Getting College Students in Church

Updates | Stories | Lives Changed

A young woman sits bundled up in a car, watching orange and red painted trees speed by through the window. She’s a freshman at the University at Buffalo and around six hours away from home. She got connected with Campus Ambassadors and started attending Bible studies and on-campus worship. Now, she’s being given a ride to a local church. She was praying to have a Christian community in college, and God has exceeded her request.

A Bridge to the Church

Sally Henien is the director of the University at Buffalo’s Campus Ambassadors. Having a missionary presence on campus allows them to witness effectively to students and disciple them. “We can meet students where they’re at, both spiritually and physically.” Because of Campus Ambassadors, students are able to participate in student led community groups and outreach events. On Thursday nights, they meet for Catalyst where they have snacks, play games, worship, and listen to a teaching. During their small groups, they have Bible study and pray for one another.

One of Campus Ambassador’s distinctives that Sally’s especially proud of is their church partnerships. Not only is C.A. committed to providing students a Christian community on campus, but they connect them to a local church where their community can be expanded. By connecting them to a local church body, students can listen to preaching weekly, worship with a congregation, and serve in ministry. “We’re a bridge to the local church,” Sally says. Not every student has a car, so Sally partners with churches like NorthGate Christian Community to ensure students have rides to church. When a family at NorthGate has a college student over for dinner, it’s like they become that student’s spiritual family while they’re away from their bio family. It’s through this that students can build inter-generational relationships with the body of Christ.

The Pros and Cons of Social Media

Campus Ambassadors let students know that there’s a person on campus who cares about them and will be real with them. Ambassadors are used to being asked spiritual questions all the time: “Is there proof God exists? Is there only one true religion?” But the newest generation of college students are also asking, “How can I make friends? How do I have a conversation in real life?” These questions are jarring impacts of the online world most young people have saturated themselves in. Some seem almost disconnected from the real world, and covid certainly hasn’t helped. Christian community provides genuine, real-life relationships.

But technology has also proved to be a Godsend. When covid hit, C.A. went virtual and focused on outreach through social media platforms like Instagram. This proved to be so successful that they plan to stick to social media outreach even after things return to normal. In one week, C.A. was able to get hundreds of contacts from students through social media. These students wanted to connect either through virtual small groups or in-person. One of them was a UB student living in Brazil because of covid. He was serious about learning about Christianity, was able to get connected to a virtual community, and had lots of great questions. He’s now in Buffalo in person and serves in his church’s media team.

The Spiritual State of Young People

Sally says that young people are more open to talking about faith than we assume. They typically say they’re “spiritual,” and they define that ambiguously. Often, they’ve heard bits and pieces of scripture, but don’t know the whole Biblical narrative. For example, they may have heard about Noah and the arc, but they aren’t sure what Jesus has to do with the Old Testament. She takes pleasure in explaining the Bible’s big picture to these students.

One student from Kenya told her that he had felt really lonely outside of the C.A. family but got connected to the person who would give him rides to church. That’s how Sally got plugged into C.A. — she was the young woman bundled up in the car, being driven to church by strangers who would soon become her friends. It was in her senior year that as a pre-pharmacy major, she surrendered to God’s calling to vocational ministry and joined the C.A. staff. If you’d like to support campus missionaries like Sally, you can do so through Missions Door.

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