In Part 4 of this five-part series on the College Church Connection, we explored the first and foundational action the church can take to help our college students. That is to pray intentionally and strategically for them and the campus culture. In this final part of the series, we'll explore the role adults and apologetics training can have in helping our college students stand firm in the faith. As Francis Schaeffer said in The God Who is There, “It is important to remember, first of all, that we cannot separate true apologetics from the work of the Holy Spirit, nor from a living relationship in prayer to the Lord on the part of the Christian. We must understand that eventually the battle is not just against flesh and blood.”

Start with Prayer. Follow with Relational Apologetics Training.

 

Dr. Richard Land, former president of the Southern Baptists Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said upon his appointment as the president of Southern Evangelical Seminary, “I fervently believe apologetics is the way we will spell Christian evangelism, missions, and discipleship in the 21st century.” Land also said that “apologetics means loving people enough to give them reasonable and compelling answers to their honest questions.” So the question facing the church is, do we love our kids enough and do we love the lost enough to do this? Remember, one of the major reasons youth leave the church is because no one can answer their tough questions. Apologetics helps do that.

Josh McDowell, speaking at the annual Ratio Christi Symposium, declared that “if apologetics isn’t involved more widely in the church, Christianity will become irrelevant in the culture.”

Student testimonies bear this out:
Caitlin, UVA: "There is no better way to kick start evangelism than through good apologetics training. I’m not sure if I would still be a Christian without the influence that apologetics had in my life."

Zach, WMU:  “It's important for young Christians and Christians in general to get involved in apologetics. The secular culture in which we live attacks the Christian lifestyle, especially in college where many Christians are not prepared for their faith to be assaulted on all sides.”

Marcus, SHSU: “Apologetics has also made my personal devotion more exciting and qualitative. Jesus is my Lord and my highest professor. “

So What Can The Church’s Do?


Nurture Intergenerational Relationships.
Testimonies show how apologetics is helping students on campus. "Getting students prepared to attend the university is integral to changing the university,” says Dr. Clay Jones, Associate Professor of Christian Apologetics, M. A. in Christian Apologetics Program, Biola University. What can the church do to prepare them better before campus and support them while on campus? 

Research gives us some clues. A lack of intergenerational relationships in the church was cited as causing students to feel "disconnected" with the church. Kids were more likely to stay involved in their faith when other parents and adult influencers invested emotionally and spiritually in them. Having adults get involved in apologetics training provides both the intergenerational relationships and the needed preparation for faith at college. Starting a Ratio Christi College Prep high school club for a church youth group would be a perfect answer to this need.

Norm Geisler, one of the “grandfathers” of apologetics, says that churches need to stop entertaining and start training in apologetics, even as early as fourth grade. Given that Barna Research shows that religious views are set around age thirteen and morals are set around age nine, he’s on target.

Develop Devotional Habits.
Another way the church can help youth own their faith in their college years is to establish their “devotional” lives during their teen years. The habits of prayer, scripture reading, and Bible study are key areas for adult influencers to mentor and model. Why not start with studying key scriptures that help them in the defense of their faith? Why not nurture a love of prayer by encouraging prayer for their current school, classmates, and even their future campus?

Don’t Overestimate Their Readiness.
A Fuller Youth Institute study revealed that churches and families overestimate youth group graduates’ readiness for the struggles ahead with dire consequences for the faith. Only one in seven high school seniors reported feeling prepared to face the challenges of college life with few of them ready for the intensity of the college experience. When it comes to finding a new church, forty percent of freshman reported difficulty doing so. And in retrospect, they reported that the first two weeks of their college freshman year set the trajectory for their remaining years in school.

This is a very actionable role that parents and church leaders can help with. Start the discussion early and more frequently about college; develop a plan for the first two weeks complete with church attendance, as well as an investigation of ministries and churches nearby that offer a transitional lifeline. Gift a College Church Connection report (customized for your student) to graduating seniors. When you visit colleges also check out nearby churches and campus ministries. Utilize the database Campus Renewal Ministries is establishing of campus ministries listed by campus (coming soon on their website).

Value the Role of Involvement with Adults.
A Fuller Youth Institute Study found that students’ participation in all-church worship during high school was more consistently linked with developing a mature faith in both high school and college than any other participation variable. This was bolstered by other adult congregants being involved in their lives. We, the church, need to be more intentional and relational in our contact with our youth, both while they are at home and in reaching out to college kids on campuses near our churches. We need to develop robust college ministry within our churches that integrates them into the church at large. We need to reach out to college kids attending our churches. One way to integrate adult relationships, apologetics training, and intentionality is to offer a study on Michael Sherrard’s Relational Apologetics either led by adults or combining youth and adults in one study group.

Provide Concentrated Apologetics Training with Ongoing Relational Training.
St. Louis-based Faith Ascent Ministries offers a one-week apologetics camp for high schoolers. They followed their first camp class from 2010 through post-college and found that 100 percent (30/30) of the students were still professing Christians; seventy-nine percent were still active in a local church. (For more info: http://www.faithascentministries.com/results/camp-survey-metrics.)

