As a Reformed and connectional church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has much to offer college students, agreed the denomination’s Collegiate Ministries task force at its Nov. 16-18 meeting here.
The 10-member task force will present a report to the 220th General Assembly this summer that is to outline a strategy for reaching college students.
The PC(USA) can help students know Jesus Christ, but it doesn’t stop there, said the Rev. Jeffery Francis, chaplain at the University of Tulsa.
The church “gives (students) the opportunity to really understand what they believe,” he said. “We really do that well.”
And unlike parachurch organizations like InterVarsity or Campus Crusade for Christ, the PC(USA) offers students a community of local churches, said Dave Pommer, director of university ministries at Malibu Presbyterian Church.
“College students want a community and a place to belong,” said Jamie Lied, leadership development coordinator for the Annex Ministry in Boulder, Colo. Being linked with a local church can give students the chance to see what life is like after college.
Churches near college campuses have the unique opportunity to walk with and mentor students, Lied said.
“Why would a church not take that on when they’re right next to a campus?” she said.
Francis told of a church near him that pairs students with a member family. Once, a student from out of state had a flat tire and was able to call her church family for help.
“The relation of someone loving her that didn’t need to — she craved that,” he said.
Students also need to understand how the church makes sense in their lives.
“Students are asking the big questions of life and they want something to be passionate about and give their life to,” said the Rev. Erica Liu, campus pastor at Pres House at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “They want to know why it would be worth it to give their life to Jesus.”
Many young adults what to know what scripture says and how it causes their lives to engage around them, Francis said. They’re interested in ministry, mission and service.
“Most of them have a heart to serve,” he said. “They want to know who Jesus is.”
Local churches must give students real chances to be leaders, the group agreed. Taking ownership and being empowered are essential.
Collegiate ministry is a mission field and should not be seen simply as a way to grow the church in membership, the task force said. Those in collegiate ministry also are concerned with students who aren’t in church and who haven’t been reached.
Congregations must change their mindsets and stop thinking of collegiate ministry as a way to pack the pews, Francis said. Churches often look at the bottom line when making budgetary choices — asking questions like, ‘How many members did this program bring in?’ — but collegiate ministry is not about that.
“This is not a save-our-church operation,” Pommer said. “This is about growing the kingdom.”