Millennials, students and young adults need the church to spiritually thrive through the transition from high school to college and young adult hood.
Over the last few posts, we’ve talked about why a large percentage of young adults are dropping out of conventional church involvement (at least for a time), and how a strong family structure with faithful church involvement makes all the difference when it comes to young adults staying actively involved in church life.
So should we be concerned about this trend toward churchlessness in the lives of college students and young adults? I think so. Especially as research shows that only two-thirds ever return and their involvement seems to be less when they do.
Furthermore, as young adults drop out of conventional church involvement, are they gathering in community to practice and live out their faith? It seems not. Though I pastor a “conventional church;” I’m all for different forms of church, be it conventional church, house church or otherwise. The issue is not whether young adults attend a conventional church or not; the issue is whether or not they are connected to Jesus and His body – the Church with a capital “C.”
What Is the Church?
That begs the question, what is the Church and why do students need one in order to thrive in their faith?
In order to connect to His body, the Church, it helps to know what it is. Many college students and young adults turn to a plethora of influences for their spiritual nourishment – campus groups, parachurch ministries and Internet resources. These can all be good and I benefit from them myself but they can’t be a substitute for a body of believers with whom you put down roots, commit to as you would a family, and pursue God’s mission together.
Once a student graduates and the bubble of campus life is no longer a viable option, what then? Have they learned to relate to the body of Christ? Have they gleaned from the influence of older mentors or had the joy of relating to parents, grandparents, children, young professionals, and others in different stages of life? Please don’t misunderstand me. I think there much to be gained from campus ministries and churches working together. The church has a lot to learn from campus ministries, but in order to see young people thrive in their faith long term and see the harvest reached and retained, there must be a close connection between churches and campus ministries.
It’s worth mentioning that I have a somewhat unique perspective as I have worked in both the campus ministry world and now as a lead pastor. Serving for five years as the Executive Director of Brothers And Sisters In Christ , a local church based campus ministry that equipped churches to reach and disciple college students, I learned first hand how the local church and campus ministry can compliment each other.
But we still haven’t answered the question; what is the Church and why do students and young adults need one to thrive in their faith? Quite honestly, I haven’t found a lot of people that have tried to define it, but here is one definition I like:
The Local Church is a community of regenerated believers who confess Jesus Christ as Lord. In obedience to scripture they organize under qualified leadership, gather regularly for preaching and worship, observe the biblical sacraments of baptism and communion, are unified by the spirit, are disciplined for holiness, scattered to fulfill the great commission and the great commandment, as missionaries to the world for God’s glory and their joy.[i]
So you see, according to this definition, there are certain Biblical requirements in order to be considered a church. That is why some ministries call themselves “parachurch” or outside the Church. They are cross-denominational ministries meant to come alongside the Church. Think of the Church as a light bulb (having to holistically think through meeting the needs of people) and parachurch ministries as a laser, focused on one aspect of Christian faith, one stage of life or one specific problem or issue.[ii]
Why the Church Gets A Bad Rap
I hear a lot of complaining about the Church. Her inadequacies are easy to see, but most people are not willing to make the Church better by bringing what they have to the table. Many would rather abandon her or look elsewhere simply because a church doesn’t have everything they want, or it’s not like the church they once attended or it’s not like the ones they glean from on the internet.
Part of this comes from embracing a consumer mentality that says, what can I get rather than what can I give? We treat church like it’s a store, and if it doesn’t have every thing we need, we go elsewhere. We are a consumer culture, so I don’t think it’s bad to meet people where they are. You may be “shopping” for a church, but at some point you need to move from a consumer to a contributor. Instead of saying, “They don’t have everything I need,” maybe you could approach it like this, “I’m going to add what I have to this body. They need some hands, so I will be the hands.” Again, I’m not against gleaning from other places. Go ahead, supplement your diet with other resources, but don’t abandon the Church because she has some inadequacies. This may be a suprise to you, but the church was never meant to fulfill all your spiritual needs, but rather to lead you into a vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ.
Let’s face it, spiritual growth is hard. There has to be initiative on your part. But we want spiritual growth without practicing spiritual disciplines.
The Church Has Blindspots Too…
That’s not to say the Church is doing everything right either. She is being severely tested right now and is struggling to find her footing. The Church seems to be having a hard time finding her true identity and her voice in the world, but in the end God will have a radiant holy bride that shines brightly for all the world to see. That’s exactly what Ephesians says,
For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.* 27 He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. (Ephesians 5:25-27 NLT, italics mine)
Where Do I Start?
You might want to try this: stop dating the church commit to her. Maybe it’s time to put on the ring? It’s for your own health and growth. The Church is God’s bride. Stop downing her. God doesn’t like when we criticize His bride. Let the word of God guide your thinking about the Church, not the culture, other people, or the inadequacies you’ve noticed. God’s word about the Church is true,
The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree, He will grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Planted in the house of the LORD, They will flourish in the courts of our God (Psalm 92:12-13 NASB).
Next time, I will provide you with some more tools about how to thrive spiritually through the transition from high school to college and beyond. Until then, why not join the conversation or share this post with someone you think will benefit from it or your youth, college or senior pastor? Or what about your teenage son or daughter or your young adult or college student.
Join the Conversation
Do you think students and young adults need the church in order to thrive in their faith? What is your view of the Church? Is it negative or positive? Where did this view come from?