My alma mater is hosting its annual spring lectureship, and Dr. Daniel Block’s insight on grace in the old testament sounds like just the thing to complement a scenic drive to Cochrane. For those who aren’t able to make all of the lectures, they’ve promised to put them online after its over. I have it on good authority that Dr. Block has recommended we all give Deuteronomy a pre-lecture read, so we’ll be ready to follow his quotes and allusions.
This is an important topic for students of the Christian scriptures. Interpreting the Old Testament in light of the New Testament while still doing justice to the Old can be both subtle and complex, and is not easily done well (hint: everything is not secretly a metaphor for the cross).
My mum-in-law sent me this brilliant “pause” mug from the tea appreciation society for a belated Christmas gift. Not only is it maybe the single greatest tea mug ever crafted, but it came with three signature stickers, whereby I can declare my love for tea in those rare moments when I’m not sipping a cup of it. If you’re in the market for a swanky new tea mug, they happen to be on sale for another week.
I’ve been doing some reading1 on the current state of church ministry to young adults. I’ve some rambling thoughts.
Churches are hemorrhaging young adults. Rainer claims protestant churches lose 70% of 18-22 year olds, while Powell & Clark widen the age range and put the number closer to 50% of young adults leaving the church.2 To a certain extent, this is not surprising. People’s comings and goings from the church are typically motivated by life change, and we live in a culture where almost everybody experiences significant shifts in their young adult years. As such, we might expect the numbers leaving the church always to be higher during these years, but the current numbers seem excessively high. Outside of high schools, I can’t think of another major institution that sees more than 50% of their young adults walk away. Of course, with high schools, that’s a good statistic. The books I’ve read1 are primarily concerned with fleshing out this trend and identifying solutions.
The formative years
By the time we collegiate ministers see them, the most significant impact has been made, whether positive or negative. Parents make the greatest difference in whether young adults will continue in church. Parents who are consistently committed to Jesus and the church in the day-to-day are far more likely to produce young adults who will share that commitment than are parents who aren’t, even if they regularly attend Sunday services. Relationships with adults in the church also play a key role. The more relationships a youth has with adults in her church, the more like she is to continue involvement as a young adult. Powell and Clark put the magic number at 5 relationships. Because of this, churches that segregate their youth and children out from the rest of the life of the church have much higher rates of loss than those that are generationally integrated.
Standing in the gap
Despite the importance of those early years, we Collegiate Ministers, both campus and church based, still have an important role to play in stemming the flow. Those of us who missionally engage university and college campuses are putting ourselves in their world, and are thus able to build relationships with and offer discipleship to young adults who may not have any connection to a local church, while leading students who are involved in local church to join us in the same. Rainer claims the number one reason people return after walking away is simply that they were invited. Often, we’re the ones extending that invitation.
The work we do during the first two weeks of the semester also turns out to be essential, manning booths, passing out invites, and hosting the events that build whole and healthy community on campus. It’s almost cliché amongst campus ministers that the first two weeks of the first semester are where you find most of your new students. Turns out, according to Powell and Clark, these weeks set the trajectory for every aspect of students’ lives. Students who hit the party scene in their fist two weeks will likely continue partying. Students who find a church will likely continue attending. Those who find the library will be back. Those who don’t, won’t. Students typically arrive completely unprepared for the intensity and importance of those first two weeks. Without really meaning to, they can join the party scene simply because that’s where everyone else is, avoid the library because that’s where everyone isn’t, and set a course that they may not break. By creating positive places for them to connect and engage during their first two weeks, we not only build our ministries, but create opportunities for students to set a positive trajectory that will carry them through the rest of their academic year.
Campus and church in symbiosis
Benson Hines has long advocated churches form a student plan, often with the help of a collegiate minister. It’s a great idea, maybe even an essential strategy, and a place for church and collegiate ministry to find symbiosis. The 7th chapter of Sticky Faith makes an important addition to the student plan by calling on churches and parents to intentionally prepare their youth for the intensity and importance of the first two weeks of university. Some of the best ideas to prepare for those first weeks:
- When visiting potential schools, look into churches and campus based ministries while exploring the rest of student life on that campus.
- Visit a variety of churches with outgoing seniors the summer before they leave for university, and help them process what they see and how they would get involved.
- Keep in touch. Continued connection to people from their home church will encourage students to continue in the faith while they’re away.
- Help them create a two week plan outlining how they will spend their time the first two weeks of class. What do they need to find? Who do they need to talk to? When will they study? When will they play? etc.
A bigger mission
Collegiate ministries are, I hope, primarily concerned with missional engagement and discipleship of students, and I wouldn’t want that to change. We are more sodality than modality. Rather than precluding outreach to churched kids, this includes it. Mission is the context in which we see students discipled, both churched and unchurched. The goal here is not simply to keep young adults in church, but to walk with them as they follow Jesus in their lives and on campus, no matter where they’re coming from. The research shows that local churches that play an important role in that, that are essential in young adults’ lives and significant in the world, are the ones with the highest rates of retention.
2Rainer says that 2/3 of those who leave will return by the time they’re 30. Powell and Clark, again dealing with a different age range, put the return rate between 30-60%.