Faithful Caring for Uninterested Students
One of the laments I hear is that today's high school and college students are not interested in the church. Here are some clues I've picked up from others, clues about how to care faithfully for uninterested students.Clue #1
Don't give up. High school youth and young adults in college--and older adults who may be going through life transitionstaking them back to higher education--all are in transition in their lives. They are reevaluating what is important and what is not, what to jettison from the past and what to pack or retrieve, what to explore and what to ignore.
During the intensity of personal transitions, openness to the traditional components of religious life may vary from week to week. One day a student will be ready to take on community service or thinking about faith issues or discussing ethical dilemmas or praying or going to public worship, and the next day, definitely not.
Therefore, those of us who believe in the importance of ministry with students will want to keep approaching those who are not active in church life, to find out whether this is or is not a moment of openness to Christian worship, community, or service. We ought not be pushy, but we should be persistent in wanting to know where students are in relation to what the church offers. We should never manipulate students, but we should frequently offer gentle invitations to be part of the Christian community.
It is not unreasonable for a congregation or campus ministry to check in with uninterested students once every month to see what's going on in their lives, to express Christian care, and to invite them to something at church that fits their immediate concerns or needs. (If a student asks you not to contact them, respect their wishes, checking after a year to see if they still feel the same way.)Clue #2
In the meantime, pray for them. Include the names of active and prospective students in the prayers of the community: e.g. "Today we remember students Bill Johnson, Amy Sendlick, Tommy Smith, and Geneva Thomas, praying that God will uphold them in their life on campus and respond to their every need." Students will be buoyed by the power of the Spirit in ways that are real, even if too mysterious to delineate with precision. Prayers for students by name also bring the students into the minds and hearts of those at worship, and that may lead to a phone call, a comment when meeting on campus, or a note which will remind students that the church cares for them.Clue #3
Admit that campus ministry is labor intensive, and must be done one student at a time.
Once the student is known it will be clear whether she or he is more comfortable on the phone, with E-mail, or face to face. It is likely that many contacts will be needed before a student will respond.Clue #4
Think beyond your congregation or ministry. The whole church is there to help reach each student.
If your congregation doesn't have enough students living at home or nearby to constitute a group, create a coalition with other Lutheran congregations, or ecumenical or interfaith neighbors.
If a student has moved to another community find out if there is a campus ministry there or a Lutheran congregation. Let the student and the ministry know of each others' existence. Follow up regularly.
Almost all students may be reached via E-mail. Let the nearest Lutheran campus ministry know about students, even if they are from schools not served by the ministry. The students might want to attend a retreat or a regional or national gathering of the Lutheran Student Movement. Our campus ministries are sure to have relevant information as well as a willingness to help with the logistics of getting students to special events.
Don't think of students as transfers out of your community so much as persons you share with others. Pastoral care and church life for today's mobile young adults requires that we use all the technology and all the coalitions available so students always know the church still cares.
In sum, students' attitudes toward the church are growing and shifting. If our ministries aimed at students are persistent in reaching out, the church will be there when students are ready to give themselves to the work of the church or receive its gifts.