College Students & the Local Church

I’ve had a growing concern for Christian college students that began when I began college: many Christian college students have little to no significant membership with a local church. They may be a part of a campus bible study or go to their school’s weekly chapel or participate in a Cru fellowship (all great things), but many are superficially connected to a local church by mere Sunday attendance or they neglect it altogether.

Why Churchless College Students is a Bad Thing

This concerns me for various reasons.

First, what college students practice today is one of the best indicators of how they’ll live the rest of their lives. Churchless college students turn into churchless Christians and churchless Christians tend to be fruitless and constantly vulnerable of being hardened by sin (Hebrews 3:13; 10:25). To state the obvious, the church (and world) doesn’t need more fruitless Christians.

Second, the church is in need of college-aged Christians. Jesus has saved people into His body and the Holy Spirit has gifted all believers (college ones too) with gifts to use for the building up of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12; 1 Corinthians 12:7). When college kids neglect the local church, they are in actuality depriving the church from the gifts Jesus has given them to use. They are refusing to use their gifts for their intended purpose and the church suffers for it.

Third, college kids need the church. Personal sanctification is a group project that requires the eyes, ears, minds, and hearts of other believers to happen. Healthy Christian growth happens in the soil of the local church. Churchless Christianity is a grotesque anomaly that will hinder growth in holiness.

Those are a few reasons why churchless college kids concern me.

College Life Doesn’t Negate Church Membership

At one level, however, I can understand why some college kids struggle to get into a local church. College is a unique season of life and many college students are only around a certain area for a semester at a time. These students think to themselves:

“How can I have any kind of meaningful membership in a local church when I know I’ll be moving out at the end of the semester and probably gone for good when I graduate?”

In answering this question, many college students choose to be loosely connected to a local church or to neglect it altogether. Though this is an understandable response, it isn’t the best one. The uniqueness of college life does not erase the student’s need for local church fellowship, accountability, and care or their responsibility to be a body-building member of a local church (Ephesians 4:12).

Dave Russell said it well:

Though college years are a unique season of life, college students shouldn’t think of themselves or be encouraged to think of themselves as some kind of special case. Though a student’s time at college is limited, four years is more than long enough to plug into a local church. Living somewhere temporarily doesn’t negate the call to be in the fellowship of the local church. Rather than being viewed as special, college students should be viewed as normal and, thus, should be encouraged to do what Christians “normally” do: join a local church.

Yes, college is a unique season, but that shouldn’t encourage any student to live an abnormal Christian life.

Some Practical Counsels for College Students

Christians in college have been saved by Jesus Christ into the Church of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). They are members of the church by virtue of being connected to Jesus through faith. Therefore it is essential that they display their membership in the universal church by being members of a local church; especially while they are in college.

So, how can a college student seek to have meaningful membership in the local church while school is in session? Here are some practical counsels to help toward that end.

1) Learn the necessity of joining a local church.

Many students simply need to learn that membership in a local church is not an option for Christians, but a necessity. Before the actions change, the heart must change first. To help find some truth and conviction about the necessity of church membership, look no further than this fine list of sermons on the local church (I recommend listening to “The Church and Membership” first and then “The Church and Disappointment” second). Also, I cannot more highly recommend this little beauty by Jonathan Leeman.

2) Find a good church.

Before joining, you must first find one. Here is a simple list of questions to ask and questions not to ask when looking for a church.

3) Join the church.

Don’t simply attend the services. Non-believers or visiting believers attend local churches, local believers join them and submit to them. Obviously, let them know that you are a college student so they understand the possibly temporary nature of your membership.

3) Introduce yourself to the pastors.

Don’t settle to be a face in the crowd. Know you pastors and allow them to know you. They are tasked with watching over your soul (1 Peter 5:1-4; Hebrews 13:17) and it should be obvious that they cannot do that if they don’t even know your name.

4) Talk with a pastor to see how you can best serve the church during the semester.

The pastors are most likely well acquainted with ministering to college students (since their church is in proximity to your college campus) and they will have good counsel for how you can build up the body of Christ as a college student.

5) Make Sunday gatherings a top priority.

Don’t treat Sunday gatherings as an option (which many of your Christian classmates will do), but see it as a blood-bought privilege and responsibility. If you need motivation to go to church, enjoy this.

6) Try to Get to Know a Few People Well.

If the church is bigger than 50 people, you will probably won’t be able to get to know everyone really well, but that shouldn’t stop you from getting to know a handful of few people well. Pray that God would give you some friendships within the church during your time at school so you can be blessed and bless. Also, try to find a variety of believers to connect deeply with. Look for some older Christians to learn from, some peers to befriend, and maybe even a youth or two to pray for and encourage.

Embrace Christ’s Bride & Experience His Joy

Don’t get the wrong idea about this post. This isn’t written to be a massive guilt trip for the college student, but it is a call toward greater blessing. You have been created for community and saved by Jesus into His family. Christ’s joy awaits you within the local church.

I write this as a youth pastor who desperately wants to see my children walk in the truth of the gospel (3 John 4) as members of a local church. The reality is, a neglect of the local church in college often turns into a lifelong habit that continues on well after graduation. Remember, what you do today is the greatest indicator of what you’ll practice tomorrow.

We all must remember that Jesus has saved Christians into the church. Membership in the church is a spiritual reality that must be displayed in the nitty-gritty of daily life; even during our college years. Go to your Bible studies. Enjoy your chapels. Drink deeply of your college classes. But never, never, never neglect serving and being served by the Bride of Christ.

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