Few would argue that some of the most passionate, gifted energy among us is housed in those who are college-aged. And yet few have succeeded in pointing such passion and energy toward lasting, healthy ends-especially in the church.
Most churches and families have programmed a finish line at twelfth grade. We walk our seniors out the door, breathe a deep sigh of relief, and let them disappear. The problem is most never come back. Too old for youth group-and feeling too displaced by labels like “single” or “young adult,” the majority of college-aged Christians disconnect from faith communities. “They’ll rework themselves into our system once grown-up,” we of an older generation surmise. “Once they’re married with kids and able to tithe. For now, however, they seem like a lost cause and our attentions are better focused elsewhere.”
This slow fade is slowly eliminating the potentials and influence of this generation and thus, the impact of the modern church.
What would it look like for a senior pastor, a college pastor, and a twentysomething to sit around the table and flesh-out issues of the current generation’s fade from the church? In The Slow Fade, Reggie Joiner, founder and CEO of the reThink Group, Chuck Bomar, former college pastor of Cornerstone in Simi Valley, CA, and I have done just this. Moving between perspectives of pastor, father, and friend, we confront this fading generation and lend insights toward its halt.
The typical model of twentysomething ministry involves about four worship songs, a sermon, and an emotive ending song to stir the heightening finale. (In the more eclectic circles, the front- and back-ends of worship might be swapped.) From here the emotionally caffeinated crowd disperses to the nearest coffeehouse, Waffle House, or frat house and flirts with the herd until the next gathering.
And we wonder why adolescents are struggling to adequately move into adulthood. We wonder why eighteen to twenty-five year olds have little to no lasting involvement with our faith communities. When the reality is, as adult believers, we have some responsibility in this. We’re among the reasons adolescents are not healthily assimilating into adulthood, because we’ve not shown them how their role matters. Furthermore, how crucial they are to our whole, should we ever hope to bring lasting Love to the world.
A discussion of the most overlooked and underdeveloped facet of the modern church, The Slow Fade makes a case for inter-generational relationships as the way to keep college-aged people engaged in faith. Leveraged belonging is necessary for lasting connectivity. Connecting college-aged people to the life of the church requires more than a flashy band, or even a relevant sermon. It requires individual care and a felt sense of belonging. If you show me my part in the whole, I will continue to show up. Meaning, the answer is not a new program and doesn’t cost a dime. The answer lies within any willing adult wanting to have influence.
College-aged people are making some of the most critical choices of their lives. And any adult who chooses to invest in the life of a college student is likewise choosing to invest in a generation. More than ever, this age-stage needs a community of faith and willing individuals interested in their lives. And we have the chance to play that role. A clan of sleeping giants lies in our midst, and we have the chance to wake them-and maybe even be woken-up ourselves.
Abbie Smith wrote her first book, Can You Keep Your Faith in College (Multnomah, 2006), while a Religion major at Emory University. She recently graduated from Talbot Seminary, in Los Angeles, with a degree in “Spiritual Formation and Soul Care” and resides in Savannah, Georgia.