Charles Wesley was a 20-year-old college student when the Methodist revival began. Pioneering missionary Hudson Taylor was 21 when he climbed aboard a boat for China. Conversely, the father of all anti-supernatural philosophers, David Hume, embraced his convictions at age 18 and Joseph Stalin decided to leave seminary at age 21 to dedicate his life to communism. I could go on and on. Amy Carmichael, Catherine Booth, Charles Darwin, etc. etc. etc. all set their destinies and seeded their greatness into history by their early 20s.
Today, the historic trend of college students changing the world is even more relevant. In 2000, researchers Neil Howe and William Strauss predicted that today’s collegians would “emerge as the next great generation” in American history. The fact that Yahoo, Google and Facebook were all founded by undergrads seems to prophetically confirm this prediction. And no one can deny their influence over our fall elections.
While this generation is already morphing the world, the Church struggles to keep their attention. As oft-quoted Barna has pointed out, “a majority of twentysomethings—61 percent of today’s young adults—are now spiritually disengaged.”
But all this is old hat to most readers of this site.
The real question for us is why? One reason is that the vast majority of college-age people receive little or no attention from the Church. At the most crucial stage of their worldview development we offer them a position as youth leader for Wednesday night’s teen-a-palooza outreach or give them a shot at running pastors power point on Sundays. Meanwhile, the community colleges, where the vast majority of twentysomethings live, receive little or no specific ministry from the evangelical church.
My state, California, has 3.5 million college students, two-thirds of these (2.5 million) attend these campuses and yet most of these schools are bankrupt of real Christian influence.
Worse yet, most of these schools are literally just down the street from a church of one sort or another. If we want to grow churches in the next decade, we must work together to reach these campuses.
How? Six years ago I started to informally take a closer look at what student-friendly churches and effective Chi Alpha groups were doing to plant on commuter campuses. Here are some of the ideas we’ve gathered.
1. Pray on campus. Historically, strong outreaches almost always start with a small group committed to prayer on campus. Each campus and each church near that campus is different. By spending time listening to God, customized plans emerge. Also, busy students need a supernatural touch to become engaged, and prayer is the key to making that happen. Is there anyone in your church or missions organization willing to spend an hour a week on campus asking, “Lord, what do You want to do here?” If so, you can start a campus ministry.
2. Meet and Greet. To start a strong outreach to the campus, a church must facilitate relational connections. Because of their highly volatile jobs and frantic study schedule, college students are more scattered and unconnected than any other demographic. By sponsoring events that are highly relational on or near the places where students live (apartment buildings near campus for instance) churches can facilitate greater connectivity. Is there anyone in your church or missions organization effective at helping college students build relationships with each other? If so you can start a campus ministry.
3. Adopt a World Changer. Chi Alpha has had great success ministering to international students by recruiting church families to host students in their homes. This approach also works for commuter students. By hosting students for a meal or free use of the washer and dryer, church members gain a greater burden for this generation. When students are well-hosted, they in turn become committed to the vision and values of the local church. In this way the church effectively recruits new twentysomething leaders. Do you have four or five couples willing to cook for a college student or two? If so, you can start a campus ministry.
This is just a sample of the practical ideas available. Our booklet Connecting can help any church start a Chi Alpha ministry. Start here: http://www.chialpha.com/leaders/start-new-group/.
The historic trend is not hard to see. If we are serious about reaching our world, we must reach these strategic souls. If we do, more leaders like Wesley and Taylor will send shock waves of revival through the Church. If we do not, more leaders like Hume and Stalin will use their intellectual and political skills to convince a generation that God is dead.