Connecting with college students

Task force examines how to keep young adults involved with PC(USA) beyond high school

November 30, 2011


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.

  1. With social media and online engagement, home churches can carry some of the work. I'm part of a home church interested in doing this. I have a year-long program that I can share with those interested. Our focus is "strengthening our college families." Thus, we want to serve students and their families (the parents and siblings) and high school upperclasses underway in the transition to college.

    by Nancy Williams

    April 2, 2012

  2. I'm glad the church established the task force and that the denomination realizes that college students are important; however, it seems like there should at least be a college student involved in the task force to help discern the future of collegiate ministry...

    by Nicole Stansifer

    February 15, 2012

  3. I became a campus minister in the 70's and served 2 years at Indiana State in Terre Haute, and 19 years at Vincennes University - both ecumenical ministries. In all of those 21 years, I experienced a dropping away of support from the Presbyterian and other mainline denominations, little by little, year by year. When I retired in 1998, I was working about 60-70 hours a week, trying to maintain a quality program while also doing a lot of fundraising to keep it going. I am now 77, and have been the moderator of the Higher Education Committee of the Synod of the Covenant, member and president of the Ohio Campus Ministries Board, and a member of the Campus Ministry Advamcement Board, all in an effort to find ways to keep support of campus ministries alive. It feels like a losing battle, but, along with many colleagues, I will not give up. The nature of these ministries has to change as students, universities, and times change, and those campus ministers and local boards that survive are serving way beyond the call of duty. Campus ministries are a crucial part of the church's ministry; if we lose them we will see even more loss in the leadership, lay and ordained, in our and other mainline denominations. I hope that the PCUSA will find ways to re-establish its involvement in and support of this part of the church's total ministry.

    by Ruth Dunn

    December 7, 2011

  4. Consider me one of those who have a hard time trusting the denomination. Serving in what is now my 6th year as a Campus Minister, I've grown more and more frustrated by the lack of emphasis on collegiate and/or young adult ministry across the board, from G.A. all the way down to the typical PC(USA) church. At this point, I only see three options left. ONE: Make it a priority, and fund it - just like we do our Retirement Home Communities. TWO: Stand behind InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and see it as death-bed investment in the Kingdom, and our final legacy as we expire. THREE: Quit, and just admit that there's no future. What saddens me the most is that we are part of a Reformed tradition that highly values sacrament and education, and yet, we are doing nothing to educate these young adults, and are thereby completely abandoning the sacramental promise we made to them at baptism. I'm grateful for Adrian, James - my friend, and the entire Task Force. You're in my prayers. I don't envy your task.

    by Dan W. Boles

    December 1, 2011

  5. Our "Renewing the Commitment" report (213th GA, 2001) encouraged me early in my tenure at FSU to think that a bona fide national strategy for sustaining the higher edu mission field might emerge. However disappointing its failure to produce longstanding outcomes to majority benefit, that document ten years hence encourages me still nonethelss. Nor do I abandon hope yet that our current task force may inspire action further. I offer here two areas in which a national strategy could benefit many practitioners practitoners like us at PUC: 1) Develop & promote our PCUSA Pentecost Offering creatively further abroad as a source for recurring revenues; 2) Design and implement a collegiate ministries intern (?) process similar perhaps to our church's Young Adult Volunteer program.

    by Bruce Chapman, PCUSA Minister, Florida State Univ.

    December 1, 2011

  6. Reaching out to and empowering younger generations to help lead and transform our church must become one of our highest priorities in the PCUSA.

    by Raafat Zaki

    December 1, 2011

  7. I am president of the board of a small campus ministry in Terre Haute, IN and the cut in funding for us started over six years ago. Then three years ago the Methodist also cut out. We are the only mainline, progressive minitry for four college campuses. We need support. Many young people tells us of trying other programs and finding an exclusive and intolerant reception to new ideas. We had to give up our full time campus minister and our part time one is struggling to provide meaningful experiences. Most of the boards time is spent fund raising rather than what drew us to this ministry which is working with young adults as they explore their faith. Adrian may God richly bless your work. Linda

    by Linda Peters

    December 1, 2011