“Reach the freshmen and you can reach the campus. Reach the campus and you can reach the world,” explains Preston Rhodes, campus pastor of Resonate Church – University of Montana (U of M). The new campus church at the U of M in Missoula began Sunday evening gatherings in September, but there was much work and preparation that led to the launch of a weekly, corporate, worship service in Missoula.
Resonate teams have been visiting the Garden City and the U of M campus for several years scouting, praying, and deciding how, when, and whom to send. In the late summer of 2018, an initial team of missionaries (mostly from Resonate – University of Idaho) moved to Missoula. They secured housing and jobs near or on campus, began connecting with students, and began forming community groups they call “Villages.” Villages are formed to be the point where community happens, not too small and not too big. Think 15-30 students. These Villages have multiplied and continue to outpace the weekly gatherings at the U of M student center in attendance.
This past fall, Resonate made their signature blitz of the incoming freshmen. They helped with move-ins, held special events, and sought to begin friendships with as many freshmen class members as possible. “The first three weeks of school are critical. The whole team doubles our outreach efforts those first few weeks. Otherwise, the new students have already established friendships and life patterns and are much harder to engage,” explains Rhodes. The Resonate team sought to meet and gather 350 names and phone numbers in order to connect with about 80 students. Of those 80, they hoped to engage 20 “people of peace” to be involved in formal discipleship with a Resonate team member. They have 40 involved in discipleship currently. Not all are committed followers of Christ yet. Rhodes believes that they are on the verge of several students accepting Christ as Savior and covets prayers for those who are not yet believers and for those who are discipling them.
Resonate also encourages 3-5-person accountability groups. They use the term “Huddles” to describe this vehicle for discipleship. These are same-gender groups meeting in a shared learning environment where participants lean in toward life-application of Scripture and obedience-based discipleship. The Huddles utilize various study tools as lenses for life learning. Huddles meet weekly to examine the life implications of God’s Word together while holding one another accountable to the commands of Jesus and the leading of His Spirit.
Resonate Church began in Pullman, Washington at Washington State University and soon spread to the University of Idaho (U of I) in Moscow. That is where, then freshman Preston Rhodes, was befriended by members of a Resonate team seeking to Invite, Connect, Disciple, and Send college students into the harvest field of the campus at the U of I. Preston was one of many first-year students who were looking for community and for purpose. He was looking for “a church,” but admits that his motivation was not in any way super pure. He was a Christ follower, but he was mostly looking to appease his parents.
After growing up in Idaho, first in Orofino and then north of Coeur d’Alene, Preston was headed to college to pursue engineering. Growing up in the local church, he was significantly impacted late in high school by a pivotal encounter with the book Jesus > Religion: Why He Is So Much Better Than Trying Harder, Doing More, and Being Good Enough, by Jefferson Bethke. “That book rocked my world. I spent much of my senior year apologizing and seeking to rebuild relationships that I had ruined by my Pharisaical attitudes and actions,” Preston reflects. God gave him time and opportunity to mend several relationships and renew his witness for Christ before he left for college.
When he arrived in Moscow that first year, he was looking to belong like most freshmen college students. He was befriended by a group of Resonate student missionaries who began discipling and challenging him to seek Jesus and live as one of His followers. The summer after his freshman year, Preston was invited to participate in Resonate’s, “Elevate San Diego.” He moved into a house with seven other young men, secured summer employment, and spent free time seeking to engage students at local university campuses with the Gospel. “It was all about learning to live in Biblical community and live on mission with purpose,” reflects Rhodes. “The San Diego summer was a turning point in my life,” he confesses. The summer after his sophomore year, he participated in Resonate’s, “Elevate International” where he practiced similar activities on the campuses of East Asian schools. He came back from that summer realizing that God was calling him to mission work, to church planting, and to finish his undergraduate work in engineering.
Preston met his wife, Tracy, through the ministry of Resonate Church. She was also a student at the U of I and two years behind him in school. She was led to Christ and also discipled through the ministry of Resonate. They were eventually married in May of 2018 and spent over a year with Resonate leadership developing skills and plans, recruiting a team to join them in Missoula, and preparing for the move to Missoula this past summer. Preston and Tracy are products of the discipleship strategy that Resonate still uses. Resonate leadership approached Preston even before he and Tracy were married about gathering a team and church planting in Missoula. He describes himself as “all in” and ready to grow and learn in his new role. The Rhodes have put careers on hold and are “deployed” and living “sent.”
Rhodes, a multi-sport high school athlete, has a wrestling background and has recently landed a coaching position with Big Sky High School. “Many high schoolers in a college town will end up attending that college, so it is natural to seek to begin relationships with them even before they enroll in university,” explains Rhodes. Intentional, life decisions to position themselves to be missionaries among those who don’t know Jesus yet are the norm for the Resonate teams.
Resonate has already started campus churches across the Northwest in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and now Montana. They now have a team who has moved to Bozeman and launched Resonate MSU. Their vision is to reach freshmen on college campuses across the world in order to reach the world with the Gospel of Jesus. You can learn more about Resonate at their website resonate.net/Missoula or contact Campus Pastor Preston Rhodes at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 208-819-4500.