During the first two weeks of college most students make key decisions about drinking and other high-risk behaviors. They also make decisions about whether or not to attend church or join a campus ministry. Many of these decisions are influenced by new friends and situations. Most young adults are unprepared for the intensity of those first days and weeks of college and have no strategy for making decisions during this critical time. It follows that many make poor decisions.
During the fall of freshman year only 40% of youth group alum were attending an on-campus fellowship once a week or more and only 57% were attending church once a week or more. It is incredibly difficult to sustain one’s faith apart from a community of believers. These low numbers help to explain the high numbers of young people that leave the faith.
While college is a long ways off for many of our children, there are things we can be doing right now to prepare them.
First, we can show our children the importance of church by committing to regularly and faithfully attend church and explaining why we make that commitment. We also need to guide them in what to look for in a church so that they are able to pick a good church when they move.
Second, we need to continue to encourage our kids to express their doubts and questions. Our children may seem solid and confident in their faith in high school, but college is a time of intense intellectual transition, which often leads to new or deeper questions and doubts. Hopefully by the time they go to college our children will be comfortable with asking difficult questions and also have a good idea as to where and how to find good answers. Nonetheless, we need to warn them of the intensity of the challenges they will face and stress that God is not afraid of our questions, that there are answers to their questions, and that our questions should drive us to God, not from Him.
The last of these, drawing towards God in the midst of doubt, is why Christian community is so essential. Seeking answers to questions in the midst of mature believers can deepen one’s faith, but looking to secular professors or agnostic friends for answers is foolish and often detrimental to one’s faith.
In addition to intellectual confusion, given the libertine ethos of our secular universities, college is also a time of intense temptation. Herein lies the importance of Christian friendships.
People, all people, need accountability. It is very hard to make good choices when all of your friends are feeding their flesh, seemingly enjoying themselves without consequences, and encouraging you to join in. Alternatively, good friends that encourage and hold you accountable help you to grow in your faith.
Constant temptation coupled with a philosophical justification of sin is often lethal to young people’s faith in college. Many colleges create a perfect storm by giving ample opportunity to sin, removing or hiding the consequences and shame of sin, undermining Christian community that holds us accountable when we do sin, while justifying sin with sophisticated explanations as to why it is good and moral to sin and unhealthy to resist sin. Without a Christian community and Christian friends, who can weather this storm?
Christian community and Christian friendships help us to overcome difficult environments, transitions, and temptations. We can help our children to stick with and grow in their faith by encouraging a commitment to a local church and the development of Christian friendships. Moreover, instead of merely telling our children about the importance of these things, we can show them the value of them by making Christian community and Christian friendships a priority in our lives.