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Correcting our Vision: Changing How We See our College Students.
(This is the next part in my series "The Top 10 Ways to Spiritually Prepare Your College Freshman for Campus." This entry focuses on what the church can do from the home front while students are away at school.)
I’ll never forget the first time I put on a new pair of glasses. When I stepped out of the doctor’s office I could actually see the pinecones in the Longleaf pines way across the street. It's amazing what new lenses can do. What's more amazing is that I didn’t know I had a vision problem until it was corrected.
I propose the church needs a correction in how we view our college students.
A New Focus
Too often we have been nearsighted—“Let’s just get them through youth group, and they’ll be good to go. Job done. See you when you’re home on break.” But I believe we need to be more farsighted. It’s been said, and it sure seems to be true, that as the colleges go, so goes the nation.
What if when our college students go, we actually send them as missionaries? They are going into mostly hostile, unchurched territory rubbing shoulders with many unreached people groups. Sure sounds like a mission field to me.
Let’s examine the statistics: about 39 percent of millennials are religiously unaffiliated. Professors are five times more likely to be atheist than the normal population. The ratio of liberal to conservative professors is an average of 12:1 with many campuses even higher. The number of international students on the university campus today is as high as 30 percent, and international student enrollment is up 10 percent in the last year. The countries sending the most students to America are China and India with the predominant religions of atheism, Buddhism, and Hinduism.
The good news is more and more campus ministries are intentionally reaching out to these international students, bringing them to Christ, and seeing them return to their native countries as Christian “missionaries” to their own people.
I spoke with a friend who has been a foreign missionary for decades and inquired what contacts from her home church meant the most. She noted their commissioning service, supplies sent from home, communication, knowing there were plans and a place for them when they returned on furlough, and honoring their experience by letting them share it with the church. (Consider as well, that no missionary is sent into foreign territory without being prepared for the culture. That speaks to our ongoing need for training our students before college in Christian apologetics.)
She shared, “Knowing in big and small ways that we were not forgotten; it could be a letter or a package. Prayer was the biggest, coolest partnership. Church support is vital.” Seems to me it all boils down to contact.
God recently dropped me right in the middle of a living lab at my own church when I became the administrator/facilitator for our college Sunday morning class and the college liaison for our Student Ministry Team. Our students craved a Sunday morning class during the summer where they could remain connected after their years together in youth group. For teaching, they wanted meaty material focusing heavily on worldview and apologetics-related issues to equip them to navigate living out tough issues of faith on campus. They also wanted to be treated as adults and know that when they came home, this class would be there for them. I learned that the long-term retention of college students improves when they feel connected and experience relationships (especially intergenerational) in their churches.
Here are several suggestions based on what I've learned.
And always be ready, willing, and able to love them and welcome them home even when/if they stray from the faith or have doubts.
Seeing our college students as missionaries on campus has the potential to empower them, ground them in their faith, and impact the campus for Christ. They then influence culture both home and abroad as these missional students become missional in their chosen fields.
What do you say? Let’s change our vision of and for our college students. It might change the way they see the church. And it just might change our outlook about the future as well.
Content in blogs does not necessarily represent Ratio Christi’s views. Details