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The Irony of "Community" Colleges

Often, all we offer college students is another youth group style meeting tweaked slightly for college age. The coffee might be darker and the activities less adolescent, but the primary model of "come to the church for a midweek meeting with a sermon and songs" remains the same.

It will not be a newsflash for most on this sight that this "come-to-us" approach is not working. Most young adult ministries, even in larger churches, are about a quarter the size of the youth ministry. We must stop doing this come-to-us approach and get biblical. We need a go-to-them strategy or we are going to keep losing this generation no matter how dark our coffee is and how cool the new painting scheme in the young adult room is at church.

Probably the worst named institution in the history of mankind is the community college. I have nothing against these two-year schools. They are great place to get a very good start (for cheap) on a quality education. The thing is that they have nothing to do with forming community.

In the battle to fight for parking, run to class, run back to the car after class so you can fight traffic on your way to being late for your job as a waiter across town—there is really no time for community on campus. If there is one word that actually describes these schools—and the life the most student lead while attending them—it is the word "scattered."

After high school, lives literally go in thousand directions. Working two jobs, taking 14 credits, having two roommates (often the roommates’ names are "Mom and Dad") and spending two hours in traffic each day getting back and forth between school, job and home is typical for the 20-year-old college student in most major urban areas. The literal time needed to form real friendships, love interests or any sort of deeper relationship is very hard to come by.

The Church’s response to this scattered life has been anemic. Often, all we offer college students is another youth group style meeting tweaked slightly for college age. The coffee might be darker and the activities less adolescent, but the primary model of "come to the church for a midweek meeting with a sermon and songs" remains the same.

It will not be a newsflash for most on this sight that this "come-to-us" approach is not working. Most young adult ministries, even in larger churches, are about a quarter the size of the youth ministry.

We must stop doing this come-to-us approach and get biblical. We need a go-to-them strategy or we are going to keep losing this generation no matter how dark our coffee is and how cool the new painting scheme in the young adult room is at church.

When students scatter after high school, the church needs to literally follow them. While there are exceptions, the vast majority of two-year schools receive little or no specific ministry investment on campus from either para-church organizations or denominations. In California, two-thirds of all college students or 2.5 million, attend community colleges and yet I can list on one hand the two-year schools I know of that have highly effective campus ministries.

This is where a majority of students form their worldview and yet Christian leaders are nowhere to be found. The saddest part is that most of these schools are literally just down the street from a church. If we want to grow churches in the next decade, ministries like Chi Alpha must do a better job of working with local churches to mobilize believers on every campus, especially the two-year schools.

How? Six years ago I started to take a closer look at what student-friendly churches and effective Chi Alpha groups were doing to plant new ministry on commuter campuses. Here are some of the ideas I’ve gathered.

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1.    Pray on campus. I know it’s a cliche, but what can I tell you. It works. Strong outreaches almost always start with a small group committed to prayer on campus. Each campus and each church near that campus is different. By spending time listening to God, customized plans emerge. Also, busy students need a supernatural touch to become engaged in ministry during this busy moment of life. Prayer is the key to making that supernatural motivation happen. Is there anyone in your ministry willing to spend an hour a week on campus asking, “Lord, what do you want to do here?” If so, you can start a campus ministry on a community college.

2.    Meet and Greet. To start a strong outreach, leaders must facilitate relational connections. Because of their highly volatile jobs and frantic study schedule, college students are more lonely than any other demographic beside the elderly. By sponsoring events that are highly relational on or near the places where students live (apartment buildings near campus, for instance) churches can facilitate greater connectivity. Connectivity to a scattered twentysomething who secretly (or not-so-secretly) longs to be married is about the most life-changing thing a leader can provide. Is there anyone in your ministry effective at helping college students build relationships with each other? If so, you can start a campus ministry.

3.    Adopt a Leader. Chi Alpha has had great success ministering to international students by recruiting families to host students in their homes. This approach also works for commuter students. By hosting students for a meal or free use of the washer and dryer, leaders provide rest for weary travelers and make deep friends with twentysomething potential leaders. When students are well-hosted, they in turn become committed to the vision and values of your ministry, and even the busiest of scattered students starts to find the time to serve. In this way, ministries effectively recruit new twentysomething leaders and help them find real community. Do you have four or five couples willing to cook for a college student or two? If so, you can start a campus ministry.

This is just a sample of the practical ideas available. Our booklet Connecting can help any church start a Chi Alpha ministry. Start here: http://www.chialpha.com/leaders/start-new-group/.

If were are serious about helping twentysomethings, leaders must do more than just provide a young adult meeting. We must go to them with prayer and practical help in forming deeper relationship. In doing this, we might just form communities for Christ on the scattered campuses of our world.

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