college students & the world we must reach

Yesterday’s post, “The Surprisingly Unmissional Approach to College Ministry,” garnered with some really great comments. So in case more people want to chime in (or people want to chime in again), I didn’t want to post on an entirely new topic – just extend the conversation.

First, I encourage you to read yesterday’s post and comments if you haven’t.

Further, Todd Engstrom of The Austin Stone Community Church very helpfully posted their collegiate methodology on his blog in response to my post. It’s an excellent example of a church that runs in “Emerging-Missional” circles but has seen the need to impact students as students (while also assimilating them into the church).

For my addition to the conversation today, I felt like it might be good for us to help each other remember some of the reasons the college campus is a unique “neighborhood” of its own, deserving of being reached on its own terms.

Clearly, for many Americans the collegiate experience certainly “feels” singular, not particularly similar to any other time of life. But I would go further and say that this “feeling” reflects something very real. Several aspects of this experience are drastically different enough that – at some level – students need to be reached like the collegians they are.

(That’s not to say we don’t also integrate / assimilate – read yesterday’s comments for some really great thoughts on that balance.)

I think any well-performed study would find significant differences between college students (as a group) and other groups in at least the following areas. As with any sociological grouping, there are variations along each of these lines. Each student is different. But as a group, college students experience a special world.

To get us started, some of the differences many college students experience:

  • Financial situation
  • Employment situation
  • Schedule flexibility / “Margin”
  • Weekly schedule
  • Annual schedule
  • Opportunities for stretching / growing experiences (study abroad, special summer activities, travel, etc.)
  • Center of community (that’s a huge one)
  • Felt needs (to some extent – but college ministers recognize students don’t always have a great grasp on what they need most. See next.)
  • Actual discipleship needs
  • Lack of intergenerational encounters
  • Nearly all single (and those that are married have often left the “collegiate world,” even if they are still attending classes)
  • Less sociological diversity in other ways, too (because schools are both selective and selected, and they function as fairly closed systems, resulting in true “tribes” of varying homogeneity)

What would you add?

The point is, these factors directly affect students’ present discipleship needs, opportunities to involve them and disciple them, or the impact discipling them now instead of later has. So if all we ever do is pull them out of that world, their experience of Jesus won’t have much correlation with the very unique world they actually inhabit.

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One Comment

  1. Add this to the list: They are at a pivotal time in their lives when they will make BIG decisions for the first time in their lives. (What will I major in, what do I want to do with the rest of my life, for some: who will I marry, etc.)

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