y the time young people in our churches enter university, our congregations and their parents have spent years seeking to pass on their faith. We take them to worship, youth rallies, Bible classes, summer camps and Christian events to help them grow spiritually. Christian parents, like so many others, have high aspirations for their children, and look forward to them graduating from university with all the benefits it brings.
Would as many be so aspirational if they knew that approximately 60-70% of Christian teens entering university end up leaving or disengaging with their faith during their first year on campus?
To address this, university ministries are tackling the attrition rate head-on at university grounds across the UK. A number of faith-based ministries, like Agapé, which is determined to anchor university teens in their faith, and the Redeemed Church, which actively uses university campuses to host weekly services to stop this drift, are making sure that no more undergraduates turn away from their Christian beliefs.
The decisions made from ages 18 to 28 are crucial, and involve setting up one’s foundation for life: decisions about education, debt and finances, career, marriage, family, and many other serious decisions. The foundation of a Christian world view is very important, and should be the basis for their decision-making. When a student abandons their faith, they lose the foundation of their world view and, as a result, they must recreate a new foundation for life. This can leave the student in a lost and confused state, in turn, leading them to make poor decisions in some of the most important years of their life.
Many churches fail to teach doctrines that relate to the Christian life, such as spiritual growth, the problem of sin, and understanding doctrines that allow for vibrant faith. Young Christians are not focusing on these doctrines nor understanding the need for answering these hard questions. As a result, they fail to understand why they believe in Christianity, or even the principles Christianity teaches. Students with an understanding of their faith and apologetics – that is the ability to present historical, reasoned and evidential bases for Christianity, defending it against objections – are more likely to stay true to their faith.
One of the reasons for students leaving their faith has been credited to young people leaving home for university unprepared for campus life and vulnerable to its secular influences. The students who are ill-equipped and unable to defend their faith can become easily swayed by their non-Christian professors and peers.
Some of the solutions to mitigate this attrition include the following:
- Churches need to intentionally connect students to Christian communities before they begin university, instead of leaving them ill-prepared during the most important transition of their lives. 2 Peter 1:10 says: “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practise these qualities you will never fall.”
- Students need to get involved in a local Christian community; join a nearby church; participate in Bible study, and get involved with campus Christian fellowship and student organisations. One university ministry, The Navigators, has found that “the first 72 hours is crucial in a new student’s life, so it’s important for the Christian organisations to intentionally connect with students before the start of classes.”
- Young people need to read the Bible and pray in their personal lives to maintain an active faith – one in which they also surround
themselves with trustworthy Christians, and confirm their calling and election.
- Students need to test all things by the Word of God. It is not a good thing to experiment with life; God gave us a Book. It is a matter of applying God’s Word to everything, because He knows all things. He knows what will make your life count for the here and now. So trust Him.
University-aged young people break away from home, and begin to seek their own plans and dreams. For most students, entering university for the first time means a new kind of freedom: freedom from parents; freedom to eat what they want; freedom to travel, and freedom to explore new ways of thinking. Ultimately, they will also have the freedom to choose whether or not they will continue to attend worship and other church functions, and whether they will continue to believe in Jesus and His teachings.
Many students lack critical thinking skills. We must continually create space for students to wrestle with the big questions of life. University should not be the first time that students engage in abstract or deep thinking, but for many students it is. Like anything worthwhile, the developmental process takes time and is difficult. A youth group devoted to these activities may not draw the biggest attendance, but if we are serious about preparing students for life after high school, helping students to “learn to think” will be a mark of our ministries.