Editor’s Word: Reaching College Students

Today’s college students are identified by various descriptions such as Generation Y, Millennials, or even the internet generation. However this group may be labeled, they represent an important mission field in this country.

Messengers to the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix passed a resolution on “university ministry” that emphasized the importance of this group, invoking the SBC to “recognize the tremendous gospel opportunity on college campuses across America and … devote considerable prayer, strategy, and investment in evangelistic discipleship endeavors by strengthening existing work and increasing the connection between campus ministries and the local church.”

The reality is that most college students will be exposed to a worldview and lifestyle that does not simply disagree with the Christian faith, but is basically opposed to the teachings of the Bible itself. Probably most of America’s future leaders are college students today. If they can be reached with the gospel and trained to be disciples of Christ, the impact on the world could be remarkable. The world has indeed come to America through the college classrooms of our universities. If foreign students can also be reached and discipled, the countries they come from can be impacted with the light of God and His truth. It is a dynamic way to reach the nations of the world with the gospel.

Our Baptist Campus Ministries are a vital resource in this opportunity. They are doing good work, but more churches need to be connected to students through this ministry as well as supportive of their work in personal and tangible ways.

Generation Y, like other generational groups, seem to have some traits that distinguish them. They are digital natives and use social media profusely. In fact, a study by CourseSmart and Wakefield Research found that 38 percent of students surveyed could not go more than 10 minutes without checking their smart phone, tablet, or other device. This group uses the internet for research and will quickly use a search engine like Google to find answers to questions they have. They have been described as having a motto, “Growing older is mandatory; growing up is optional.” A study by Twentysomething Inc. discovered that 85 percent of recent college graduates moved back home following graduation.

Josh McDowell, who works for what used to be Campus Crusade for Christ but is now Cru, said that Christians should keep some things in mind when engaging in gospel conservations with students in our culture:

  • Building a relationship is essential. “Truth without relationship leads to rejection,” McDowell says, admonishing Christians to live the truth and be real.
  • Listening is also vital because the purpose of listening is not to agree, but to understand. “If a young person believes (they) have been heard,” McDowell says, “it is a different ballgame.”
  • Expressing the truth of God in a personal way is powerful and explaining why we believe what we believe is strategic because we live in a “culture of contagious skepticism.”
  • Presenting the gospel is important, but explaining what it means in a compassionate and genuine way is critical. First Peter 3:15 says, “Always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.”

Reaching university students can be challenging and difficult, but it is vitally important. It is our calling and it is also our privilege to pray for and support those who are on campuses reaching, nurturing, teaching and modeling genuine faith in Jesus Christ to students.