Bridging The Faith Gap For College Students
By Ken Walker
Chuck Bomar started his first college outreach after his senior pastor stuck a note on his door with directions to do just that. Bomar first hosted a barbecue that attracted eight students. That led to a Thursday night Bible study. But it took a year before he felt confident the ministry would survive. Bomar has since helped about 30 churches start a college ministry. He heads CollegeLeader ministry, to supply a number of resources in this field and is the author of “Foundations of College Ministry.”
He and other experts estimate that churches who offer ministry to college-age students are a distinct minority. Those who do work with adults 18 to 25 say too many congregations overlook this group, leaving a gap in their ministry and damaging a church’s future.
“College ministry is not viewed as necessary and therefore it’s a luxury,” says Chuck Bomar, “That’s flawed thinking. It’s very necessary for growth and the discipling process in the church”.
Youth Ministry Eclipse
Often in a church, a college ministry can take a second chair beside youth ministry. This could stem from parents in churches who feel strongly about having a budget and a youth pastor to guide their teenage children, says Steve Shadrach, president of Body Builders.
However, once they leave for college, he calls it a case of “out of sight, out of mind.” Still, Shadrach says there are some churches out there with a powerful vision for college ministry.
“It usually comes from a senior pastor who feels strongly about it and often was impacted by a campus ministry,” says Shadrach, who lives in the college town of Fayetteville, Ark. “The potential of a local church having an incredible college ministry is unbelievable, but not many churches pursue that.”
Too many churches think they can’t start a college ministry because they don’t have enough people in this age bracket, Bomar says. However, he asks how many young teens they would see if they didn’t maintain a ministry for that group.
Bomar insists any size congregation can start a college ministry. That includes those with a handful of young adults. “If the church graduates one high school student, you have to have someone to walk alongside of them and help them to biblically mature conclusions about life,” Bomar says. “If you don’t, they might come back to church when they have children, or they might not.”
But, Bomar cautions church leaders to view the new ministry as a five-to-seven-year process.
Bomar says there are three essentials to organizing effective college ministry:
1 Church leaders must understand the role of the college ministry.
A college ministry is aimed at helping students follow Christ through the transition from student to adult life. It is not just about attracting large numbers of students to attend worship services, Bomar says.
“Most of the time our goal is to get them in a church service and that mentality will kill a college ministry,” he says. Bomar says college ministry must include small groups and other activities outside of services. In addition, he says older members need to act as mentors and guides for young adults.
2 Church leaders must understand the core issues college students face.
According to Bomar, the leading struggle for these young adults concerns identity and their place in the world. While career goals may help them gain some sense of purpose, since most of that concerns the future, “there’s nothing in the here and now.”
Given that picture, he says young people need help thinking through identity and how to discern God’s will. Relationships are also a key aspect for their lives, which is where Bomar says churches can play such a key role.
3 Remember evangelism
There are no simple 1-2-3 steps to getting started in college ministry, although one source is Shadrach’s book, “The Fuel and the Flame.” The author recommends gathering several key student leaders to discuss the book and review possible programs before starting an outreach to collegians.
Shadrach says the “fuel” half of his book covers preparing students for ministry, while the “flame” involves strategies to evangelize students and to equip believers to make disciples.
He believes strongly in the evangelism portion of a ministry to students. Nine times out of 10, Shadrach says churches that want to start a college ministry think about gathering as many Christian students together as possible. He calls that the worst way to start.
“You want to start by praying, sharing your faith and leading students to Christ,” Shadrach says. “Your core ought to be students you’ve led to Christ. Whatever DNA you start with is what will be lived out in years to come.”
Christian students also have a place in a ministry, starting with a weekly service. However, Shadrach suggests quickly moving to teaching them to disciple others, to start Bible studies and become witnesses away from the church building.
Bomar and Shadrach point to the numerous benefits for a church that starts a college ministry. Adding the youthful idealism and passion for Christ that young adults can have may create a new, dynamic feel and flavor in a church. Bringing in a fresh flow of believers and young, growing Christians, can reinvigorate a congregation, Shadrach says.
“It has the potential to bring a mission vision to a church,” he says. “The past 200 years most missionaries have come from Western college students.”
More than 75 percent of the volunteers at Bomar’s previous church in California came from its college ministry, although he cautions against trying to persuade them to serve before establishing solid relationships.
Bomar says a collegiate outreach also helps assimilate newcomers, brings passion into services and sets precedents in the church. He echoes Shadrach’s statement about it fueling a mission’s emphasis.
“As we go out on mission trips, students come back and do something about it,” Bomar says. “Our pastor (in California) said our college ministry has changed our church.”
This article “Bridging The Faith Gap For College Students” written by Ken Walker is excerpted from Church Central Newsletter from April 2008.