By Chris Moon
Lincoln Christian University has announced sweeping changes to its program offerings as it grapples with a difficult economic environment in higher education.
The university says it plans to eliminate all its non-ministry degree programs. It will retain its seminary offerings and just two bachelor’s level programs—a BA in Bible & Theology and a BA in Christian Ministry—as it narrows its focus to ministry education.
The changes are an effort to seek a new model for LCU after a long struggle with flagging enrollment and finances.
Enrollment at LCU has declined by 50 percent during the past decade, and the university has seen a total of $3.5 million in net operating deficits during the past nine years.
In a memorandum to the LCU Board of Trustees, president Silas McCormick cited numerous efforts the university had made over the years to boost revenue and reduce expenses. He noted “ever more drastic measures” that had been taken to balance the university’s budget.
“The cumulative result is that while LCU could be here next year, and perhaps the year after that, if we do not do something now—while we still can—we will almost certainly not be here the year after that,” McCormick wrote.
In an interview with Christian Standard, McCormick said LCU is choosing to be proactive in addressing its shortcomings. He said the university remains in good standing with its accreditors and lender.
LCU will throw all its efforts toward the training of ministers.
The university’s new model will see its professors offering classes at partnering churches, recognizing that a growing number of congregations are working to train their own ministry staff.
As a result, LCU may sell part or all of its campus in Lincoln, Ill., where it has been located since its founding by Earl C. Hargrove in 1944.
“We really want to try to get people to understand we want to bring what we’re doing to the churches we serve because we can’t rely as heavily on people coming to us,” McCormick said. “That’s the primary flaw in our model.”
A NEW MODEL
Total enrollment at LCU is 465 students this year. Of those, 236 are undergraduate students, taking classes either on campus or online.
Meanwhile, 168 students are enrolled in the seminary, and another 61 are enrolled in graduate programs that will continue in some form under LCU’s new model, which is called “seminary-plus.”
“What we really are doing is focusing on our seminary, which is the thing that has gone the best for us,” McCormick said.
The reality is LCU cannot sit back and do nothing.
“All Restoration Movement schools, in one fashion or another, have struggled,” he said. “A lot of us have come to the point where we have to do something.”
So far, LCU has announced partnerships with Eastview Christian Church in Normal, Ill.; Harvester Christian Church in St. Charles, Mo.; and West Side Christian Church in Springfield, Ill. The university plans to offer ministry classes at those sites.
LCU recognizes the way in which people enter ministry has changed in recent years, McCormick said.
Today, churches often recruit and train ministry staffers from their own congregations. Many of those ministers are midcareer professionals who are less likely to pursue a traditional college or seminary experience.
Meanwhile, fewer students are seeking ministry degrees immediately upon graduating high school.
McCormick said churches do a good job of giving their new staff members the ministry skills they need. But those new staff members still need a solid foundation in biblical studies and theology.
“What we’re trying to do is bring the part that we do well to the part that [churches] do well,” he said.
And, so, a future LCU student is likely to be on existing church staff member, McCormick said. That student may take an online course from LCU during one semester and then, in the next semester, take a weeklong intensive class at one of the university’s partnering churches.
LCU will have its own campus for more traditionally minded seminary students who would like to live and learn together. But the campus will be much smaller than LCU’s existing one, perhaps with just a single academic building, McCormick said.
“We think we need a new model that is less centered on us,” he said.
As part of the changes, LCU’s seminary also will drop its Doctor of Ministry program. Again, McCormick said LCU will focus on what has proven to work, and DMin programs don’t tend to draw much interest.
“It’s just a very low-enrollment program,” he said. “At most places, they just kind of eke along.”
STUDENT AND STAFF CHANGES
McCormick said LCU has a “clean record” with all three of its accrediting bodies.
He said the university also is in good standing on a $7.8 million loan from Christian Financial Resources, which he said has been helping the university as it shifts toward its new model.
“Most people don’t do anything this dramatic when they’re not in trouble with their lender and accrediting agency,” McCormick said. “No one wants to live perpetually in survival mode. We’d like to do better than that.”
The changes come with a cost.
LCU won’t be enrolling new students in any of the degree programs it is closing out (such as BA programs in Business Administration, Communication Studies, and Philosophy, among others; see the chart at the bottom of this article). Existing students who desire to finish their degrees at LCU can do so if they’d like, but McCormick said he expects most of those students to transfer if they have multiple years left in their programs.
LCU is reaching out to a select number of other colleges and universities—schools in central Illinois and other Christian colleges—to negotiate articulation agreements that will enable LCU students to complete their degrees with no or minimal loss of credit.
The university also will cut its staffing. McCormick said he expects the reoriented university to staff 30 people—about one-third of its current total.
