I admit it: I’m pleading with church leaders with this post. I’m pleading on behalf of 19 million people in the United States.
This past weekend, I led a collegiate conference at a local church. Every time I speak to college students, I’m reminded of two things: (1) they bring enthusiasm and potential to a local church, and (2) many, if not most churches—unlike the church where I did the conference—do a poor job of reaching these students. In fact, many churches lose their high school graduates when they go to college and don’t regain them (if they do) until they get married and have children.
So, here’s my heartfelt plea: reach, equip, and send out college students. In this post, my goals are to motivate you to reach collegians and to offer some ways to move in that direction. EVERY church, regardless of size, can do something.
Why We Need to Reach Collegians
Why do I want you to accept this plea?
- College students are at a significant juncture in life—stepping into their own lives and forming their own conclusions and beliefs. That context generally makes them more open to talking about options, including Christianity. They are questioning, inquisitive, and listening.
- They make real commitments when they genuinely choose to follow Christ. Their passion and faith sometimes put mine to shame. They’re unafraid to stand alone. They take notes when listening to the Word. They want their friends to know Jesus. They accept the challenge to go to the nations.
- God has often begun awakenings with college students. In the Second Great Awakening, God moved at places like Hampden-Sydney College and Williams College (where the “Haystack Meeting” occurred). The 1970 revival that began at Asbury College in Kentucky spread to multiple campuses in the U.S.—and we recently saw glimpses again of that movement. God could do the same today.
- They represent a global mission field. More than 1 million international students are attending US colleges and universities. They’ve come here to study—but perhaps God brought them here to hear the gospel. I’ve met many students over the years who first learned of Jesus and chose to follow Him because of a collegiate ministry, and I’ve known some who took the gospel back to their home country.
- They rightly challenge us to explain our faith. They’re not interested in superficial, routine Christianity. Rather, they want authenticity, depth, and relevance—and they’re unafraid to ask questions we should be ready to answer.
First Steps to Reach Collegians
So, where might we start?
- Enlist a point person to oversee renewed efforts to reach collegians through your church. That person may be a lay leader or a staff member, but someone needs primary responsibility to keep these efforts in the forefront of the church. Ask God to direct you to that right person. And, if you’re the lead pastor, please hear me: if this burden is not your burden, neither will it become the burden of your church. It begins with you.
- Start where you can: reach out to your church’s high school graduates who are now in college. Set up a regular electronic meeting to check on them. Let them know you’re praying for them. Send them care packages. Encourage them to find a strong local church where they attend school. If your church’s college students haven’t heard from you in a long time, your church needs to shepherd them better.
- Connect with Christian ministries on campuses near where your church meets. Somebody who oversees student life on the campus can help you make that connection. Ask those ministry leaders how you and your church might assist them in reaching their campus. Meet with their students and ask the same question. You need these ministries, and they need you as an interested, committed local church.
- Enlist at least one small group in your church to adopt a college student. I’m convinced that many college students want older, faithful adults to invest in their lives, and they welcome the opportunity to get to know others. Even if only one small group adopts one college student, your church will have already strengthened your collegiate ministry.
- Don’t just ignore this post. I’m sure, especially because it’s Thanksgiving week, it would be easy to lay this post aside and do nothing. Again, I plead with you: do something to reach college students!
I’ve said a prayer for all our readers today. God bless your efforts!
Posted on November 21, 2023
Dr. Chuck Lawless is a leading expert in spiritual consultation, discipleship and mentoring. As a former pastor, he understands the challenges ministry presents and works with Church Answers to provide advice and counsel for church leaders.
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