About the Author
Chuck Bomar is the founding pastor of Colossae Church in Portland, Oregon. Started in 2008, Colossae has planted three churches and has developed strategic relationships with civic leaders in the local school districts. Previously, he served nine years at Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, California. Chuck is the author of nine books and over a dozen small group resources. He and his wife, Barbara, have three beautiful daughters: Karis, Hope, and Sayla.
Read an Excerpt
College Ministry 101A Guide to Working With 18-25 Year Olds
By Chuck Bomar
ZondervanCopyright © 2009 Chuck Bomar
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWHY COLLEGE-AGE MINISTRY?
My friend Reggie and I were just sitting down for lunch at my favorite restaurant, getting ready for some great Greek food, when he told me the story of a girl named Nemo.
Nemo is a girl from Africa who had been sponsored through a well-known child-sponsorship ministry. Reggie explained that when Nemo turned 18, all the support she'd been receiving from the ministry stopped. He told me this procedure was normal for most organizations that provide this type of support. Nemo was going to be on her own, with no family to help her, no money to attend college, and no job experience. She was likely going to end up homeless once again, probably leaving her to heartbreaking ways of making ends meet. For her entire life, someone had made sure she had what she needed to survive. But once she was technically an adult, all of that support came to an end.
I was stunned. I bombarded Reggie with questions: How could something like this happen? How can an organization just drop people, leaving them with no hope? How many other kids like her were being moved out of a supportive network and abandoned to a life of theft, prostitution, andextreme poverty?
Reggie explained that the sponsorship organization had recognized this dilemma and developed a new program in which kids are sponsored all the way through college. It's a little more expensive because of the cost of a college education, but more help is available for these kids. This ministry saw the problem and created a way to fix it.
Can you imagine how we'd react if the executives of this organization had just kept going on as if this problem didn't exist? We'd question their motives and philosophy; we'd wonder whether or not they had the best interest of these kids in mind, or even if they were truly helping these kids. And yet we've let that same abandonment take place in our churches. We're not exactly leaving our high school graduates to lives of poverty and prostitution; but from a spiritual perspective, we're pretty close. We support our children until they finish high school; then we take that support away. We assume they'll transition, but they rarely do. After high school, many are left to figure out life for themselves. When the church isn't there for them, they look to the world for guidance.
Like that child-sponsorship ministry, the church must be willing to revisit the way we think about ministry in general, which means taking an unflinching look at life in our churches.
THE MESSAGE BEHIND THE METHOD
I've been known to make statements I've later regretted, but I don't think the statement I'm about to make will be one of them. I do need to preface it, however, with a few disclaimers. As a shepherd, I want what's best for the people in my care. As a pastor in a local church, I want what's best for the body as a whole. As a writer, I desperately want you to have the same passion and heart for both of those things as I have. That said, let me say this: One of the biggest challenges facing churches today is the loss of young people. And we church leaders have no one to blame but ourselves.
College-age people have been disconnecting from Christian community for far too long. Most churches seem to struggle with this issue, yet the pervasive lack of action suggests that they don't care as much as they say they do. Granted, more conversations about people's disengagement after high school are taking place than ever before, but this discussion should be the conversation going on in the church. Instead, when young people graduate out of student ministry, our actions scream, "We don't care about you anymore! You don't belong in our church! You're not important enough for us to spend quality time with you!"
I've spent the last decade working with college-age people and consulting with dozens and dozens of churches trying to find answers to the big questions of college-age disengagement: Why are so many people disconnecting after high school? As churches, are we making mistakes that contribute to this disconnection? What changes have occurred in society that so drastically affect people in this stage of life? What specific issues are college-age people dealing with that we're failing to understand or address? What can we do to engage the hearts and minds of people during this stage? This book is the result of asking those questions and working to find answers.
I want to be very clear about something right here at the start: My concern with the detachment of college-age people has nothing to do with having fewer people in our churches. If you're hoping to use college-age ministry as a church-growth tool, this book will be quite disappointing for you. Rather, the concern I have is strictly one of discipleship. Ephesians 4:11-13 describes the body of Christ as a means of discipleship. The church is meant for our growth, not the other way around. Paul writes, "So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." At the same time, if people detach from the body of Christ, they simply can't mature.
