By Amy Shreve, Coordinator for Higher Education, Campus & Young Adult Ministry
The students coming to college are a more diverse and a less Christian group than ever before, but they are curious about spirituality. Will you pray that we meet students where they are and have deep conversations about Christ as they explore spiritual practices? According to Barna research, Gen Z, one name given the incoming college freshman, views church as unimportant and they are prioritizing education, profession, and financial independence. 13-18 years old are twice as likely as adults to say they are atheist. As a result, campus ministry continues to look very different from local church ministry. First, campus ministries are building relationships with students who have never been in church and believe church is unimportant.. This is time intensive, slow, transformative work.
Chris, a graduate student at the University of Illinois, was excited about welcome week activities at the Wesley Student Center, especially the ice cream give-away. When she invited her friends to join her and they realized it was a Christian organization, they turned down Chris’s invitation. Luckily, the relationship and opportunity doesn’t begin and end there. Chris has the opportunity to invite her friends each Friday to the Wesley Student Center for coffee and a meal. Here, they may experience the radical hospitality and love of Christ that will open student-initiated conversations about faith.
The director and campus minister at the Wesley Student Center understand the skepticism, reluctance, and distrust students have for religious institutions and seek to slowly build relationship with students by making safe, welcoming space for students to gather and study as well as meeting physical needs through a student-only food pantry and distributing reclaimed meals from the dining halls.
Campus ministries crack open the door for students to explore faith and trust God. And sometimes the door is flung wide open as students grow in faith and leadership. Check out the hero-making videos from Annual Conference to hear from Gretchen Long, a student who went from participating in an hour of prayer to planning ISU Merge’s 24/7 prayer vigil and Kenny Smallhorn, who engages students across University of Illinois’ campus to relieve community and campus hunger through Illini Fighting Hunger.
Resources to check out:
“The Awakened Life: An 8-Week Guide to Student Well-Being” by Sarah E. Boolinger & Andela R. Olsen available at Cokesbury .
A great resource for students and young adults to counter rising anxiety with mindfulness practices rooted in Christian tradition.