The process of moving from adolescence to young adulthood is full of questions and discoveries about who one will be and what one will do. But the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is often not a presence in the lives of college students making these decisions.
“As a denomination, we seem to care about young people until they graduate from high school. And then we care about them as young adults if they happen to wind up on one of our seminary campuses,” said Gary Luhr, executive director of the Association of Presbyterian Colleges and Universities. “The church needs to be a part of shaping those developmental stages happening in the college years.”
Luhr was speaking to the Collegiate Ministries task force, meeting here Nov. 16-18.
“This committee, I think, is one of the most critical groups meeting in our denomination,” he said.
The committee will present a report to the 220th General Assembly next summer that is to outline a strategy for reaching college students. This will be the fifth report on collegiate ministries to go to the Assembly in 25 years, Luhr said, adding that he hopes commissioners will recognize the critical nature of collegiate ministries.
The General Assembly Mission Council is also working on a four-year plan to present to GA, and Luhr hopes that plan will emphasize collegiate ministries as well.
But many active in campus ministry have a hard time trusting the denomination, which eliminated the national office for collegiate ministries in 2009 budget cuts. The office was re-established in 2010 when directed to do so by the General Assembly and now has one staff person.
“I have hope for this. But there’s a lot of cynicism among campus ministers — about our task force, about our support in the denomination,” said the Rev. James Goodlett, associate pastor for campus ministries at First Presbyterian in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Adrian McMullen, the PC(USA)’s associate for collegiate ministries, said that many of the ideas and goals for the office can’t be carried out by one person. He asked Eric Hoey — director of Evangelism and Church Growth, where Collegiate Ministries is housed — about the chances of bringing on more staff. Hoey said he hopes that the area will get more support, but that that would have to mean cuts in other areas.
The PC(U.S.A.)’s 45-year membership decline and its withdrawal of support from collegiate ministries might not be a coincidence, Luhr said. The denomination can no longer expect young adults who leave the church in college to return when they marry and start families.
The church should tap into its resources — such as the task force — to find ways to connect and support college students, chaplains, campus ministers, seminaries and local congregations, Luhr said. Collegiate ministries should be viewed through the lens of leadership development as well as evangelism.