brazil, college ministry, & minding the gap

In our intro session / orientation for the Brazil trip last night, we had the chance to learn a big difference between what it means to be a college student here (in Brazil, or at least in São Paulo) and what it means back home in the States. Here, college students are generally what we would call “Young Adults”; their post-high school lives are immediately thrust into the working world. While many may begin attending college classes (at the numerous schools in this city), those educational endeavors are placed on top of their lives, instead of providing the setting for their lives. It sounds like there are very few dorms; one girl also noted that students rarely see campus as a place to build friendships.

(Don’t worry; none of this means we won’t be learning applicable things this week – beginning with one big point of this post, contextualization.)

It’s vital that anyone reaching post-high schoolers recognize that there is a spectrum: Some individuals are extremely “collegiate,” while others – even if they happen to attend classes – would never be defined in that way. And there are shades in between those extremes.

Without recognizing this spectrum, we might ridiculously extrapolate our contexts to nations that don’t treat “collegeness” in the same way.

But lack of attention to this spectrum also causes some U.S. churches to lump young adults and college students into the same categories. In our country, there are generally deep sociological differences there, so we have to “mind the gap,” as it were – perhaps making use of wise overlap, while never forgetting that the truly collegiate person is often quite different in key ways from the non-collegiate person, regardless of the age (or enrollment) of either.

Forgetting to recognize this spectrum also causes some campus ministries (of any kind) to be less campus-oriented than they should be, even though their students’ center of community happens to be right there, on the campus.

Meanwhile, others ignoring this spectrum err on the opposite side, treating their college students exactly the same as they might at a big State School – despite the fact that college students in their context may not situate their lives around the campus, might not be nearly as “collegiate,” or might truly be much more like “young adults who happen to be taking classes.”

Our hopes to be missional, if anything, demand that we be contextual. And this is a start – one we can learn even by comparing Brazil with North America. Examine how “collegiate” our college students actually are, and we’ll understand better what they need from us.

This post was adapted for use at the Planting Brazil blog, as well.

Update: Brazil Missional Trek
Friday and Saturday: I met those who had flown into Dallas, where we all took the red-eye directly into São Paulo (after several delays because of weather issues in Dallas. On Saturday, we hit the ground running, holding our orientation and attending the weekly service at Zoe, the church we’re working with this week. (To follow along, see our blog at


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