For years I've heard Christian leaders complain about the number of young people who grow up in churches and then turn their backs on God when they go away to college. It is a problem, but what is anyone doing about it other than complaining? How many pastors and/or youth leaders spend time with their young people and talk about this? How many churches do a good job of discipling their young people so they can defend their faith when it is challenged? Actually, research indicates that most young people who experience a loss of faith do so before they leave for college. For most of them it happens before they complete high school.
I came across that information in You Lost Me, an excellent book written by David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group. He also reminds us that "Millions of young Christians get through college with a flourishing faith. One of the marks of these individuals is a meaningful connection to some form of Christian community - whether a worshiping congregation, a Christian campus group, or a Christian-oriented college - which makes them less likely to become nomadic or prodigal. The key here is a meaningful connection, not merely showing up at religious practices. (p. 141)"
How many churches help their young people connect with such groups when they go away to college? If I had to guess I would say that probably not many. I never did. Quite frankly, during my twenty year pastorate I could not tell you the name of any of the campus ministers who were affiliated with our denomination. I had very few students who went away to college during that time so I really didn't have a need to know that information, but I have to be honest and admit that it probably would not have made any difference. I doubt that I would have thought about it, and my fear is that I may be in the majority. Reading this book by Kinnaman made me realize that would have been an important part of my pastoral responsibility towards those young people and their families.
We now live in a time when many state universities are rather hostile to the Christian faith. Some faith-based groups on some secular campuses have had recent problems with their universities around some of their practices. Other Christian organizations have ended up leaving the secular campuses because of financial issues. Some of these simply do not receive the support they need to be viable. Many others are doing a great job of connecting with students and providing them with meaningful worship, service, and fellowship opportunities. As church leaders we need to emphasize the importance of connecting with these groups to our students, and it would probably be best, if possible, for us to make the initial introduction. It would take very little time to send a letter to the leader of these campus groups letting them know one of our folks has enrolled at their school.
This is also a time when Christian higher education is increasingly important. My son graduated from Liberty University, and I was so impressed with the school that I later went there for my master's and doctorate. I had earned my bachelor's degree on a very secular campus, had been on other secular campuses, and it was obvious there was something different about Liberty.
Those who follow this blog and me on Facebook know of my involvement with Campbellsville University in Campbellsville, Kentucky. This is another great Christian university that continues to grow every semester. This fall they celebrated their 12th consecutive fall record enrollment with over 3,600 students. One of the great things this school does is require every new student to participate in First Class, a semester long program that helps young people focus on developing character, leadership, and financial stewardship. What an exciting way to help a young person who may be away from home for the first time to take a good look at his or her personal development in these areas!
We can complain about the number of young people who seem to walk away from their faith when they leave for school or we can do something about it. We can do a better job of discipling them while they are still at home and in our churches. We can talk to them about the challenges they will face when they go away to school and how to respond to those challenges. We can help get them connected with good Christian organizations on secular universities if they choose to go there. We can also help them identify Christian universities that might meet their academic and spiritual needs.