If our goal is to develop mature believers (and I hope it is!), we can't afford to watch college-age people detach from the church. Developing ministries that nurture and disciple college-age people isn't optional for churches. It's part of our calling as the body of Christ.
WHY WHAT WE'RE DOING ISN'T WORKING
I meet plenty of people who are doing their best to create college-age ministries. They plan big events and concerts, set up retreats and camps, design separate church services, or push for contemporary music in the service, all in an effort to draw college-age people to the church. Sure enough, college-age people show up for a few of these events or check out a church service. But they don't stick around; they don't engage. Once the novelty of the ministry wears off, they're on to the next thing.
The problem I see in most college-age ministries is that the leaders have their priorities out of whack. They start with the desired end result, rather than with the real needs of the people they hope to serve. Typically, when we start a ministry, the first thing we think through is how to get people to show up. We look at the ideas other people have implemented and figure out how they can work in our churches. We want to reach people-as many of them as possible. For so many college-age-ministry leaders, the goal is numbers. I know it was mine.
If I could've done anything differently in my work, I wish I would've put more thought into how this new ministry supported the overall structure of my church and the lifelong discipleship process of college-age people. Instead, I was concerned about how everything else in our church supported my ministry. I was concerned about getting people to come to our weekly gathering and making sure it was a great "experience"-achieving these two objectives was how I defined success for our ministry. I would've been much more effective in college-age ministry from the beginning had my priorities been in order-and more people might have gotten involved.
Any leader with a desire to create a college-age ministry needs to have a clear understanding of two issues: How this ministry fits into the church as a whole and what kind of discipleship college- age people need.
No matter what position you hold or how long you've been involved in ministry, you've probably noticed a great deal of disunity in churches. This problem affects not only the people who attend the church, but the church staff as well. One of the biggest reasons for this division is that people tend to lack an understanding of how their ministry supports other ministries in the church. We hire "professionals" in a particular area or department who come into a church context to use the resources of the church to build their ministry. There's no sense of one ministry flowing into another or even a sense of each ministry flowing into the life of the church as a whole.
The effective leader of a college-age ministry will be a true team player. I've helped many churches start college-age ministries, and I can tell you it's already a sort of "stepchild" in the church. Leaders of this ministry not only have to view college-age ministry as a part of the whole, but they often need to explain to other staff members why it's a key element in the overall structure of their church as well. If you don't know the answer to that question, stay tuned. I promise I'll show you what I mean.
The next section of this book will go into greater depth about the specific discipleship needs of college-age people. But before we get there, it's helpful to debunk one of the major myths about college- age people-that they're adults. Yes, they've reached the age of 18, and in a legal sense they are adults. But that technicality is really the only sense in which the word adult applies to college-age people.
Perhaps the most important discovery I've made is that to be effective in college-age ministry, we first must understand the world in which college-age people live. Being aware of their world has everything to do with who they are and what they need from a ministry. Even if you're only a few years out of this stage yourself, it's crucial to be a constant student of youth culture in this country. College-age people are bombarded with messages about who they should be and what they should do. By paying attention to the cultural shifts that shape them, we can see that now, more than ever, college-age people need faith communities to help them navigate their journey to adulthood.
Higher education. The pressure to go to college has never been greater. In a tight job market, there's no question that a college degree is now a necessity. Where high school graduation was once the first step into adulthood, it's now just a move from one kind of education to another. It has about as much significance as the move from junior high to high school. Since 1970, the number of 18-to-24-year-olds enrolled in degree-granting institutions has increased by 97 percent. Nearly 40 percent of people obtaining a four-year degree plan to get a master's degree, and nearly 30 percent plan to take their education even further. It's hard to feel like an adult when school is still the center of your day-to-day life.
Delayed adolescence. The view of college as an extension of high school means that the late teens and early twenties are viewed as a kind of extended adolescence. College means four more years of putting off "adult" decisions about work and family. Today, 13 percent of people between the ages of 25 and 29 are still in school. Compare that statistic with the percentage of 18-to-24-year-olds who were still in school in 1950-just 9 percent. These circumstances leave today's college-age people in the same position that high school students were in a generation or two ago-still in adolescence, preparing for adulthood.