McCormick said LCU’s leadership informed faculty, staff, and students of the changes on Tuesday.
“All of them were gracious beyond measure. It almost made it harder,” he said. “I think everybody who is on this campus realizes what we’re doing in this current model is not sustainable.”
The changes will take effect soon.
The school will cease offering food service next school year. Students who currently live in LCU’s dorms will move into student apartments, where they will have access to kitchens.
The university also will explore what will happen with its campus, whether to sell part or all of it.
“We have to do something different with it, and it has to reduce our expenses,” McCormick said.
LCU posted documents at its website that describe, in greater detail, its present situation and its plan to move forward.
Chris Moon is a pastor and writer living in Redstone, Colorado.
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This chart from Lincoln Christian University shows the current programs/majors and the programs/majors that will be offered moving forward.
This is a bold move by LCS…..our history has been that ministry-training colleges have shifted toward liberal arts in order to attract more students, and subsequently lost their unique and original purpose. However, current shifts among our churches in terms of recruiting and sending students for ministry preparation have resulted in numerous closures of our colleges, and financial instability among the remainder. With the proposed model of focusing on taking the education out to the churches, and a priority on Seminary, I do wonder if the Associates should be retained with the extension/online model. In either case, congrats for recognizing the threats before closure is the only option, and dealing with them in as affirmative spirit as possible.
OMG – I am surprised this was not first communicated to LCU constituents via The Restorer magazine first before being published in the Christian Standard. In some respects regarding this, there will be hell to pay as we journey towards heaven.
I attended LCC from 1967-1969. It was a great experience. I am sad the campus will be gone.
I’m praying for LCU’s family. I also asked many brothers and sisters in Christ to join in prayers.
Praying — this is a sad day. I only attended a year at Lincoln but I learned so much about myself, and made lifelong friendships, and [experienced much] spiritual growth in Christ. I will never be more thankful to my mom and dad for this experience and to LCU students and Staff.
Sad, but not unexpected. Returning ministry training to the local church might be seen as a “restoration” of the NT model.
Sure wish good old CBS had made a similar change.
I attended Seminary in the late 50’s and early 60’s commuting from the Ancona, IL church where I was ministering. I received my Masters in ’61. Such men as Tesh and Ralls were my major professors, and I couldn’t have asked for better. I thank God for the education I received. I am thankful to see some of our schools returning to their original purpose, but I am saddened that such drastic steps must be taken. I believe we are learning “the hard way.” May God be glorified in all of this!
THIS SHOULD HELP US AS WE HAVE BEEN WITHOUT A MINISTER FOR OVER 3 YEARS. We need LCU to focus on training ministers.
I never attended LCU myself, but many friends did, as well as my husband’s grandparents, his dad, and himself and his brother. I also have ties to Lincoln through Restoration House Ministries as I attended Manchester Christian Church in New Hampshire. Without Lincoln, my husband and I wouldn’t have met. While it is sad to see the old go, and am extremely excited to see this bold move by the school. We’ve watched school after school struggle through these challenging years as both my husband and father in law have been involved with people from them. We also have our own children coming of age to attend them. They have chosen different paths than a Christian school. As far as letting LCU people know, it was made known to LCU people via email earlier this week. Print material is expensive and takes time. Email and enewsletters are much easier to get news out to a mailing list. I’m so excited to see how this whole thing unfolds. I hope it encourages other schools to become creative in what they do with their programming and physical campuses in the future. Bravo to the leaders and to the board for taking these brave steps into the unknown. Stick with your mission in training ministers of the gospel and being wise stewards of what God has given to you. Thanks!
Blessings to each of you currently entrusted with the care of our beloved school…the heritage is rich and as diverse as the colors of an evening summer sky. May the Father sustain you, Christ continue modeling for you and the Spirit bring you clarity. All God’s best…
What an outstanding plan. So many of “our” churches seem to be totally unaware of reality…….that training for pulpit ministry straight out of high school (like I did) does not cut it from a Biblical perspective! Kudos to the LCU administration for looking ahead based on the present and making Christ (Church) centered decisions!
I’m grateful for the humility and bravery exhibited in this decision. I’ve been a part of places that waited too long to make the tough choice. Prayers for everyone going through the transition.
God has used me in so many ways from the time I graduated from what was then LCC in 1985. I have started a church as the church planter, and also relocated two churches that were having financial difficulties and helped get them back on their feet as the Lead Pastor where they can do ministry once again. I have learned a few things along the way. First, not too many people are going to thank you for the changes, and second, too many hold on to what they have until they have nothing left. It is God’s timing and listening to Him more than anyone else. There will be people who understand the decisions that were made, and others will not. Those who do not may not understand the complete picture and what you are up against. Leadership is tough and not everyone will follow. I believe in the Leadership of the college because I believe they are following God. I know this was a very difficult decision. I have been there, but we do what we have to do and use what God blesses us with. Thank you for making this decision and keep some things in tack instead of waiting and having nothing left. My prayers will be with you.
