The secular campus is one of the most strategic, specialized and high-yield mission fields in our world. There are 17 million college students in the United States enrolled in more than 4,000 campuses. Today these students are learning. Tomorrow they will be leading in every area of life, including business, education, science, government and entertainment.
Also, the United States hosts the largest number of international students of any country in the world. Almost 1 million students and visiting scholars from 200 nations are on campuses throughout the United States. International students add to the strategic importance of the campus with the U.S. State Department estimating that 25 percent of the world’s future political leaders are studying in the United States right now.
Today’s students are referred to as “Millennials,” having come of age at the time of the new millennium. Others use the term “Generation Y” following the generation ahead of them, referred to as “Generation X.” Because this generation has grown up with the Internet, others have described them as the “Net Generation.” Because this is the most diverse college generation, another pollster refers to them as Mosaics. Terms like “twentysomethings” and “emerging adults” is not limited to but includes this age group.
Demographers are unable to agree on the exact parameters of this generation, so the birth dates range from 1978-2003, yet most agree this generation is in their mid-to-late teens and early 20s, and some suggest they are still being born. They are affluent, better educated and ethnically diverse. They have an optimistic outlook on life, work and the future. They are achievement oriented, modest, respectful and interactive. They are a self confident generation, and the first generation to come of age in a truly global society.
Polls and research scientists report that two-thirds to four-fifths of today’s students do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. On any given Sunday most college students will not be in church. If you consider the entire collegiate population, you quickly recognize that millions of college students have no association with churches in their community. If we want to reach these students with the Gospel we must take the Christian witness, influence and perspective into the world of the campus. When you step on the campus, you enter another world; but you must take this step to reach it.
The basic need of every college man and woman for Jesus Christ has not changed; however, the culture and methods have. Spiritual hunger does exist. While most of today’s students have not grown up in the church and lack biblical knowledge, many have a willingness to earnestly consider Jesus Christ in a way that is not present at other life stages. Often you must start at the very beginning when explaining who God is and how He is active in the world today.
Interestingly enough, today’s post-modern students do not care if the Bible is true. They want to know if it works. They value relevance over truth. They want to see Christianity lived out. This generation hungers for and responds to loyalty, friendship, caring, acceptance, affirmation, integrity and transparency. They will not care how much you know, until they know how much you care.
College students have crazy schedules and are accustomed to a world of choice. They want lots of options. Reaching college students will require a determined commitment. They will require a high degree of relational investment before any results are seen.
Many pre-Christian students are coming to large-and small-group meetings and special events and being drawn into the community long before they make any commitment to Christ. Coming to Christ for today’s students is a process that begins by belonging to the group, then believing in Jesus Christ, and then, as the Holy Spirit works in their lives, behaving in a way that reflects the new standards of their Heavenly Father. They need space and freedom to process new ideas and new experiences. They need to see that the faith you are sharing with them is a faith that works and makes a difference in their everyday lives.