Every semester in campus ministry is a new adventure. Students from the previous year have moved on, either graduating or transferring to University Park. A new influx of students comes in. The community that forms in CSF and on campus looks and feels different. It is always a bit exciting and a bit nerve-racking going into the new year.
CSF had our first large-group gathering this past Thursday night. In terms of numbers, we had a smaller group throughout last year than we had in previous years. Because of that, fewer students were returning this year then usual. And many of those returning students have classes during our primary meeting time. I was left wondering, will anyone show up for praise and prayer and Bibles study?
Now I try not to be a numbers guy. I do not brag about our numbers when they are large and I try not to let myself get down when our numbers are small. This is mostly because I do not believe that the number who show up at one meeting a week is the most revealing thing about a Christian community. A large group could be quite cliquish, doing little good for the large community around them. A small group could be incredibly outgoing and service-oriented.
In other words, I am less concerned with how many people come as with how many people those who do come can influence.
That said, I was very happy that this past Thursday the number who showed up blew away my expectations. It was probably our largest group in a couple years. The vast majority were new people. My prayer is that these students form a tight-knit community, always welcoming and open to others, and also with a heart to serve and love the campus.
As I think about the number who showed up, I also think about churches in the area I am friends with that have young adult Bible studies. Each year a couple churches contact me about their young adult groups, asking me if I can invite students. I am hesitant. The reason I am hesitant is that over the years I have noticed something about college-aged Christians – they will go to as many Bible studies and church gatherings as they can. On Sunday they’ll attend church, during the week they’ll attend the two activities CSF does, then if they can fit it in they’ll be more than willing to go to other church activities on a Friday or Saturday.
So if a local church wants to increase their numbers, I can probably help them do that. But it rings hollow to me, and probably to them, if it is just committed Christians adding one more Christian gathering to their schedule.
What I would love to see local churches do is simple: come to campus.
Sit in the library and read magazines.
Drink coffee in the Cyber Cafe.
Maybe even eat dinner in the dining hall.
While here, pray for students.
Be open to the Holy Spirit’s leading to engage them in conversation.
I am actually quite shy. Those who know me would disagree, because I am not shy with those who know me. I am shy with people I don’t know; it is not in my nature to strike up conversation with strangers. Yet over the years as I have hung out on campus, usually in the same place day after day, I have had opportunities to talk with students. Just by being there, by being a familiar face, you will earn the opportunity to connect.
At the end of the day, this will not lead to a great increase of numbers in the local church. Spending time on campus like this might lead to you talking with one or two students. If you’re lucky, you might really influence one.
But what is more important: getting Christian students who already attend three or four Christian gatherings a week to come to one more, or reaching out to one student who is not connected to Christ at all?
I think the answer is clear.