the new kid on the block: young life college

I know personally of three nationally-known, large-operation, interdenominational parachurch college ministries in America: Campus Crusade for Christ, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and the Navigators. You know, the big guys.

But, as you may or may not know, there may now be a fourth.

Young Life, long known for its ministry to youth, has in recent years officially begun Young Life College. I got to speak to national director Mike Gaffney on Monday, and I figured I’d give you the low-down.

It’s clear from talking to Mike that this collegiate arm of Young Life is definitely still evolving. It’s also clear that because it’s contextual collegiate ministry, it will look different at times from campus to campus… but more on that later.

After a little overview of Young Life College, I’ll offer some bullet points from what I’ve noticed so far.

(Again, this description of Young Life College is what I gleaned from our conversation and what’s online. If I get something wrong, which is certainly possible, please let me know! It always scares me a little bit when I get to specifics about individual organizations, ’cause I don’t want to offer errant facts.)

Young Life College

Obviously, the Young Life organization already places a heavy emphasis on outreach to high school students. Also apparent is their traditional connection to college students – using many of them as leaders in local clubs. (It’s certainly common for me to see local Young Life clubs recruiting college students to participate, especially at the beginning of the school year.)

From the students’ points of view, however, this traditional structure does sorta create a natural “gap” – between the YL high schooler and the college student who’s ready to lead. Between those two “ends of the spectrum,” there are plenty of high schoolers – including former Young Life kids – who struggle spiritually in the transition to college. And there are plenty of other college students who haven’t connected with God ever, or at least in a really long time.

Young Life College aims to minister there, in that “gap” between “youth” and “leader.”

Adding to the usual Young Life efforts to use and train college students in leadership, YL College adds the prongs of Outreach and Growth (helping college students mature in their faith). Ultimately, a major fruit of successful disciplemaking is always helping push disciplees toward ministry opportunities, and that’s where the leadership opportunities inherent in Young Life’s work with youth come in. (Yet college students will also have chances to minister to their own peers now, too.)

So Young Life College ultimately presents a “three-pronged approach” of Outreach, Growth, and Leadership.

One other thing: From what I gather, it’s probably not best to think of Young Life College as simply “Young Life for college students,” though that kind of shorthand will be tempting to use. But we all know that, for example, a church’s college ministry isn’t (hopefully) “just like the youth ministry, but with college students in it.” In the same way, Young Life College shares some aspects of vision and philosophy with Young Life, but it’s not always going to “feel” like the weekly “club” does for a high school senior.

This kind of focus on specifically collegiate ministry should be expected from Mike Gaffney, who has ministered to college students for a couple of decades – and is one of the most well-known college ministers in the country. And it’s going to be very interesting to watch as the new kid on the block – Young Life College – develops in the years to come.

Sorry to leave you hangin’, but I need to go to sleep. I’ll write those bullet points Tuesday. [Here is that continuation post.]

Written from The Purple Door, Seattle


  1. Noelle

    I read this part 2nd and I agree that reaching and equiping these two people groups will be different because we need different things. I would like to experiance that difference and build on the foundations of faith that have been laid in my life. I also want to serve others and assist those who minister to the youth in my community. I would also like to go on service projects and missions trips to other areas of the US. I have a heart for reaching the lost right here in our nation.

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