Myths about Ministry to College Age Students

I love college age students and enjoy occasional opportunities to speak at events on college campuses and churches for that life stage. My youngest daughter is in college and I have always had affection for this group. Those who know me also recognize that three years of my ministry were spent as a pastor to college age students. My concern for the post high school grads has ramped up even higher in light of the research Tom Crites and I recently conducted on young adults who grew up in church and “stayed” active instead of dropping out. Of the fifteen greatest influences, three directly related to what a young person experiences between ages 18-22 and one other had an indirect, though profound effect. Ministry to college age young adults is not just important to the future of the church but critical. Please allow me to take a few moments to dispel some common myths about ministry to this age group.

  1. College age students do not care to attend church. That is not true. Many churches have a very healthy attendance of 18-22 year olds while many others have absolutely none. If they did not care to go to church, then there would be no churches with thriving college age ministries. In my leadership of Sunday School over many years I often stated that the number one reason that people do not want to go to Sunday School is because they have been. Ouch! Sadly, some churches are not connecting with young adults and the experience leaves some questioning the value of church attendance. I would argue that a mature believer would be devoted no matter what their prior experience. But, remember that these are 18-22 year olds meaning they are in the phase of “maturing” rather than “maturity.” 
  1. There is no point in having a college ministry in your church if you are not in a college town. That is not correct. As a matter of fact, when I was a college pastor, we were 30 miles from the nearest college and averaged well over 100 in this age group on Sunday morning as well as for a weekday Bible study. I do not suggest that the typical church can draw that many students on a weekly basis. But, here is the key. Every community has 18-22 year olds residing there whether there is a college nearby or not and not every young adult goes to college. Many churches think it not necessary to have a college ministry because they have no college students. However, you will not likely reach college students if you do not have a college age ministry with some leaders focusing on this life stage.
  1. College age students don’t have much to give to the church. That is not true. Perhaps if you are thinking totally in regard to finances you could make the argument. However, it is during this life stage that many young adults are called to ministry, experience missions, commit to serve as missionaries, and are at a place of strong influence over high school and middle school students. Though you may or may not reap immediate benefits, the church at large reaps the results for decades to come when the lives of college age students are touched by your ministry.  
  1. Most churches do not have the resources to have a ministry for college age young adults. That is not true because it does not require a dime. Only one thing is needed. It begins with an adult who is willing to invest time, build a team, minister throughout the week (not just on Sundays), and patiently invest in the lives of post high school grads and young adults.

I want to challenge you to pray, enlist, and initiate a ministry to college age young adults in your church. This ministry is very tough but greatly rewarding. I hope you will check out chapters 17-20 of my new book Why They Stay to learn more about some key discoveries related to the college age experience and the impact on the likelihood that they will still be in church at age 30. Go to to learn more.