I recently arrived back on my old college campus. No, I’m not starting a new degree. I’m back here for a new job. In some respects, it has been a reunion because there are many faculty, staff, and administrators still here 19 years after I graduated. But I experienced another reunion that I wasn’t fully expecting on our first Sunday in town. This reunion was with people at the local church I faithfully attended while I was a student.
On our first Sunday visiting a church, we ran into some old college classmates who had planted their lives in town. We went to the service and acted like typical visitors—sitting near the back in relative anonymity. Midway through the service I realized that the couple sitting in front of us had volunteered in the college ministry 20+ years ago. I whispered to my wife that I knew who they were. At the end of the service, I set out to introduce myself to them and started by saying they probably didn’t remember me. They interrupted me before I even got started and called me by name and asked how I had been after all these years. They wanted to meet my family and proceeded to introduce us to others as their longtime friends. We then ran into several other people who had been members of the church dating back to my days in college.
I had never really thought about this type of reunion as we were preparing to return to Mississippi. We planned to visit the church, and I knew in the back of my mind that we would encounter old friends, but I was surprised by the magnitude of this reunion. All but one member of the staff had come since I had attended the church, and I knew the church had grown quite a bit in those years, but in many ways it was still the same church.
This reunion reminded me of why it is so valuable for college students to be a part of a local congregation. Just this past weekend students moved back to our campus, and churches hosted breakfasts and lunches on Sunday attempting to persuade students to join with them during their college years. But why join a church (or at least invest your life in a single church) for these brief years of college? Why not just hop from church to church based on which one is offering a free meal that week? Why not just jump to whichever church is the first to find the next big trend?
Here are a few reasons why college students need a local church:
- The church is a body, and it needs all its parts. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul uses the analogy of a body to describe the church. Every member of the church has certain spiritual gifts, and each member has a specific role to play in the body. We cannot all be the head, eyes, hands, or ears. We need legs, feet, knees, and toes as well. In fact, Paul makes the argument that the “less presentable” members of the body are just as important as the “more presentable” members. College students have specific spiritual gifts that the local church needs, and the church has members with spiritual gifts that can edify, train, and mature college students. This is a two-way street. You will never see a toe running down the street on its own. In the same way, new students shouldn’t try to navigate the Christian life without the rest of the body.
- The church is a God-ordained institution. Sometimes I will hear people say that they can worship God from their dorm room or on the intramural field or out in nature. This is true—we can worship God anywhere—but God has commanded us to be faithful to gather with an assembled body of believers, which is the church. Solo Christianity is not a new thing. People were trying to live this way during New Testament days. This is why the author of Hebrews exhorted his readers to “consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25). Assembling together in the God-ordained institution of the church is part of God’s plan for growing our faith.
- The church exposes you to people of all ages. For many students, the college years are time surrounded by people of virtually the same age, particularly if you live on campus. That’s part of the draw of college for many people. And this time in college may provide numerous opportunities for Bible studies, accountability, and spiritual growth among your peers. However, one of these days you will graduate, and you will no longer be a part of that campus. Imagine coming to campus every week for a club or ministry event and introducing yourself to the new group of students saying, “Yeah, I graduated 12 years ago, but I just like to come back and hang out with these people.” At some point the campus leaders will probably ask you to move along because you aren’t in the right stage of life. That isn’t the way God designed the church. In the church, we expect a multi-generational gathering of believers where we can encourage and challenge one another to grow. I discovered just a few weeks ago that the church I attended as an 18-21 year old is happy to have me and my family plug right back in now that I’m in my 40’s. And it’s easier to do so because I was part of this multi-generational family even while I was in college. This is exactly how God intended it.
For new and returning students everywhere, but especially on my campus, let me encourage you to find a local church where you can invest your life. You won’t regret it.