They’re there ever week. Sometimes the earliest to arrive and the last one to leave. They served with in the ministry as student leaders, with the praise team, and in the nurseries. They went on you missions trip. They shared a moving testimony in “big” church. They are the star student, an example to their peers. They are ones you “know” are going to make it!
Then why is it that when they go off to college, their attendance and participation with a church stops?
For years, studies have shown a significant drop in church attendance and participation among students and young adults in college. Students and young adult seem to put their church involvement on hold during their college and post-college years, returning only when married, starting a family, or experiencing a crisis of some kind.
I have worker with students for over 20 years. I have seen my fair share of students graduate, go to college, and walk away from the church and their faith. And it doesn’t matter whether they attend a secular college or a ‘religious’ college, it happens in both.
A number of years ago, I decided to combat the problem, by working a little closer with my senior class. Yesterday I posted, “Three Things You Should Tell Your Graduates,” sharing some of the things I would impress upon my soon to be college freshmen. One of the three things is the importance of finding a healthy church within the college community that a student can attend. This morning, I want to elaborate bit more.
For many of our students, campus ministries such as Campus Crusade, Intervasity, the Coalition for Christian Outreach, and Athletes in Action, become the “spiritual home” for students; meeting regularly for worship, bible study, encouragement, fellowship, and even missions. this is great! As a pastor, I recognize that we need these ministries. They accomplish what church can’t. But a campus ministry can’t provide all that a church can. So without slamming campus ministries, I value what they do and appreciate all that they do for our college students, I want to share a few quick thoughts why attendance and participation is important, even necessary during the college years.
1. Diversity in the Faith.
One thing I have always appreciated about the church is its diversity in the faith. Churches are often made up of generations of believers, ranging from the old to the young. This spectrum of age offers the church a wealth of wisdom and experience. Many times, our campus ministries consist of students, and sometimes even workers, who are in the same stage of life, experiencing the same life experiences, and longing for the same hope. A healthy church provides our students with men and women who have been there, who have learned the lessons, and who can now offer godly wisdom, advice and counsel. Students will also gain a better appreciation for the saints who of gone before them. I love hearing stories from the older generation. It’s truly amazing to hear how their faith directed their lives.
2. Wider Opportunity to Serve.
I am a big proponent of Christians living our their service within the life and ministry of the church. As Christians, gifted by the Holy Spirit, the church is the place of dispersement; the place where we use our gifts to the glory of God. The idea of teaching the value and purpose of our gifts is something I think we’re losing. College students should be using their gifts to serve within the church. This involvement reinforces the idea that we are part of the body of Christ. The hand is needed to be the hand. The ear is needed to be the ear. The foot is needed to be the foot. Without these parts, the body cannot function properly. In this consumer generation, we need to impress upon our students the importance in giving, sharing, and blessing other with our gifts. Serving in the nurseries, as ushers and greeters, helping out with Sunday school, Children’s and Youth Ministries, participating in choirs and praise teams, are great ways for students to make a connection while using gifts and talents for Kingdom purposes.
3. Introduce Yourself and Get Known!
The one thing a student can’t do is become a face in the crowd. It would be easy to slip in the back after services started then slip out just before they end. Here’s the thing, I don’t believe God ever said, ‘just go to church.’ I believe we are called to BE (active verb) the church! That means that we have to be involved in BEING the church. We should be encouraging our students to let the church know they are there and that they want to be a part of the life and ministry of the church. Even more, they need the church. Along with serving, our students need to be involved in the life of discipleship within the church. Weekly participation at worship is great, but so to is attending Bible studies, church sponsored college ministries, church fellowship, small groups, and outreach events. The Christian life is just that, LIFE. And that life needs to be LIVED in community.
Will these three things really keep college students going to church through the college years? Well, they will definitely help.
I think the key thing we need to make sure college students know, is that the church isn’t just a institution of religion, but a vital component in the growth and maturity of the believe. In a very practical way, the church serves as an extension of the family, and everyone needs a family!
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