Delayed family life. More and more college-age people are waiting until they earn at least a four-year degree and settle into a career before thinking about marriage or parenthood. In 1950, the median age of marriage for women was 20, and for men, 22. In 1970, the average age had risen to 21 for women and 23 for men, and as of 2000, the average age was 25 for women and 27 for men. College-age people now view adulthood as a time of stability. From an adult perspective, "stability" is great. But for a college-age person, marriage and family also mark the end of autonomy, spontaneity, exploration, and freedom. And they're in no hurry to let go of any of those liberties.
Financial dependence. Today, 73 percent of 18-to-25-year-olds get financial help from their parents. Even those whose parents don't financially support them tend to think their parents should. This fact is yet another indicator of delayed adolescence.
The post-high school years are no longer a time of independent adult life, but a stage that requires the care and nurture of older adults. Because of these issues, I'll refer to this stage as late adolescence and use the term interchangeably with college-age.
The extension of adolescence, combined with the historically unique demands in the workforce that require more education and the desire to hold on to independence for as long as possible, have created a new "age stage" of life. Young people go through a massive amount of change between the ages of 18 and 25. It's an extremely volatile time in life, and the church can provide much-needed stability.
I bet I can guess what you're thinking-because I get asked this question every time I speak about college-age ministry: Why go all the way to 25? The assumption is that a college-age ministry should end when college ideally ends-22 or 23 years old. But I believe it's far better to expand the age on the top end to make sure we're ministering to people all the way through this delayed adolescence. If you're not convinced, find a 24-year-old and ask her if she feels like an adult yet. If she's anything like the hundreds of 24-year-olds with whom I've worked in my years of ministry, the answer will be a resounding, "Not really!"
We have to recognize the years between 18 and 25 as a unique stage in life, a time in which people go through one of the most intense periods of change they'll ever experience. We can't treat them like children, but we can't treat them like full-fledged adults, either. They're in a stage like no other, which means they need a ministry like no other.
THE SOLUTION THAT ISN'T A SOLUTION
Plenty of churches have made a real effort to minister to college-age people. They've seen the detachment that comes after high school graduation and have worked hard to develop programs and services to help those college-age people stay connected to the church. Perhaps the most popular solution has been the "contemporary service" model that-while attracting some people from across generational lines-is intended to appeal to the late-adolescent and young-adult age group (18-to-35-year-olds). This service is meant to be a link between the structures that exist for children and those that exist for "adults." With an alternative service in place, the over-all structure of the church looks like figure 1.1 below.
The strength of this approach is that typically a large number of people attend this service-often people who aren't attracted to the regular "traditional" service. But this approach has some real weaknesses as well. It rarely-if ever-involves assimilation strategies that serve as bridges to move people from one stage to the next. The model might delay detachment for college-age people for a few years, but eventually, they find that the separate-service model does very little to meet their actual spiritual needs. And frankly, it does very little to support the overall structure of the church-it doesn't address assimilation at all. A healthy college-age ministry supports the structure of a church by actively caring for college-age people while it helps them assimilate back into the overall life of the church.
Dan Kimball was instrumental in popularizing what was originally known as a "church-within-a-church" model. In this model, a ministry (such as Graceland, which Dan founded at Santa Cruz Bible Church) works within a church structure, yet in many ways functions as a separate church. In fact, Graceland eventually became a separate church. This progression is typical of effective ministries like this one.
While this model can be very effective, it does have one obvious downfall: Once the new church is planted, the older church is left with the original generation gap. A lot of churches are starting these types of services, but I'm not sure they always think through the implications of the model for their setting. The model itself isn't a problem-Dan has shown how beautiful this kind of ministry can be. But it's not the ideal solution for every church, particularly if the leadership doesn't think through the challenges very, very carefully.
Excerpted from College Ministry 101 by Chuck Bomar Copyright © 2009 by Chuck Bomar. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents
Section 1 Unraveling the Myths
Chapter 1 Why College-Age Ministry? 18
Section 2 Understanding College-Age People
Chapter 2 The Universal Identity Crisis 34
Chapter 3 Monday-Morning Identity 45
Chapter 4 The Search for Meaning 56
Chapter 5 Desperately Seeking Intimacy 69
Chapter 6 The Pursuit of Pleasure 82
Chapter 7 Tracking Down Truth 93
Section 3 Creating an Effective Ministry
Chapter 8 The Leader 110
Chapter 9 The Teaching and Discipleship 126
Chapter 10 The Gathering 140
Chapter 11 The Volunteers 153
Chapter 12 The Assimilation 170