There are over 230 college and universities in New England with more than one million college students on those campuses. Engaging college students is not just a good idea, it is a Gospel necessity. This is true not only because of the Great Commission and strategic opportunity, but also because of the vast lostness of the demographic. The new generation hitting college campuses are the least Christian this country has probably ever seen. They represent the future of the world.
Then again, you already know that. The question, is what can we do to reach them especially if you lack the resources to engage a campus with a campus ministry? There are lots of things that can be done, but here are some to get you started.
Literally take a walk (or drive) and explore your local campus. Look at the faces. Learn what’s happening as you read advertisements hung about. What campus life is there? Every campus has a culture, can you see it? As you walk and pray, the Lord will stir up ideas. Sit down next to someone and start a conversation. All of this will begin to guide your prayers, stir your heart, and if you do it regularly (which is encouraged) you may even begin to get to know people on campus which can lead to the next step.
It might sound dramatic to use the word “missionary,” but the truth is that every campus has its own language, mindset, demographic, and more. It might be in your city, but unless the city is consumed by the campus, it may also be like a foreign country. Sending someone to focus on the campus will allow them to incarnate to that culture. They can focus on the schedule and life of the campus and hopefully reach it. Your missionary doesn’t have to be full-time or even seasoned. Think about someone who can share the Gospel and disciple others. Do you have a recent college graduate, someone willing to take one afternoon a week to invest, a young man interested in ministry, a retiree, a college aged person not in school, or someone else? The primary need is a willingness and availability. You might even see the value of putting some of your church budget towards funding a part-time campus worker.
While campuses can be closed off, they still have needs and most schools recognize the need to be at least somewhat connected to the community at large. Your church might have the very resources they lack. Use the gifting you already have in your church and resources available to be a neighbor. Do you have space near campus that can be utilized for the school? Do they need volunteers for some of their campus events? What about a church van? Could you offer trips to the grocery store or Target for international students? Could you become an English speaking partner for the international office? Meeting and making yourself available to the student life office will help you learn about what might be needed. If the campus knows you to be a friend, they will be the same to you.
While a large group gathering is a college ministry staple, it is not necessary. In fact, it might not even be the best for reaching your campus. Jesus spoke to crowds, but discipled a few to reach the crowds. Of course the goal is to reach them all, but start with one or two. Begin with those few the Lord brings into the scope of your reach and ability. Teach them to reach another. Maybe that one you reach can begin a small Bible study through the Gospel of Mark in her dorm room. Let “small ministry” grow into big ministry as the Lord enables. Be patient and consistent over time and you will accomplish much.
It can be tempting to feel used and unappreciated especially when you are stood up for the second or third time by a student! The fact is though that ministry will cost us. Churches who view college students as transient “takers,” not worth investing in, will not have college students around. While they may not contribute much ﬁnancially to the church and take up extra time, they have a lot to offer and need to be both taught and given the opportunity to serve. They are an investment. Do you want to reap much? Then give them much of your time, affection, resources, listening ears, and, yes, patience. One day soon, they will be giving to the generation after them. The relationship will produce more than any “lost” resources you might incur.
Those students who you get the chance to speak with will not be impressed with a watered down, cloudy faith. If they are, that faith will not withstand the test of the culture. To be sure, there is great pressure to be tolerant today, but don’t let that keep you from being Biblical clear. Being loving will cover many misunderstandings and help to break the false assumptions many unbelievers have. Keep the conversation on Jesus. Clearly present Him as the resurrected Lord. It is this truth that informs all the other questions people have. When you get to those tough social issues of the day, listen, ask questions, and then gently show them what the Bible says. Jesus will win the prize for which He died.
Many students have not yet learned the importance of the local church. When you invest in them, they will begin to see it. Call them to church membership and the responsibilities of caring for other Christians. Their faith, while personal, is not to be either private or alone. Not only are they capable of faithful church membership, your church needs them as much as they need you. Teach them about the authority of the church in their life. Call them to discipline. Ask them to serve. Show them the vital need of the weekly gathering to feed their soul with God’s word and to live out that word with people who are different from them.
The college campus can be reached. Indeed, it must be. Walk on campus. Once you do, consider sending a missionary. Don’t try to do it all at once, take small intentional steps. Get your church to be a neighbor and use the resources you already have on hand. As the students “check you out,” be generous to them. When you do, they will listen and you can teach them the faith delivered to the church. By God’s grace, some will become our brothers and sisters for eternity!
1 Credit Mark Witt, recent National Collegiate Ministry Director, LifeWay