Return to filtered list

Why the College Campus? Pt 2.

This article is part two of a five part series. You can find part one here.


The U.S. track team has set the world record in the 4×100 meter relay seventeen times!  In the past 22 Olympics our men’s team has won the gold 15 times. That’s nearly 70% of the time.  That, my friend, is domination. It makes Tom Brady’s Super Bowl percentage look weak! 2008 in Beijing was supposed to be no different. The U.S.A. men’s team looked poised and ready to win it all again. They looked good half way through the first round qualifying race. Darvis Patton zoomed around to third leg to pass the baton off to team anchor Tyson Gay, arguably the best sprinter in the U.S. at that time. However, something went terribly wrong in the hand off and Patton and Gay dropped the baton, disqualifying the team from moving to the finals. Four of the best sprinters in the world sat in the stands during the finals that year as others competed for the gold medal, all because of a baton drop.

A study done by Barna Research Group says that two-thirds of students involved in church drop their faith in college. A recent Lifeway study confirms this and ministries like Campus Renewal claim that it could be as high as 80%.  The few years in college between high school and adulthood is a baton pass and if the numbers are true, which they are, we are dropping the baton. Like a relay team with the fastest runners, we can have the best childrens and youth programs and the best young families ministry, but if we drop the baton we lose the race of making lifelong disciples of Jesus. How strategic is it to invest in college ministry? It’s the difference between an Olympic gold medal or watching from the stands. The investment of many only works if the transitions are executed well.

It could be considered an issue of investment. Ministry Architects, a ministry consulting firm working alongside almost 1,000 churches in America, states that on average the church spends $1,100 per year per child in their children’s ministry. When that child moves into the youth ministry the amount bumps up to $1,500 per student. That means, from birth to high school graduation a church would spend just over $22,000 per high school graduate! Of course these numbers will vary, but even if the dollar amount is half that it’s still expensive!

So let’s look at a ministry with 10 high school graduates. Those graduates represent 220,000 dollars! Right now nearly 70% of them will walk away from their faith in college for various reasons. Seventy percent of $220,000 is a staggering $154,000 dollars! Some would look at that and say that it is because of the nature of the college campus or how effective children/youth ministries are. What if it is just a lack of investment in college students? What if it isn’t about how well-prepared they are or aren’t, but about having missionaries on the campus ready to invest in them, disciple them, and mobilize them?

Think of an average high school. I live in a fairly conservative, rural town in the Bible belt. It’s ministry-saturated. Our high school has a little over 1,000 students. There are 20 churches with at least a part-time paid position for youth. That is a paid worker for every 50 students, if you count parent volunteers and Sunday school teachers, that ratio gets even smaller. Our local university has well over 10,000 students and there are about six part-time/ four full-time campus ministers. That is one campus minister (most are split between youth/university) for every 1,000 students. You want to know why we are losing 70% of our youth ministry kids in college? It’s a lack of missionaries in the harvest field. There are fewer workers on the college campus. It’s not all about numbers, but they can be a fairly reliable indicator. 

No one would intentionally spend 18 years paying the mortgage on their dream home and then decide to skip out on their payments for four years. No one would be surprised or sympathetic when the bank repossessed the house! And yet, that is exactly what we do as the church! We look around confused as to why we have less and less of an impact on culture, not as many young families, and fewer leaders. If the college years are some of the most strategic and defining years in a person’s life, why is that when we as the church are checking out instead of leaning in?

Reflective questions:

1. What is the level of church engagement on the college campus near you? What is the worker to student ratio in your context?

2. Which church or churches in your area can you share your vision for the campus with?

3. How can you be strategic during the spring and summer to connect with graduating high school seniors from youth groups from around your college?

Click here to find the first part of this series, Why the College Campus? Pt 1.