moving day

About once a month I get a call from a concerned parent:

quote

My son moved to your university last month. He’s a good Christian, but he is struggling to find a connection on campus. I’m not sure he has a healthy set of friends right now. Could you go invite him to your weekly worship meeting?

For 17 years, I’ve diligently looked up these students in order to hang out. Trying my best to say “Your mom/dad/pastor gave me your room number” without saying it directly. To be helpful, I sometimes send an outgoing Christian student instead.

If you’re wondering how it goes, let me just say: Those. Moments. Are. Awkward.

On my campus, we have 0% success pursuing Christian students on behalf of their parents or pastor. Zero. (You might guess this result was obvious.) Unfortunately, the second option is hardly better:

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I gave a girl in our youth group some information for your campus ministry, Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship. She’ll be getting involved when she moves to town. Look out, world!

In my own experience, this approach nets about 1 in 4 Christian students who meaningfully connect with any Christian community (not necessarily Chi Alpha) when they arrive. That’s roughly a quarter. 1

Just imagine if there were a better way to roll.

I and my fellow campus missionaries spend a lot of time with new college students. We see a picture of their faith from the “other side” of the high school transition.

Do you know what our main concern is for an incoming Christian student?

Hint: it’s not their theology. You might think that years of Bible teaching and a managed Christian environment produces young adults with a solid trajectory on campus. But that is not what happens.

Our concern is the social Flood. A student arriving at the university is dumped into a sea of unknown relationships. The friendships that form on Day One—for good or bad—will persist for years. Social life shapes a person’s daily walk with Jesus, and an 18-22 year-old quickly develops new, faith-numbing habits.

The picture looks like this:

social chaos

So what is the key? Believe it or not, up to 90% of Christian youth end up in a campus healthy ministry IF they have an early “normal” social introduction. That’s been my experience for a long time.

So here is the bottom line: we must coach students through that transition. In which case, the picture should look more like:

social transition

The goal is to promote a social handoff—BEFORE the first day on campus. From one trusted world to the next. From your youth program to a healthy campus ministry.

How do we accomplish this? Here are a few suggestions. Between May and August, help your graduating youth to . . .

1 Meet up with some Christian students in the campus ministry. Establish initial friendships that will continue in the first weeks of fall. Coordinate a visit to campus and hang out with Chi Alpha students (who love this, by the way).
2 Get to know the campus ministry staff. Remember, this is a social transition, not an information download. Your youth needs to see a trust between his/her parents or pastor, and the new campus ministry.
3 Consider visiting a weekly worship meeting or a student-led Bible study. Physically walking into a Christian “home” on campus is a powerful association for a student headed into a new living situation. Most Chi Alpha ministries meet on a weeknight on campus.
4 Meet up with ministry staff or students during summer orientation—a required ritual at all public universities. Consider hanging out at a social event with Christians instead of joining the party atmosphere.

Let’s set our students up for success. We need to be proactive as pastors and parents. Remember: they are establishing a social routine for those crucial first weeks of life on campus!

To contact one of our Chi Alpha ministries, with Christian student communities on public universities throughout the Pacific Northwest, please find us at nwxa.org.

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1 Do you notice a similarity to the statistical average in America? 7 out of 10 Christian youth will cease to actively follow Jesus after graduation. In other words, if your youth grad leaves home with a good heart, and the name of a ministry to join, you’re essentially committing them to the world of chance. And the odds are low. (Kinnaman, You Lost Me, 22-23)  ↩

Dan and Becky Guenther

Dan Guenther is a lover of college students, hot pizza, off-trail hiking and natural science. He is director of Chi Alpha Campus Ministries in the Northwest Ministry Network. He and his wife, Becky, have been missional pastors since before the dawn of the millennium.
 
For reprints of this article, you can reach Dan atdan (at) nwxa.org