How many of your congregation’s members are currently involved in the lives of college students?
That’s the question that Adrian McMullen, associate for collegiate ministries at Presbyterian Mission Agency, hopes churches are asking. UKirk, he hopes, will help provide some responses.
UKirk officially launched at General Assembly this summer as a reinvention of Presbyterian university ministry with a national identity. Since its official introduction, groups struggling to gain momentum with their collegiate ministry and those unsure how to get started have contacted the Office of Collegiate Ministries wanting to get on board with UKirk.
“Ministry is contextual,” says McMullen, noting the needs of a large public university in the Southwest are different than those of a small liberal arts college in the Northeast. McMullen encourages leaders to start by reflecting on factors such as the churches involved, the health of the presbytery and the climate on campus.
However, in each of these contexts, four components of vital campus ministry remain constant: worship, Bible study, service and fellowship. McMullen states that some groups may find plenty of opportunities for mission trips and dinners but struggle to put worship and Bible study in place.
To that end, the Office of Collegiate Ministry is developing a worship resource and free Bible study materials. Don’t just buy a guitar and learn to play it, advises McMullen, but explore how to connect emotionally and spiritually with students to create meaningful worship opportunities.
College is a pivotal time, emotionally and spiritually. During the past decade, university ministry has changed drastically. Students no longer need to feel as connected on campus because they remain electronically tethered to their high school friends and family. They also have different emotional needs. Chuck Bomar, founder of collegeleader.com, reminds those in campus ministry that the late adolescent mind is less mature but more sophisticated than it has been for past generations. With reports indicating that as many as half of incoming freshmen are medicated for depression or anxiety, campus ministry is in a unique position to care for the whole person.
The rise of parachurch and independent ministries has changed the face of campus ministry. McMullen reflects that many of these organizations have done well preparing leaders to understand the developmental needs of students, and he suggests we can learn a lot from our parachurch friends about how to do collegiate ministries in a functional and efficient way.
However, PC(USA) ministries are distinct in their connection to a larger structure with greater grounding, history and depth to our existence – all of which influence the way we do ministry. PC(USA) ministries tend to be more conversational. Presbyterian campus pastors are seminary educated and trained to be dynamically involved in helping students engage faith and understand Scripture. These chaplains tend to draw students into deep conversation and provide opportunities to authentically wrestle with faith.
McMullen advises pastors helping students navigate the college search to call the campus chaplain and ask about nearby churches and how they are involved in reaching out to campus. Even if students are not considering a PC(USA)-affiliated school, McMullen hopes UKirk can be a major player by helping students and pastors find a ministry in the college where they are headed and putting them in touch personally with an actual leader in that ministry.
For those on the receiving end, says McMullen, “It’s not about getting college students into your church; it’s about reaching campus. … It’s about having your congregation revitalized by reaching out.” Success is not measured by how many students come into your church, but by how many of your members are involved in the lives of college students.
As with other forms of missional outreach, revitalization happens when the congregation steps outside its own walls and touches the lives of others.