Summit Ministries provides two-week summer camps for youth and has found through their follow up surveys that worldview training has an incredible impact on students and culture. In their “Turning the Tide” report, Summit reported that among their graduates:
1. More than seven in ten report being intentional in applying a Christian worldview to their life, work, and relationships. 
2. They embrace a biblical worldview at a level nine times that of the average American and four times that of the average born-again Christian.
3. The biblical worldview approach affects every area of life--understand the battle of ideas, evangelize lovingly, and defend a Christian worldview and practicing spiritual disciplines.

Help Parents Live Their Faith Out Loud.
The stellar book about the youth exodus issue--Cultural Captives—reported that parents are guilty of perpetuating the sacred/secular split, and that is a dominant factor in how our kids live out their faith. Parents need to show teens that biblical truths relate to the real, everyday world and can be trusted to inform our daily choices, attitudes, and activities. Believe it or not in the teen years, parental influence trumps peer influences. We must demonstrate what we believe. Dr. Christian Smith says, “The things we don’t believe but grit our teeth and say nothing about will become the core beliefs of our children.” Ouch. And, as William Lane Craig says “the ultimate apologetic is: your life.” We see in research and in the real world, we must combine “orthodoxy” with “orthopraxy” if parents and the church are going to have an effect on our students’ faith remaining intact in college.

Support the Church-Campus Ministry Connection.
The church should support campus ministries. Why? In a survey of students who both graduated from college and still had a biblical worldview, a much greater percentage said a source other than a family member was most influential in their faith staying intact. And in fact, a college grad influenced by a source other than family, is thirty-three percent more likely to be a regular church attender with a biblical worldview than one whose primary influence source is family. Why? Likely because when their faith is challenged in college they look for answers from pastors, Bibles, and books (another reason for churches and parents to help students connect to a local church while in college). Churches could adopt a Ratio Christi chapter and/or chapter director on a campus near them and be killing two birds with one stone: supporting a campus ministry and enabling apologetics training on campus. This could actually become part of the missions budget at church.

Our student’s faith is a like a relay race—when we hand off the baton from the local church to the campus ministry and the campus church we need to hand off well, and they need to receive well. We both need a grip on these students so they don’t fall through the cracks; we both have a vested interest for a victorious finish.

Champion Christian Professors.
If churches have professors in their congregations, consider it a special privilege and role you play in supporting those on the front line of academia. Professors have a profound impact on our students. Prayer, support, training in religious freedom through Alliance Defending Freedom or others, are ways to help. Point your professors to RC Prof—Professors as Confessors and Prof Talks.

Evaluate How You Are Doing.
Only around half of the Summit graduates surveyed in the "Turning the Tide" report felt their churches were providing the kind of apologetics and worldview training that led them to cultural engagement and a concern for the lost.  Until this changes, our society’s next generation of Christian leaders will be hampered in their ability to exert a godly influence on the culture around them. Let's be willing to honestly evaluate how we are doing in this area and make the needed changes. Why not engage college students and recent college graduates in an advisory role to assess needed changes?


Treat the Campus as a Local Entry Point to the International Mission Field.
Not only is the campus a mission field for the church by the nature of its secularism, but the international population on campuses is exploding. Other nations are at your back door. Consider outreach to international students and supporting ministries on campus who do so. Even something as simple as providing food for the ministries that minister to international students can have an impact. It’s another great way to provide intergenerational relationships as well. I have heard testimonies from campus ministers whose outreach to international students in resulting in salvations and then impacting that student's native country when they return home.

Is there any mission field to which a church would send its missionaries without praying for them, training them, and giving them the tools they need to be successful? Then why are the college campus and our students any different?

Build A Bridge Between the Church Campus and the College Campus.
As I surveyed much research on the topic of keeping our youth/college students strong in their faith, I came to a rather obvious conclusion. We the church need to build a bridge to our college students to keep them from walking away so that when they walk out of college they are still standing for truth and walking back through our doors. We need to develop the mindset that “they are in my church, so they are my business.”

The campus has been described as: “the fulcrum with which to move the world,” and “a microcosm...that helps to determine the grand direction of humanity. If God is not welcomed on campus, how will God be welcomed in the world?”

In conclusion, let me pose a few questions.
• If God wanted to use you to stop the carnage of Christian youth leaving the faith while in college--would you join Him? 
• If God wanted to strategically use this generation of parents and their churches to pray for this generation of college students and faculty to restore a Christian worldview on the campus and potentially change the world--would you let Him use you?
• If you could continue a legacy of parents and churches who prayed for college students and ushered in historical missions’ movements and spiritual awakenings, would you?
• And if you could arm students with the correct weapons for worldview warfare and relationships to succeed, would you?
• Do you care enough now to get involved?
What will you do as a result of learning this information and having this vision cast before you?

If we don’t want our kids to walk away from Christ in college, if we want them to stand for truth on campus with their feet firmly planted, then we, the church, must use our eyes to look back at where we’ve come from, use our ears to hear the arguments that come against them, use our knees to get down and pray, use our minds to pray strategically and intentionally, and use our arms and hands to come along side them in relationship and apologetics training. That’s the body of Christ standing together for truth on the campus.