The 2004 U.S. women’s 400-meter relay team was the fastest in the world and the favorite to win the gold in Athens. As the race reached the halfway point, the Americans held a sizeable lead. Then came the handoff. Olympic medalist Marion Jones attempted to pass the baton to her teammate, Lauryn Williams. Williams started too quickly and Jones could not complete the crucial step in the allotted time. After years of training and preparation, the Americans, who had the race in hand, were disqualified.
In a relay race, the handoff is often the difference between success and failure. The analogy holds true for when Christian young people go off to college. The handoff from youth ministries to campus ministries is critical. One key reason: Recent studies indicate Christian teenagers are abandoning their faith at alarming rates.
A 2002 study by Southern Baptist Convention’s Council on Family Life predicts that 88 percent of children raised in evangelical households will fall away from the faith at or around age 18. (See Jim Brown, “SBC Leader Alarmed Over Young Adults ‘Dropping Out’ of Churches,” AgapePress, Today’s News Summary, Aug. 7, 2006, archived at http//headlines.agapepress.org.) A more recent study by the Barna Group reports that only one-fifth of young people in their twenties maintain the same level of spiritual activity they had when they were in high school. (See David Kinnaman and others, “Most Twentysomethings Put Christianity on the Shelf Following Spiritually Active Teen Years,” The Barna Update, Sept. 11, 2006, available at www.barna.org.)
What can be done to change this discouraging trend? The smooth handoff between high school and college can make the difference between students continuing in their faith or abandoning it.
MAKING A SUCCESSFUL HANDOFF
When students go off to college, their number one fear is not making any friends. This is why so many Christian students get derailed off the spiritual path during the early weeks of their freshman year. They begin hanging out with unbelieving students and get sucked into the stereotypical college lifestyle of drinking and sex. As the Apostle Paul warns: “Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Cor. 15:33).
The key, then, to making a successful handoff is getting students connected with Christians at the colleges where they will be attendingâ€”long before they get on campus. What can a youth worker do to make this happen? Here are some suggestions.
Invite a campus ministry group from a nearby college to present a program on college life to your students. This exposes them to Christian college students and gives them a perspective on college life.
Arrange for your group to visit a large meeting of a campus ministry, or the college-age group of a church that’s plugged into the college. This lets young people visit the campus and see college students openly displaying their love for the Lord.
As students narrow their choices of colleges to attend, encourage them to look into what campus ministries are at these schools and what churches offer strong college programs.
When students make their choices, encourage them to get in contact with the campus ministry or church affiliated with your congregation to find out more about the spiritual opportunities available. Also, if there is a summer orientation, encourage them to schedule an appointment with the campus minister or college pastor. More than likely, he or she will have a student there when they meet.
If campus ministers are handed chances like these to connect and interact with high school students, we will run with them. For too long, youth workers and college workers have been out of sync with their handoff. That needs to change. The stakes are too high and the investment too great.
JIM MUSSER lives in Boone, North Carolina, with his wife, Marianna. He is in his 24th year of campus ministry and directs Campus Christian Fellowship at Appalachian State University.