What does a pastor and their church need to be reminded of? College and university ministry is the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) in reverse. The world is here, represented on a campus nearby your church. If your school has 10,000 students a year for ten years, what sorts of young men and women (not to mention adult faculty and administrators) are coming to and through your town? How can we gain influence?
Let’s start with language. When attempting to influence folks on campus, let’s avoid referring to them as, “lost, non-Christian, pre-Christian, heathen, pagan, etc.” I know the terms have theological meaning to us as insiders, but we need to make connections with men and women on campus, and calling them names is not a good way to start off.
Second, do not be intimidated by the secular university. Brilliant people may not know much about spirituality, or Christianity in particular. Read and study your campus culture to understand who makes up the student body, faculty, and leadership. Read and study cultural shifts to determine whom it is you are trying to get to know. As Christians, we believe truth is a Person. Jesus said the two greatest commandments are to love God and love your (campus) neighbor as yourself. It will take some effort to live out the latter.
Third, the church must employ the principle of strategic release. The four years of an undergraduate education are prime years to engage a lot of people in a relatively small footprint. Sharing meals, dialogue over homework, hanging out, recreation, and living life in tight quarters are profound opportunities for evangelism and God encounters.
Strategic release means the church should not recruit and mobilize college students for church ministry while they are in college. We don’t even want their money. They best can reach their friends and professors for Christ. Leave them alone to do it. Let them invest what money they have in campus ministries like Chi Alpha. Feed them and bless them. Inspire students to join Chi Alpha or other Christian ministries on campus. Seed their idealism for campus impact and cheer for them. Challenge church raised students to not join the youth group as “youth sponsors” but to get involved on campus. Their time on campus is too short and the Kingdom fruit prospects too large to ignore.
Few churches in college towns actually see much local gain, because students are so transitory. Your goals should be to have a welcoming and equipping service, answer questions they are asking, and contribute to healthy campus ministry staff if they and their families attend your church. You have a front row seat to watch God’s mission unfold on campus. Celebrate their victories as Kingdom advancements.
Healthy and normal church life is critical for them to see and experience as collegians, so they need to hang out with older people, families, and kids, and see real life and faith in action. A student’s positive church experience in college often leads to upgraded (and longer) parishioner participation after graduation and even another tither.
Serve globally. The measure of a local church’s success is not how many students attended, but how many leaders were sent out to reconcile students to Christ, and how they contribute to transforming the university, the marketplace, and the world.
Love is a verb,
©2017 by Mike Olejarz