That’s what an older adult told me when I was 18 and about to start college. A few years ago. Well, maybe a lot of years ago. Looking back, I don’t really think they were the best years, although they were very memorable and I still have several friendships that began in those years. But they were some of the most pivotal, transformational times of my life.
Do you remember your college-age years? Did you go to college, attend a trade school, or head right into the work force? Maybe military service? Did you attend a church during those years – either regularly or sporadically? What kind of values did you form that led to decisions, career moves, family activities? Was active faith in God through Jesus Christ a part of those values and decisions?
All this comes to mind now, because it’s September. Back to school time for students in all our communities. Your congregation probably has a children’s ministry and perhaps an active youth program that reaches out with intentional faith development for children and youth. My home church did when I was growing up in the small town of Stockton. But what happens when youth reach 18, graduate out of high school and the local youth program? The college-age years of 18 to about 24 are really pivotal times when young adults are faced with tremendous pressures, distractions, and opportunities. Many college-age persons turn away from influences of church, religion, God – and some didn’t grow up with many of those influences anyway.
I’m so thankful that when I went to college there was a local congregation that actively reached out to college-age persons like me. They had a visionary pastor, committed and capable staff persons, and supportive laity leaders. Thanks to them, I found a church home-away-from-home where I could learn, share, grow, and gain deeper understanding of how following Jesus could impact my life. Oh yes, we ate and laughed a lot too. I wouldn’t be the leader I am today in my business, my communities, and the church if it wasn’t for the college-age ministry of Grace United Methodist in Springfield those many years ago. And I know of several pastors and active laity leaders right here in Missouri who could say the same.
Perhaps you have a similar story of faith development during the college years through the ministry of a local congregation, or a campus ministry. Or maybe you wish that a really dynamic one had been there for you.
Then I think of our children and their experiences. What a difference it made to our daughter’s college experience that a local church had an active, intentional out-reach on campus. Our two sons attended church occasionally during college, but each found it hard because there weren’t many people their age still attending. Thankfully, both are much more active now as young adults.
Does it sound like I believe college-age ministry is important? YES! That’s why I’m excited that many congregations in Missouri are actively reaching out to those in their local areas – especially if there is a college in their community. And that the conference is providing strong support and emphasis upon such ministries. It’s exciting to hear the stories of young people whose values and lives are shaped by their experiences with God and the church.
So now as the school year begins, I invite you to consider – what can YOU and YOUR congregation do to engage with college-age persons during these crucial times in their lives? Remember your own experiences and those of your family, and consider how an active faith community can make a difference in a young adult’s life. Let’s be imaginative – write a letter to a college student from your church, support a college-age ministry in a town near yours, plan special activities for college students when they’re home for breaks, or develop a special group for collegeage persons. Or maybe God has placed your congregation near a campus that needs your active outreach with the Good News of the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Whatever form it takes, this is a great time to help make someone’s college years more transformational. Maybe someday, thanks to your outreach, someone will say these years are “the best of my life”!