It’s more than a month into the semester and some first-year college students are narrowing down their church search. If that’s you, you’re in a small minority of college students, so well done!
Most church-going college students never join a church during their time away, electing either to retain membership at their old church or not join anywhere. The question they ask is this: If I have community, am mentored, receive Bible teaching, and am engaged in mission, then why do I need to join a church?
If you’re asking that question, then you’re believing some combination of these four myths.
Myth #1: There’s no real benefit in church membership.
Church membership isn’t simply a name on a piece of paper—and if that’s how your church views membership, it’s time to look for a new church. Church membership is clarifying to the leaders of the church who it is that God has placed in their care. Hebrews 13:17 teaches church leaders that they have a special responsibility for those in their care, a responsibility for which they will be held accountable.
Now, local churches should certainly want to care for anyone inside their relational circles, especially those who are suffering. But the responsibility toward church members is different. For one, it’s not just a reactive caring, but a proactive one. If you’re a member of a church, you’ll have people proactively walking with you and thinking about ways you can be equipped for a lifetime of following Jesus.
At our church (and others in our town), the college students who join will be known, prayed for regularly, and equipped in a way that we simply can’t do with everyone. Not to mention the free meals and career advice!
Myth #2: Membership at my church back home is enough.
Simply put, 99% of the time your home church can’t care for you the way a church in your college town can. How can they when they don’t see you for months on end?
I appreciate the emotional attachment many students (and parents) have for the church in which they grew up, but I’m almost certain your pastor back home will agree with me: You should join a church where you live.
Myth #3: I get everything I need from my campus ministry.
I was in campus ministry for nine years, and the church I pastor now was started by Cru staff. I have a deep appreciation for campus ministry. I know the student ministry leaders at our local university and can say with 100% assurance that they agree with me in saying that their ministry is no substitute for the local church.
Campus ministries are vital to universities. If they were to disappear tomorrow, churches would hopefully act quickly to recreate them. They provide students with Christian friendships, tools to engage the campus well in evangelism, and contextualized teaching at a crucial juncture in life. But they don’t connect you to the larger, more diverse body of believers.
The church’s goal is to equip college students to be fruitful in the post-college world. While plugging into a campus ministry can be a vital part of that mission, it’s never the whole part. A campus ministry doesn’t baptize, serve communion, or practice church discipline—or at least it shouldn’t. College students need to be around people younger than 18 and older than 25. After all, while it’s great to be invested in by an upperclassman, the advice you’ll get from someone in their 20s is quite different than someone in their 40s, 50s, and older.
On top of that, the local church loses out if we don’t have you. College students bring life into a church. They bring energy, excitement, world vision, and optimism that would otherwise be lacking. If you believe Myth #3, then we both suffer.
Myth #4: I’ll worry about that after college.
Here’s the main problem with this: you won’t. Overwhelmingly, students who are plugged into a campus ministry but not a church don’t go on to join a church after graduation. At least not until they have children.
The habits we develop in college are often true for the rest of our lives. Church is no different. The reasons students don’t join a local church during college are the same reasons they don’t join after graduation. But there’s one big difference: there aren’t any campus ministries and their spiritual lives begin a downward spiral.
Students who appreciate the local church will become graduates who appreciate the local church. They’ll also be on the fast track to becoming leaders in their churches and making the difference they dreamed of in college.
I recently had the pleasure of leading a new member class with college students and will be introducing them soon to our church as new members. Each time we recognize a college student as a new member, the maturity of that decision is seen, felt, and greatly appreciated.
Do you want to faithfully follow Christ during your college years? Then join a church.