3 Questions I Have About College Ministries

Two years ago, I shifted from working with grades 6-12 to working with collegians.  I love college students.  They’re fun and engaging and energetic and creative.  They have a lot of passion, albeit at times unfocused.  They want life to be awesome.

Ultimately, I imagine I’ll return to local church ministry.  I love my work in the university, but I don’t know if student affairs is my field.  Which got me thinking–would I want to do college ministry?

I’m not sure.  Obviously a college ministry can look like a lot of things.  And many of them are healthy subgroups within the larger congregation.  But sometimes the ones that are big enough to want to hire a college pastor are also the ones that give me pause.  Here’s why:

1. Does it create a One-Eared Mickey?

An image made famous by Chap Clark*, the one-eared Mickey represents a youth ministry so independent from the rest of the congregation that really, they are two separate entities.  The touch point?  Money.  Money for programs, buildings, and the paid staffer.

I think that college programming has just as much risk of being a Mickey Ear as junior or senior high does.  But the church is, among other things, a multi-generation group doing life together.  There is still an appropriate role for age-specific programming, but not when that programming effectively creates a uni-generational mini-congregation within the larger body.

2.  Does it create a false separation between ‘real’ adults and ‘fake’ (college age) ones?

Similarly, adults in a congregation are well served to remember that young people are not “the future of the church.” They are the church, just as much as older people are.  I wonder if certain forms of college ministry perpetuate, in the minds of the older congregants, that they are the ‘real adults’ and the young people are not full-fledged members of the church community.

3. Does it uphold a youth group 2.0 culture?

Youth groups have their own sub-cultures.  From jokes to shared experiences, the group cohesion comes from the unique culture that group has created together.  When that group is made up of adolescents, the sub-culture will be adolescent.  And that is fine, and then a time will come when those adolescents need to shift into young adulthood.

In junior high or high school youth groups, we have developmentally appropriate goals for our students.  We try to walk alongside them as they take certain steps in their faith, but we are also aware of things they cannot do yet.  Sometimes I wonder if a fully programmed college ministry, with its own worship gathering, events, and camps, create a late-adolescent driven culture really serves the larger faith-development goals for this age.

Are we helping collegians move towards adulthood by providing them programming that is, in effect, youth group 2.0?

Do I think college-only social events or Bible studies are bad?  Absolutely not.  But if we end up with a college-only mini church, especially if that mini-church behaves more like oversized teens than emerging adults, no one wins.

What do you think makes a college aged ministry effective within a larger church?  Is it about the culture of the group, the programming they offer, or something I’ve missed entirely?

*If you know of another person who originated the image, please inform me.

7 thoughts on “3 Questions I Have About College Ministries

  1. I am a college student who has been involved in a ministry for two years. The ministry is based out of our church, but our outreach community is a college campus. My fellow students and I, this past year, have been really hurting for some adult wisdom and fellowship.

    I’ve spent a lot of my time stressing about how to create programs to integrate age groups. I think those can help to some extent, but all it really takes is the church loving the church in our own unique way.

    Here’s my take. Adults, if you want to love the college students, find out their names and invite them over for dinner, coffee, baking, yard work, or even one-on-one mentoring. You don’t have to be “cool” or crazy to make an impact. Just love God fearlessly and sacrificially.

    College students, seek counsel, offer to babysit, help with chores and projects, and seek more counsel! By spending time with adults, it’ll be easier to learn how to be an adult.

    As in any family, perseverance and commitment are essential.

  2. Great thoughts and insight Mer and I have some of the same questions/concerns. I think most churches including the one I attended for many years are raising self serving believers, begining with our ms and hs. The church does not want to do what is best for the growth and health of the body but rather what is easy and what feels good and makes them happy and comfortable.
    I’d rather have my kids sitting with me than continuing to learn “its all about me” IN CHURCH.

  3. I’m really not sure about this whole concept of integrating the youth (especially junior highers) into the larger worship service. What 7-8 th graders desire more than anything is autonomy from parents, and here is the church with the message, no, you need to be sitting by your parents once again. I’ve spent years in churches where the youth had their own worship service concurrent with the adult one. It was a happy time for our family. Eveyone was happy to go to church. Now, my teens won’t even go. Where does that subculture get to flourish? Will parents be diligent about bringing teens to the during week events for teens. The sermons are not geared toward that age group. The worship music is not geared toward that age group. What are we trying to accomplish? My teens will never love 30-somethings music, no matter how cool we think we perform it.

  4. I wonder if the relationship between staff members has the greatest impact on how the college students interact with the church as a whole. For instance, if the college pastor and the leadership team (whole church) have a strong, cooperative relationship, would they not plan together. And then I envision (maybe I’m Pollyanna) the college group feeling like a part of everything going on churchwide. And, again in a perfect world, I envision the college pastor linking the college group with the whole church through programming, discussion links to Sunday sermons, and whole church activities and campaigns that call for leadership from collegiates.

    Am I dreaming?

  5. The world is continually trying to break people up into more and more subgroups. However, there are issues for college-age people that might be best discussed with peers. I think it’s important to have the all the programs coordinated to allow for possible discussion within the family. That may help limit the mini-church environments.

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