Early on in the semester, the students met on Sunday nights, but I’m not sure that was the best time. There was always a ton of homework for them to catch up on that night. But the problem is, there’s never a good time. There’s always a scheduling impasse.
Western’s had a campus ministry for over a decade now, and during that time George Washington University has mushroomed around our church, making us a central spot for students to worship. We have very strong Sunday morning attendance with our students and we often schedule things immediately after the service. Yet, it’s nearly impossible to get something else on the calendar for them.
Something happened since the comparatively carefree days when I attended college fourteen years ago. Then, Campus Crusade for Christ dominated the campus ministry scene. They played invisible football games through the campus to draw attention to how much fun they were having. Students spent hours packing in the entertainment and pizza until the leaders would slip in a Bible Study and the “four spiritual laws.” College ministries looked a lot like youth groups, with overgrown participants.
I don’t see too many invisible football games any more, at least not in our setting. I’ve been involved with campus ministry, in one way or another, in all of those years, and I’ve watched it change dramatically.
Why are things so different? Well, it’s because the average college student in America is changing. I always thought of the average student as 19 years old. He was (perhaps) working part-time for a bit of entertainment money, but he had a lot of free hours between his classes. He was just as likely to be a Republican as he was to be a Democrat.
Now the average undergrad in the United States looks much different. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, she (there are more women than men enrolled) is twenty-six and will probably not be able to attend school full time for four years (51 percent of students attend part-time for a period of their enrollment). Over 80 percent of all students work an average of 32 hours per week. Thirty-seven percent of students are not able to complete their degree. If she does graduate from a four-year college, she will typically have $24,000 in student loans and credit card debt on top of that.
As far as political standing, college students are not painted in red or blue; although in 2005, 60 percent were traditional liberals while only 16 percent were traditional conservatives (Harvard Institute of Politics, 2006). These statistics also don’t reflect the values of conservative ministries like Campus Crusade and Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Over all, students look a lot less like older teenagers, and a lot more like young professionals.
I watch our students, juggling four jobs at a time and feeling thankful when they get a degree with “only” 50k of personal debt (GW’s the most expensive school in the country).
For our crowd, pizza doesn’t always pack them in–changing the world does. Time is precious for the young women and men who gather here, and when we give them compelling reasons to show up, they make time. And so we program things like talking about peacemaking, the environment, human rights in Burma, and gun-control laws. Then we can slip in a bit of dodgeball or volleyball….
From what I can tell, on many campuses we would be doing our greatest ministry by providing free childcare for college students. I would love to see campus ministries begin economic justice groups for students, groups who would pressure the credit card companies who charge 30% interest to students to quit enticing teenagers with t-shirts and trinkets. I would love to see students become organized in backing health care issues, since young adults in our country are the ones who are the least likely to be covered by insurance.
With the changing face of students, there are so many opportunities for us to make a huge difference in the way we reach out to them. So, what would you want to see?