Do Students Really Lose Their Faith In College?

Guest Post | Chris Hengge 

Chris is today’s guest blogger. Chris is married to his lovely wife, Monica. Chris is the Campus Minister Christian Student Fellowship | University Of Nebraska at Kearney. 

Twitter | @CSFchris 

Do Students Really Lose Their Faith In College? 

In Tim Keller’s The Reason For God, he begins the book with a question regarding the world’s interest in spirituality: “Is skepticism or faith on the ascendancy in the world today? The answer is Yes.” He then goes on, “In short, the world is polarizing over religion. It is getting both more religious and less religious at the same time.”1

The Polarization of College Students

Some posit a similar question in regard to the faith of young people as they transition from high school to college: Do college students abandon the faith they had in high school or embrace it? Like Keller, I would argue Yes.

In my experience, college is when we see the polarization of students’ faith. Those who were serious about their faith in high school grow deeper when they get to college. And those who only rode on the coat tails of their parents’ faith or only saw the social value of youth group fall away to typical college temptations.

College students are adults and understand they have the freedom to make decisions on their own, even if it’s not what their parents would choose. And this results in a polarization of their faith: either faith was important in high school and they will pursue it in college or they will quit wearing the religious mask that was never apart of their true identity.

Integrating Faith With Real Life

As students inevitably run toward faith or away from it in college, how can we encourage the former? One way I’ve learned to connect the gospel with them better is to show students how faith integrates with real life, namely with their classes and future vocations.

We can often have a limited view of discipleship. Many think discipleship is only about growing in moral holiness and getting more involved in a local church (join a small group, serve in children’s ministry, etc.). The problem with this limited understanding of discipleship is that it is very narrow and fails to address major parts of students’ lives: their classes and their future vocation.

During a series of teachings that focused on the goodness of creation and its implication that vocational ministry isn’t the only kind of “sacred” work, I challenged the students to view their “secular” major as being a crucial part of their growth as a disciple. In other words, I encouraged them to see their classes as a significant tool God is using to develop them into the people he wants them to become by nurturing the gifts he’s given them with which they’ll serve the kingdom in their future vocation.

This focus on integrating faith with real life has provoked more meetings with students than any of my other teachings or sermons have in my time in campus ministry thus far. While I often have more questions than answers with my students, I do know that as spiritual leaders and churches who want to see college students embrace and grow in faith in college, we need to help students see that their classes aren’t secondary in importance to personal discipleship, but rather they are one of the primary ways they live out their discipleship. The more college students connect the gospel with their classes, the more they and the church will benefit.

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1 Timothy Keller, The Reason For God, (New York: Riverhead Books, 2008), ix-x.

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