Breaking the cycle


Look at those students. Doesn’t your heart just soar when you see them?

A portion of my job as a pastor at Western is dedicated to Campus Ministry at the George Washington University campus. When we reach out to them, it feels like we’re reaching out to the world. They’re from so many different backgrounds, and they’re going to so many different places when they graduate.

I love the students. I love getting to know them, working with them, and struggling with them. I love watching them come in as teenagers and leave as young, poised adults. I. Love. These. Students.

I was at a higher education meeting with a group of other people who love students last night. The meeting was like watching a slow train wreck because the funding’s shrinking for campus ministries.

We get our money from the denomination, and the local churches just aren’t giving as much any more. The congregations want to have a more personal connection to their charity. And (although no one really says it), I sense a bit of distrust between the church and the higher governing bodies. So we have to cut.

The solution? Campus ministries need to get money from somewhere else. But, for many of the chaplains, it feels impossible to suddenly find funding from other sources. And so we spend our meetings, being defensive and frustrated, because…well…look at those students…wouldn’t you be crushed?

In the United States, we have what Robert Putnam calls the “life-cycle” of church attendance. Children attend and then they quit. They spend a couple of decades away from the pews. They may wander back when they’re middle aged. The average age of the mainline protestant is 57.

We’ve always depended on denominational loyalty to get people back into our doors, but…um…there’s really no such thing as denominational loyalty any more.

So, we have to keep reaching out to people, at every age. Sometimes we have to give to young adult ministries, even when they’re in no position to give back. We’ve got to support people in these crucial periods in their lives, when their trying to figure out what to major in, where to move, how to love, and what they’re going to do with their lives.

Somehow, we’ve just got to break the life cycle.

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