It's time to dispel a myth that has existed in the local church for quite some time now, and I think it has done the church great harm. It is true that most church members of most local churches would tell you that they don't have "a college ministry." In fact, many well meaning church members will tell visiting college students this very thing. What they mean is that they don't have a dedicated program or staff position for ministry to college students. You see, for quite some time we have defined "college ministry" as a program directed toward college students, usually led by a minister on staff that has some responsibility for relating to this group.
College ministry, in the minds of most church leaders and members, looks like someone leading worship events, discipleship groups, mission opportunities and activities specifically for this age group. It is a program complete with a worship band, cool logos and banners and a calendar of activities and events specifically designed for students. None of these things are necessarily bad things. They can, and often are quite useful and effective for many churches. But this is not the only definition of college ministry.
College ministry is not a noun. It's a verb. College ministry, is simply ministry to college students. It can be done by any different manner of persons in any different manner of ways, and it is desperately needed in our churches because nearly all of our churches have college students. Over half of the 1.5 million college students in the state of Texas are commuters. They haven't left the community where they grew up or the church where they attended youth group. They are still there, looking for someone who will connect with them. Often feeling lost because they can't find their place in a programatic church structure.
We need to change the conversation in our local churches about college ministry. We need to be asking a different question. Not, "Do you have a college ministry?" But, "How does your church minister to college students?" It's a question that changes the focus from a program to action and relationship.
A church can minister to college students regardless of whether or not it has the budget for a staff person, or a worship band. A church can minister to college students if it has 2000 members or if it has 200. In his book, College Ministry from Scratch, Chuck Bomar states that "If you buy into the false measure of success in numbers, you'll inevitably miss what college-aged people need and perhaps want. They want more than a ministry to go to. They want to be connected to your church as a whole."1
College students need to be part of the church, not just a program. In order to be a part of the church they have to connect relationally with other members of the church body. And they really do need relationships. The greatest investment we can make in ministry to college students is a relational one. Students are hungry for discipleship, and for mentors that will walk along side them as they transition into the world of adulthood. They need real people to be real with. They need a safe place to ask the hard questions and get honest truth. That's something every church is capable of doing, if they just will.
The greater challenge for college ministry may be calling out and equipping believers to be mentors and disciplers of this collegiate generation. Often churches will hire someone to be the college minister, when in fact, that one person is in no way adequate for the relational needs of an entire group of college students. We need to call out from among our church members those who would be mentors and disciplers of these students. It will take personal investment, and it will take time. But it will be time well spent.
So, how is your church doing college ministry? Are students being won to a program or connected to the church? If the "college ministry" programming went away, would they still come to your church? Are the college students in your church being discipled? Are you equipping adults to mentor and disciple collegiates? If the answer is yes, then congratulations. Regardless of size, programming, or budget, your church is doing college ministry.
1 Chuck Bomar, College Ministry from Scratch. Zondervan, Youth Specialties, 2010.