Our babies grow up so fast. One day we are putting them down for a nap and the next, they are walking across the stage at graduation. They say that the days are long but the years are short. Suddenly, we are packing their bags for college, and we are worried. We are worried about their safety. We wonder if they will be able to do the school work. Will they make good choices about alcohol and dating? The most pressing concern is will they keep faith in college.
Scary News about Keeping Faith in College
Have you heard the scary statistics? Voddie Baucham reports research that shows that between 70%-88% of youth active in the church will walk away from the faith in college. Dawson McAlister, a national youth ministry specialist, argues that “ninety percent of kids active in high school youth groups do not go to church by the time they are sophomores in college. One third will never return.” If we think that we have won the battle for our children hearts if they are attending youth group, we are fatally mistaken. Far too many will walk away from Christ and will not keep their faith in college.
But they come back, right?
Do some kids come back? Yes, but you are missing the point. We don’t want anyone to walk away from the faith no matter how long. We don’t want students that step away from the faith, but then come back to church when they have children. This behavior begs the question of if they were saved or just churched. Now that their children are older, they want the “church experience” for their children. This is not what true faith is about. Real faith is about a relationship with Jesus and because of that you are dedicated to His bride, the church. Our goal as parents is to raise children who always walk with the Lord.
First Steps to Keep Faith in College
So, what is a parent to do? First, we have to lay the proper foundation before college. We need to nurture real, deep, relevant faith in our teens. Teens need open and deep conversations with trusted adults, especially parents, that deal with the real struggles of living out the Christian life. Teens need apologetics training to combat the assaults that they are receiving in high school and will only increase in college. This training isn’t just defensive but offensive. We are called to love God will all of our hearts, minds, and souls. Studying apologetics helps us to grow stronger in our understanding and love for God and His Word.
Keep Faith in College with the Right School
Choose your college carefully. Most schools are not Christian, even the ones that say that they are Christian. Don’t assume that a college or university associated with your denomination teaches a Biblical worldview. On the flip side, don’t assume that it makes no difference therefore if you send your student to a secular or faith-based school. I went to a very secular liberal arts college. It has taken years to detox from some of the worldview ideas that are drilled into you. Some areas of study are even more important than others to receive at an intentional Christian college. Regardless of whether your student attends a secular school or a Christian school, always be discerning as to what a professor is teaching and how that teaching lines up with scripture. Keep a dialogue going with your student in this area.
Keep Faith in College with 2 Things in the first 2 weeks
When they get to college, the first two weeks are vital. Dr. Kara Powell & Chap Park talk about this vital transition in their book: Sticky Faith. The key is to get your child involved in Christian community right away. Christian faith is meant to be lived out in a community. When we try to go it alone, we will be much more vulnerable. The two most important things you can do to help your child keep their faith in college is to find a Christian group on campus and a good local church.
-Find a Christian Campus Group
Many college campuses have at least one, if not several Christian groups. Identify what these groups are as a part of your college search process. If possible, meet the different groups. What are they like? How often do they meet? What are the theological ideas in their faith statement? (What is missing from it?) Encourage your child to make connections with this group as soon as they arrive on campus. Some of these groups will even be helping people to move in as they seek to serve their fellow classmates.
-Find a Healthy Local Church
Christian groups on campus are para-church ministries. This means that they see themselves as working alongside the local church, but not in place of the local congregation. Students need to go to a church with other students, but also with people of all generations. They need the wisdom of older men and women to shepherd them on this journey.
Many times a healthy on-campus group will have recommendations regarding the churches in the area that are biblically solid and have a heart for the students on campus. Reach out to these para-church leaders over the summer before school starts and ask for their recommendations. (If there is a church from your denomination near campus, don’t assume that it is a healthy choice for your child. Sometimes, these churches can be more liberal than others in that same fold.)
When you drop your student off at school and get them settled in, take them to church. It is so scary going to a new church. Help them find a church that they are drawn too, and go with them to get them started. When you go to visit your child on campus, go to church with them too.
Keep Faith in College by Planning Ahead
Most importantly, have an open and honest conversation with your child about the challenges of nurturing their faith in college. Talk with them about the challenges of having adult freedom. Share with them the struggles that you faced during those transitions and the choices you wish you had made. Impress upon them the need for community and encourage them to talk about how they might find community.
College comes with a new schedule. They will be working out how to balance an increased school load, work-study, and more responsibilities. Your student also needs to work out how to prioritize daily Bible study and weekly worship. Starting off with the right habits can have a significant influence on their faith trajectory in college. (Aim for 4x a week or more. Read my articles about that here & then here.) Send them off with a couple of Bible studies to get them started. Perhaps there is one that you can do together long distance to keep the conversation going.
Keep Faith in College Through Prayer
Finally, the most important thing to do as a parent to help your child keep their faith in college is to pray. Pray every day for their heart that they would keep their eyes focused on Jesus and that all they are learning would point them back to the Creator.
They are moving into adulthood and our relationship with them transitions as well. Now is the time for lost of listening & questions. I call this the coaching time. We can no longer tell them what to do. We can gently keep pointing them back to God and asking the questions that help them hear from God. Always keep the door open and the light on.
As parents, we have to put our trust in God and know that God loves our child even more than we do. In the end, our children have to make the choice to love God will all of their heart on their own. Yes, it is scary. We can do the things that we can to help them keep faith in college, but in the end, they are grown ups now. Gulp. So, pray.
The Gospel Coalition has an excellent article on some specific theological ideas to discuss with your child before they head off to college. You can read it here.