5 Reasons Why We Must Reach the University
As a campus minister, it is my belief that the university campus is one of the most exciting and strategic mission fields in the United States. Here are my top five reasons why we must reach the university:
1. College students are walking away from their faith.
Roughly 70% of churched students walk away from their faith when they start college. This is due to a number of factors: newfound autonomy, challenges to the Christian faith voiced in classes (often by professors), a lack of Christian community, and non-missional motivations for attending college and pursuing a career. Often, churches and youth groups have done all they can to prepare youth for college, and yet students still fall into these pitfalls and walk away from Jesus.
Having a Christian presence on campus allows us to walk alongside students as they face these challenges, training them in cultural discernment and perseverance.
It also enables churches to introduce their university-bound youth to on-campus faith communities, making it considerably more likely that these students will get involved in these ministries and continue to pursue Jesus in college.
2. College is a formative time in a young adult’s life.
Most adults I talk to have only one or two close friends from high school, whereas many of their closest relationships are with people they met during their college years. Similarly, it is becoming less common to marry a high school sweetheart and more common to meet one’s spouse in college. (At this point in my campus ministry career, I just assume that freshmen guys with girlfriends from high school will be single before the end of their first semester!)
I think these anecdotal trends indicate that college is one of the most formative seasons in one’s life; choices made and experienced had in college have a lasting effect.
The formative nature of college extends beyond relationships; this is the time in which students are honing in on their worldview, are developing a sense of identity away from their home, and are discovering their purpose.
University students are investing significant amounts of time, money, and energy into their future careers, preparing for how they will spend the majority of their waking hours for the next 30-50 years. Imagine the potential for spiritual growth if we disciple college students through this season of self-discovery, teaching them to obey everything that Jesus has commanded in the context of their work and relationships!
3. The nations are coming to us to study at universities.
In the first century, Jesus told his followers to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations. In the twenty-first century, Jesus is bringing the nations to the United States! We live in an unprecedented time in which people from all over the world are coming to our cities and studying at our universities. More specifically, students from restricted access countries and unreached people groups are moving into our neighborhoods, and we can share the good news of Jesus with them!
In 2010, over 100 Christian missionaries were forced out of Morocco as the government cracked down on Christian influence in the country. To this day, it is illegal to proselytize or convert to Christianity in Morocco. Obstacles abound in reaching Moroccans with the gospel. Yet, recently my wife and I invited a Moroccan student into our home to share a meal.
The significance of this opportunity cannot be understated; we cannot easily go to her country to share the good news, but she has come to ours!
We can freely tell her about the grace of God in Jesus Christ without fear of persecution. God has given us access to the nations without the need to leave our hometowns!
One of the most encouraging aspects of doing ministry at the university is seeing international students come to Christ and afterward being sent out to reach their unreached families, cities, and countries as they return home. At the university, we can make disciples who do not need special visas, do not need to go to language school, and do not need to raise funds in order to reach the unreached.
4. University graduates are influencers in society.
Today’s college graduates will be tomorrow’s leaders. Whether they practice law or medicine, lead a business, teach, counsel, conduct scientific research, or enter public service, those with degrees (especially those with multiple degrees) will be influential in society.
Imagine what it would look like if tomorrow’s leaders were taught during their time at the university to follow Jesus and bring him glory in all of life’s endeavors. The influence that we have on college students now will bear fruit in the future as they go on to be salt and light in all sorts of disciplines.
5. Followers of Jesus are especially equipped for the mission field following graduation.
Bible colleges play a substantial role in training students for vocational ministry and the mission field, and I admire the indispensable kingdom work they do. However, I believe that Christian graduates of state colleges and universities are uniquely equipped for the mission field in at least two ways:
First, college graduates have already spent four or more years on the mission field: the university campus!
They have learned to defend their beliefs against objections with gentleness and respect. They have spent significant time in close quarters with non-believers–often living with them in residence halls–and have learned to listen and communicate the gospel effectively. They have had cross-cultural interactions with fellow students from all over the world.
For many college students, it is impossible to simply “coast” in their faith during their time at the university; the university environment either beckons students to walk away from Jesus altogether or emboldens them to become missional. Students who graduate with resilient faith have often thought and lived “missionally” on campus.
Second, university graduates are more likely to be allowed into “creative access” countries than Bible college graduates.
As we observe nations all over the world restricting access for Christian missionaries, those with university degrees in engineering, public health, education, TESOL, business, computer science, and the like are often welcomed in. If we can train our university graduates to use their degrees to make disciples of all nations, the gospel can spread to places where it is not yet known.