I spent the past 6 days at the Urbana Missions Conference in St. Louis surrounded by 16,000 college students. As I found myself waiting in long lines, walking on crowded sidewalks, and worshiping with this mass of students, I found myself asking the same question over and over: “Will these young people find their way into churches?”
I am sure that many of the students already attend a local church regularly, but I know from personal experience and a lot of conversations that for many students, on-campus Christian organizations like CCO, FCA, IFV (the acronyms could continue on here for a long time) have taken the place of a traditional church. As it becomes less and less common for kids to grow up going to church, young people who give their life to Christ are doing so in the context of communities where they are surrounded predominantly by their peers, young people who look like them and think like them and who are generally going through the same life experiences they are. All of the activities and talks are geared directly toward them and are high-energy and exciting. This sense of sameness and directedness becomes their expectation for what it means to be a part of the body of Christ.
So what happens when they graduate and their close-knit group of friends are spread across the country or even across the globe and they are forced to find Christian community in a new space? What happens when they wander into their local church and the speaker is a little boring and there aren’t lots of fun games and people are singing songs they have never heard from strange books called ‘‘Hymnals”? What happens when this fiery, passionate generation floods into the pews filled with ideas and dreams about mission only to find a tired, defensive church that is hunkered down just trying to survive?
It seems that somewhere in the process of transitioning students who were saved and nurtured in para-church groups into local churches there is a disconnect. Their expectations for the church are not being met because the church is not a college group. On the flip side, the church claims to desperately want young people, but they are doing very little to realistically connect with the younger generation and invite them into their communities. College students want the church to be a clone of their college experience, and the church wants young people to show up, but not cause any ripples or push for change. Clearly this is not a healthy situation and it needs to be remedied from both sides.
What are your thoughts on this current scenario and how we can begin to bring about change?