Though many churches are rightly concerned about graduating high school students and college students in the church family keeping their faith, another important aspect of college ministry is reaching non-Christian college students with the gospel. The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s (BSCNC) Collegiate Partnerships team calls this the “keeping and reaching” mandate of local churches.
North Carolina has approximately 1 million college students enrolled in private, state and community colleges. Of these students, however, one-third do not participate in religious activities. Many of the remaining two-thirds are cultural Christians who rarely attend church.
On a national level, 57% of those aged 18-22 are enrolled in a two-year or four-year college. Our college campuses are filled with students who have no connection to a church or a relationship with Jesus Christ. The college campus is a mission field. These students must be reached.
But to reach these students, churches need to have a missions mentality. Here are some missions frames that the Collegiate Partnerships team uses when consulting with churches about college students.
Our college campuses are filled with students who have no connection to a church or a relationship with Jesus Christ.
When reaching a mission field, one must know the context. Missionaries need to know the languages, people groups and culture of the region they are trying to reach. So it is with colleges. Churches reaching colleges need to know the types of students there, the patterns they have and the culture of that campus. There is a broad college culture for most students, but reaching students also means knowing the context of specific students at a specific campus. The more one knows about specific colleges and students, the better.
Once missionaries know the general context of the culture, they can specialize on a subgroup of that culture. College culture is a subculture of American culture, but they also have different subgroups on campus. These subgroups can be students in specific degree programs, affinity groups or sports teams. Having a plan for a specific subgroup can help a church specialize in reaching those students. Planning for a subgroup can also help churches focus on a manageable goal. Trying to reach the whole campus may seem undoable. But focusing on a smaller part of the campus can be more manageable.
Reaching students on the college campus is not an easy task. Students live with pressures and distractions from work, classes, social media and the freedom to explore who they are. A church needs to know that it will take time and patience on its part to enter into the college culture to make a difference. Churches need to think long-term in their planning and have the commitment to keep pressing into the campus even when it may seem fruitless.
Sometimes a missionary or church needs a partner to help start or strengthen a mission work. Getting data, ideas and demographics from an outside source can help save frustration and fruitless hours. Being connected to others working on a similar mission can be encouraging and helpful. This is where the Collegiate Partnerships team can assist churches.
The Collegiate Partnerships team partners with churches by helping them: understand their local college context; find a model of ministry that is right for them; find and utilize collegiate resources; and network with other churches doing collegiate ministry. Our team is excited about helping churches reach college students. We would love to assist in creating a strategy to reach college students in your context.