Are College Students in the Church Overrated?

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College students are the most experiential people on the planet, which reflects their own developmental stage of life. They fill the streets for political demonstrations, spark racy debates, travel the world from hostel to hostel, and rush the field to tear down goal posts.

In regards to the church, it should be no surprise that many of the most passionate Christians are college students. The energy they contribute to the faith community is amazing. They often cry out for revival, and they experience God’s presence and work in powerful ways as they seek Him.

This last January, there was a record crowd of over 50,000 college students packed into the Georgia Dome at the Passion Conference to lift up the name of Jesus together. Throughout this conference, various Christian leaders addressed these young adults, inspiring them to follow Jesus and change the world.

On a much smaller scale, we as  youth pastors do the same thing at our churches. We cast big vision for our students, proclaiming that they will change the world in Jesus’ name. We say things like, “Your generation is going to be different.” “God is doing something in your generation.” “Revival is going to come through your generation!”

There’s nothing wrong with these declarations. We speak in these ways to our young people all the time, and we truly believe it. However, I do wonder if sometimes we are so busy praising the current students for how great they “will be” that we forget to look at the actual impact of those who have gone before them.

For example, how are our former students doing five years after college? How’s the generation that is no longer considered the “next generation” because they are now into their late twenties or early thirties. Are they still passionate about Jesus? How are they serving God? Did “revival” come through them like we preached?

For church leaders, it’s easy to keep telling each new group of young people “they are the generation.” It’s much harder to follow up on the generation after their college years to see how they end up living out their faith in the context of work, family, and house payments.

What happens five years after those experiential years of college is exactly my concern. What happens once moved out of the college-town and into a full-time job? Do we check up on them, or are we too busy celebrating the next batch of passionate young adults that “will be” the generation that brings revival?

Forgive me if this sounds harsh. My intention is not to discourage passionate spirituality in college, nor am I saying that students are overrated. What I am saying is that as Christians, our impact, even “revival,” needs to move beyond a passionate age group or season of life.

Our revival needs to move into something more sustainable, with greater longevity. Revival needs to involve both young and old, the new generation and the previous ones.

I don’t have the “solution” for this issue. The purpose of this post is to begin the conversation. Here are a few ways that I believe the local church can engage young people as they grow older and move out of the college years.

1. Teach holistic Christian spirituality, specifically how following Jesus integrates into a diverse scope of careers and vocations

2. Connect college students to older Christian adults that share similar passions and vocational callings

3. Provide discipleship opportunities in the local church for young adults after they’ve graduated from college, such as  discipling middle or high school students.

-What other ways can come alongside young adults for a deeper, sustaining impact after the college years? Please comment below to share any ideas you have or things your church has done.'

About Brian Burchik


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  •' Ryan Donoho says:

    This brings up some good points. I think this could be pushed a little farther.

    For example, point number three needs to be expanded: “Provide discipleship opportunities in the local church for young adults after they’ve graduated from college, such as discipling middle or high school students.”

    That is a significantly limited perspective. This is, in fact, what most churches already do. “You’re a young adult. Great, work with our kids (or other young adults).” We can do better than this. Sure, this might be a good fit for a few, but probably not for most. Most would probably fit better discipling and serving in some other way. Could they not be a full-bodied member of an inter-generational missional community, or perhaps even help lead a missional community? We shouldn’t put up too many limits for what people, regardless of age, can do within the church. How a person fits within the body should be a work of discernment by the person and the church community. Let’s try and avoid plug and play, if you know what I mean.

    In the church, I also think we need to move away from this concept that older people need to disciple younger people, in a top down type of relationship. It almost becomes like a younger person cannot mentor an older person in some way.

    Just some thoughts to try and help move along the conversation. Thanks for sharing.

    •' Brian Burchik says:

      Hey Ryan,
      Thanks for your thoughts. The 3 ideas at the end there were just the spring borad of ideas to engage young adults. Thanks for expanding and raising some good points. I might not go as far to say the church should move away from older discipling younger, but certainly young adults can contribute and pour into other believers of all ages. Really appreciate your comment

  • I absolutely agree with this post! It’s truly my passion as a college pastor to lead college aged people into a lifetime of passionate worship… not just 4 years of it. I totally agree with the connection to the older generation, and another thing that I’ve been trying to accomplish is to get them truly connected to the church. One of these ways is through inter-generational friendships as you mentioned, however I also work to try to help them employ their gifts and passions into the daily life of the church, and not just in the college ministry. As a part of this, I work actively against the common tendency of a college ministry isolating itself, and have been trying to work the model so that much of what we do is partnered with the whole of the church.

    All of this is aimed at helping them to fully assimilate into the life of the church while they are at this impassioned age and help them to explore exactly how they can use their gifts and passions in the context of the church. Therefore, the hope of doing this would be so that when and if they move away to a new location for their career, their priorities would be hopefully established in the right way and they would know exactly how and where to get connected in their new location within a great church.

    I haven’t been at this long, but it has had much better “lifetime retention” in the last 4-5 years than my previous experiences did with a parachurch college ministry model.

    Thanks for the great post and I’d love to know your thoughts!

    •' Brian Burchik says:

      I love it Mitch. I think your efforts here are so important -good job! Thrilled to hear of the fruit you are experiencing. Thanks for pouring into young adults, preparing them to integrate into the local church, whether that means with your church or in the different location where life takes them. That goal of long term impact is right on.

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