Every year, geese migrate for the winter. They leave their homes in the north and fly south to escape those cold months. Think about how geese make this move. They don’t fly alone – they go together in flocks. They want to be with birds like themselves, that are all heading to the same place that they are. God has designed them to migrate together.
Every school year, 70% of nearly 3.6 million high school graduates head off to college. What does that mean? There are nearly 2.5 million new college freshmen every year, and that number is only projected to increase.
There’s a difference, though, between students and geese, and it’s absolutely pivotal. When a student leaves for college, they’re not taking with them their family, all their high school friends, or their churches. Sometimes they have some familiar people with them, but nothing compared to an entire flock. No – instead, when they get to college, that’s where they make new friends, building a brand new community and connections with new people.
When people make connections with each other, these relationships are usually built on having similar values. Like the geese that join together to go south, college students make friends with people who have similar directions in life or, after making friends, they realign their values with those of their new friends.
This isn’t inherently a bad thing. Thinking through where you want to go in life is very important, and college gives you time to try out new ideas and have new experiences. However, there is an alarming trend among church attendance in college students. Sixty-one percent of students who were in church as teenagers will be spiritually disengaged by the time they get to their twenties. After graduation, only one-fifth remains in the faith to the same level that there were at as high school seniors. Young people are leaving church – and sometimes the Christian faith – when they attend college.
The church plays an essential role in making sure that this doesn’t happen, but the ways to help students sometimes aren’t as obvious as we might think. College students have unique needs and don’t respond in the same way that high-schoolers or full-fledged adults do. When it recognizes this, the church can be instrumental in guiding students’ walks with God. Let’s look at how this works!
Think about the flock of geese again. Notice how they often fly in V-shapes? Those at the point of the V – in the front – are working the hardest, while the ones in the back can easily coast on the wind from the wings before them. Geese trade places when they get tired, supporting each other and making sure that everyone makes it to their southern homes. A geese could not make this journey alone. Having other people with it makes it possible for it to get to its destination.
Christian community works like that. Churches provide a place for believers to make connections with one another. Believers all have the same direction – they want to follow Christ. Like geese, they can strengthen each other, providing a resting place and a place to lead. Paul recognized that edifying character of church. He writes to the church in Rome, “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you – that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Romans 1:11). This is Paul – the one who wrote half of the New Testament! He recognized that he – like the geese, like you and I – need community.
So how does that relate to college students?
To prevent students from leaving the church, we have to be very intentional about reaching them. It is urgent that students have direct contact with Christians during their transition to college, because being a solo Christian – a Christian who is alone – is very difficult. We need other people to encourage us, and we have a role to play in encouraging other people as we all strive to grow spiritually together.
At Churchpress, we see potential for college students to become Christian leaders all over the world. Churches who have to come alongside them, like the birds that take the lead in the V, and help them identify their destination, which isn’t a particular career or, like the geese, a southern home, but an active and powerful relationship with Jesus Christ.
Instead of no longer attending church when they move to college, we hope that students will realize that they themselves are the church.
In future articles in this series, we will address some of the serious challenges on the mission field that is the college campus. We’re going offer practical tips as we explore how churches sending off and receiving students in college can become Student Champions!