I'm on our conference's Board of Higher Education and Ministry, and this past weekend we led some workshops at a conference workshop day on being in ministry with college students. Tom Wolfe, who is the dean of the chapel at Syracuse University, put together a powerpoint presentation for our workshop. Here's some of what he shared:
Emerging trends in college students -
• Mainstreaming of pagan and naturalistic religions
• Mainline Protestantism is in decline (we all know this one, right?)
• Evangelical/Fundamentalism is on the increase (This includes “non-denominational” Christian churches).
• Greater interfaith awareness
• "In academia, it is more acceptable to discuss Judaism and Islam inside of the classroom. These traditions are generally viewed as adding to the cultural diversity of the academic environment. The topic of Christianity tends to evoke the fear that there will be an imposition of faith in the classroom."
Citing research from Cherry, DeBerg, Porterfield (bibliography below), Tom shared:
• Students defined themselves as “spiritual” instead of “religious”
• Largest attendance in campus ministry is at parachurch groups (ex: Campus Crusade for Christ, Navigators, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship)
• There is a growing skepticism of denominational expressions of faith. “I don’t want to follow a tradition, I want to have a relationship with God (or whatever).”
• Worship attendance which was once an expression of civic responsibility is now being expressed in forms of volunteerism. (I found this to be very true at Ohio Wesleyan, where the Community Service Learning office is a central and popular part of campus)
• As universities become more international (both in receiving and sending students) they become more interfaith.
• Students are less “churched,” “synagogued,” and “mosqued” than previous generations. Without deep roots in one tradition, their spirituality becomes eclectic.
• Students of color tend to define themselves as “religious” as opposed to “spiritual.” (Huh.)
Citing research from Wolfe, (bibiography below) Tom shared:
• Indifference to religion by the academy may be changing as a practical matter
• Widespread fascination with spirituality in the general culture has increased awareness of and interest in, religious studies courses
• Weekly there are stories in higher education periodicals about colleges and universities struggling with issues of inclusiveness, religious freedom, and academic freedom
• Watch-dog groups are emerging to assure rights for religious freedom because of their perceived bias that the academy favors other groups.
• “Spirituality” is becoming more and more the domain of student affairs as schools look to meet the needs of students in a more holistic way, focusing on education of the student in a more well-rounded way than simply through academics
What was your campus ministry experience like? My experience was a huge part of my overall college experience. The university chaplain, Rev. Jon Powers, was also my academic advisor, and from the first days of orientation he had me involved in planning worship services, and it was definitely key to my making friendship and making connections that served me well as I began the process of ordination. (I started my candidacy with a mentor from Ohio, who was then the pastor of the church I attended in college.) It was easy for me to get involved though because I was already a church-going person, already involved in the denomination to a high degree, already attending and loving Annual Conference sessions, etc.
I think a strong campus ministry can also be a place where students who haven't grown up at church can also become connected, find God, deepen faith, but I bet these students are less likely to key into a specific denominational connection. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's my gut instinct. How about you? Where you involved in campus ministry? Had you been involved in a church before college? What did you like about it, or dislike? Did your local church stay connected with you while you were at school? Did you attend a local church while in college?
• Cherry, C., DeBerg, B. A., & Porterfield, A. (2001). Religion on campus: What religion means to today’s undergraduates. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press
• Wolfe, A. (2002). "Faith and diversity in American religion." The Chronicle of Higher Education, February 8, 2002, B7-B10.