My parents attended when it was Lincoln Bible Institute. I attended for one year when it was Lincoln Christian College. I just pray that LCU makes the right decision.
From out of state with a scholarship that opened the whole nation to me, I chose to attend Manhattan (then Bible, now Christian) College because it was (is) literally across the street from a recognized major University, K-State. And I chose to concurrently attend KSU because it was co-located w/ a fine Christian Church Bible college.
GIVEN our “Vocation” should be living for HIM & Serving others wherever/however/whenever — 55 yrs later, after 2 full “avocation” careers (Air Force pilot; then teaching public high school), I still can’t think of a better “model” where/when available.
On thing’s certain: Taking advantage of the best of both avoids “off task” duplication of schools’ AND students’ resources!
I’m a 1963 graduate of Cincinnati Bible Seminary (Bible College) more recently Cincinnati Christian University and had additional classes including graduate classes. At that time I thought such education was essential for church leaders. However, beginning in the ’70’s I was reading a lot about “church growth” (actually Kingdom growth) from Donald McGavran and some of his students. It was mostly about growth outside the West. Most Kingdom growth was coming thru planting many churches and I was involved in church planting leadership. By the early ’90’s I began seeing the necessity of rapidly multiplying churches and beginning to see what was happening around the world where Christianity is growing very rapidly. There they were rapidly multiplying churches with leaders trained by the leaders of their local church. They had no outside formal training.
About 25 years ago I had the opportunity to talk with respected missiologist, George Patterson. He said, when you look at church history and around the world today, where church leaders are trained in the local church, Christianity grows. Where they are trained outside the local church, Christianity declines. More recently I saw a quote from Ralph Winter, the founder and long-time director of the U.S. Center for World Missions. He said, Every association of churches that requires outside training of church leaders is dying!
We need to learn from people like David Watson. In 1989 he had been assigned the Bhojpuri people group in North India which had been killing all missionaries for 100+ years. He learned there were a few small dying churches. There were about 72,000 Bhojpuri villages and set a goal of 72,000 churches by 2020. By 2003 outsiders documented 80,000 churches. Since then he has worked with over 90 movements with a total of nearly 600,000 churches including about 200,000 churches in Muslim areas. Most of the people in these churches live where people are killed for being a Christian. In a recent 6 year period there were over 600 martyrs.
https://catalyticministries.com/sheep-among-wolves/#section-49f268d is the link to training he is now doing.
Most of what we typically do in churches comes from human tradition, not the New Testament. There is no record in the New Testament of a sermon to believers–Paul at Troas Dialoged.
Two salient quotes … and two observations: 1. ‘…its founding by Earl C. Hargrove in 1944.’ As I remember the clarion call we heard in Indianapolis at that hour was something like ‘the preacher boys are coming!’ 2. Above article: ‘LCU will throw all its efforts toward the training of ministers.’ 3. Ya lose yer way, ya lose yer way! 4. Webster, a ’61-’62 classmate of mine at CBS, but he doesn’t remember it, presents smart research!
I graduated from LCC/S in 77 with a M.Div in OT, and at that time, this model worked. But much has changed since then and I applaud this decision. I thought for a long time that many of our schools were making a huge mistake in not focusing on training preachers. Now you have returned to that and are not afraid of adapting. Perhaps all this change is God’s way of refocusing His church.
I, too, am a graduate of LCC, 1961 and applaud the effort to remain a school for training preachers and teachers of the Gospel. i pray that the new plan will work for the benefit of the kingdom. I pray that God will burden the hearts of many to serve in this capacity.
Sadly, I think LCU has ignored the elderly of our Christian Family and so has brought this upon yourselves. I note there is no degree focused on care of or ministering to the generation who raised us. We are so focused on Youth, Digital Screens in Sanctuaries and pleading for “young people” to accept God that the elderly widow or widower is an afterthought, those who can no longer drive are a burden. How wonderful it would have been if LCU could have used the campus to create a community for those who need assisted living care and incorporated that into a curriculum.
Watching the live stream of the LCU Alumni and Friends event left me feeling as though it was a funeral service for the school. All those in attendance and in the program were family and friends gathering together to pay their last respects while reminiscing over shared memories of their common patriarch. In all, my family and extended family counts 18 members over four generations who attended LBI, LCC, and LCU. The school has played a key role in our lives. I met my wife there. Some will say the institution is not gone. But, it will not be the same. We wish LCU the very best moving forward and that God will powerfully bless its continuing ministry to the church.