Saturday, September 12, 2009

What's Different?

In the past few of weeks I have had a couple of discussions with folks wanting to know how college students and campus ministry is different now than when they were in college. They were almost all Boomers, and either on boards or just interested in collegiate ministry. Here are some of what I remember telling them:

1.It's not what, but who. They were interested in apologetics, was Christianity true, what proof is there, etc. Now student want relationships first- who are you, how do you live, what dives you, gives you meaning. Only later do they want to know about facts, doctrines, and beliefs.

2. College does not cause a loss of faith. While that was true of Boomers (the questioning, challenging authority,etc,), this generation of students does not have a reduction of religious participation because of college. A Southern baptist survey a few years ago found that dropping out of church attendance was no different whether the students were in or out of college or even whether they were Baptist. In fact, there are some studies showing that since the 1990s, religious faith is strengthened by college attendance.

3. There is more competition for time. The number of extra-curricular organizations on campus has exploded. The number and diversity of religious organizations and options is also much greater. More students have cars, more routinely go home on the weekend.

4. There is more competition for programming. A witness to the success of collegiate ministry in the past 30 years has been that the higher education institutions have duplicated many of programs originated in campus ministry: international student hospitality, welcoming of diversity, service spring breaks, community involvement and service, and substance free alternative programs.

5. Students today are more indifferent to religion. Denominations mean less. There are fewer "religious" discussions late night. Boomers looked to higher education to find a meaning in life (a religious issue), while current students are more interested in having a good job and money to have the life they imagine (in their minds, religion has no connection with this goal).

6. Fewer college students are Presbyterian. A smaller percentage of the US attended college when the Boomers were students. Presbyterians, always valuing education, comprised a disproportionally higher percentage of undergraduates. Now, many more people attend more institutions, so the percentage of Presbyterians has decreased. Even in most PC(USA)-related colleges, Presbyterians are currently a minority on campus.

What have I forgotten?

The leadership (middle governing body staff and committees, session members, and board members) are from a different generation. Their experience of college and therefore their expectations of ministry to and with college students is different. How can we help them understand this?