I came to six years ago,” Wadlow said. “Our students have changed the landscape of our church through helping with worship, serving in the children’s area, pouring into every area and making it better.”

Wadlow is passionate about reaching college-aged students as a way to invest in the future leaders of the country. 

“Any church that is in a college town has a God-given responsibility to reach the college campus,” Wadlow said. “It’s not just your responsibility as a church, it’s the most strategic thing you can do. Be Kingdom-minded. Be Gospel-minded. Trust the Lord will provide and do what He is obviously calling you to.”