Students: Are you prepared for the spiritual, relational, and moral challenges that will come after high school? What is your plan to stay strong for your faith in college? It’s heartbreaking to see Christian high school students disengage their faith and the church in college. While the numbers have often been manipulated and overstated, there is certainly a genuine concern about students leaving the faith after high school. If you think it couldn’t happen to you, and that you’re somehow immune, then you probably haven’t seriously considered the challenges that lie ahead.
The purpose of this post is not just to help you survive in college, but to help you thrive in your faith during these formative years. There is no reason so many students need to disengage their faith and the church when they leave home. If you are a student, then these six points are meant to help you stand strong for your faith in college. If you’re not a student, then please consider passing them on to a present or future college student that you know:
1. Determine in your heart that ahead of time that you will stand strong. One of my favorite characters in the Bible is Daniel. Even though he was surrounded by pagan influences in Babylon, and he obviously wanted to fit in and be successful with the king, he refused to compromise his convictions and eat non-kosher food. He had every reason to compromise—money, power, influence, status—but he had already decided that his first loyalty was to God: “But Daniel determined in his heart not to defile himself” (Daniel 1:8). If you want to have a successful faith in college, it begins by going into college already determined that you will follow the Lord.
2. Find good Christian friends. The Bible has much to say about the power of friendship. For instance, Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” It is certainly important to make friends with non-Christians, but you must surround yourself with some fellow believers who will pray for you, encourage you, hold you accountable, hang out with you, and strategize with you about how to reach your campus for Christ.
3. Reach out to Christian professors. There are good, solid, caring Christian professors at even the most secular schools. They may be hard to track down in some cases, but I guarantee you they are there. It would make sense to begin with professors in your department of study, but if you can’t find any, then branch out. While there may be a few exceptions, I guarantee you that most Christian professors would be thrilled to pray with you, guide you, and possibly even mentor you. Visit them in their office hours and get to know them on a personal level. They’re a resource waiting to be tapped!
4. Join a Christian group on campus. There are tons of great Christian groups on campus, such as Cru, Navigators, Ratio Christi, and InterVarsity. Many universities also have church groups that meet at or near campus. Find out about these groups online, during an on-campus club fair, or from other students. Here are a few things to do: (1) Contact one of the leaders and introduce yourself, even before you show up on campus, (2) Visit a meeting, and (3) Talk to other students about the group.
5. Keep in contact with key people from home. While it may be tempting to sever ties when you leave for the “real world,” be sure to stay in touch with key people from home town, such as pastors, youth pastors, teachers, coaches, and other caring adults. I love it when my former high school students drop by to say hi or meet me for coffee. Make it a priority to stay in touch with them from time to time. They know you well and can be an important source of encouragement and strength.
6. Go to Summit Ministries. Students often ask me what I consider the single most important step they can take to be prepared to thrive in college. My answer is simple: Go to Summit Ministries. In case you’re not familiar with Summit, it’s a 12-day intensive (but fun!) apologetics and worldview experience for students ages 16-22. Conferences are held in Tennessee, Colorado, and southern California. In fact, I personally host the California conference at Biola University (June 19-July 2). Summit brings in the best Christian speakers to help students learn to think Christianly about the toughest issues of our day including politics, the existence of God, economics, theology, the reliability of the Bible and more. I regularly meet students who consider attending Summit a “game-changer.” It’s simply a must for students who want to develop a Christian worldview in order to thrive in college.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, and internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org