I love college students. In fact, I’d want to be pastoring in a university town if the Lord called me back to the senior pastorate. I’m convinced that their generation has a much greater opportunity to reach the nations than my generation does. On the other hand, some churches, I’m convinced, won’t reach college students. Here’s why:
- Churches don’t see their potential. They’re in our churches for a few years, and then they go. They’re transient. Rather than see our opportunity to invest in them for the sake of the gospel, we almost pacify them.
- College students want genuine relationships with other adults. They’re not interested in the superficial relationships that mark so many of our churches. Authenticity really matters to them.
- They want to be included and involved while they’re in our churches. They’re not an appendage tacked on to the small group schedule just because they happen to be in our area.
- They want interaction with older adults. That’s tough to accomplish when we relegate them to their own group and assume that’s where they’re most content.
- They want deep teaching. Shallow Bible studies won’t cut it for many college students. They’re asking honest questions, and they want solid answers.
- They’re not fans of gimmicky religion. They want depth, truth, the Word of God. They haven’t always seen much of that, so they gravitate toward it when they hear it.
- They want heroes. They don’t want to be idolatrous, but they do want men and women to whom they can look for guidance and support. And, if they can’t find those heroes in their local church, they’ll find them among leaders they listen to on the Internet.
- They want to be challenged. They’re unafraid to be challenged to spend some years working overseas to be witnesses where missionaries can’t go. They’re willing to tackle tough social issues of the day. They want somebody to push them to be holy and to get in their face when they aren’t.
- They want a safe place to ask questions. They’re not interested in just adopting the faith of their parents. Even “the Bible says so” is often not a sufficient answer for them; they want to know why we believe the Bible. Many of them, too, have no faith background, and they come with genuine doubts and questions.
My point is that I’m not sure every church is ready to reach college students. Let us know your thoughts.
Chuck Lawless is Dean and Vice-President of Graduate Studies and Ministry Centers at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, NC, where he also serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions. In addition, he is Global Theological Education Consultant for the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.