Why Asian American Churches Should Pay More Attention to Their College Ministries
If you go on any church website, there's often a section that says "community" that'll show you the different types of life ministries they offer. After you click it, what you'll end up seeing are ministries offered for youth, young adults and married couples. What's noticeably missing? College.
Quite often churches disregard college ministries because they don't see much value in them. The reasons?
1. Bad Investment: You invest a lot financially but there's little-to-no financial return.
2. Waste of Time: Why invest in kids who'll only stick around until they graduate?
3. Parachurches: Churches presume parachurches are taking care of collegians.
Therefore it makes sense for local churches to focus primarily on working adults and parents. After all, they'll actually stick around and financially support the church. And this is why churches will also focus on kids and youth - because by ministering to them they're ministering to the parents.
But I think this mentality is a huge mistake - esp. in Asian American churches. Here are some reasons why.
1) College Years Are Often the Formative Years of Faith
People say that high school is the formative years of a Christian's faith. While this may be true for some, I actually believe the real formative years are in college. Before college, Christians learn about Christianity and believe in it. But it's usually in college that their faith will get most challenged. This is why so many youths abandon the faith after high school - college life was too difficult.
Or here's another way to look at it. A typical Christian who grew up in the church will hear the gospel in Children's Ministry, understand it in Jr. High Ministry, and accept it in Youth Ministry. But it's usually in college where they learn to embrace the gospel because they're out on their own and thus have to make the gospel their own. Thus college life is a critical time for growth and churches need to recognize this more.
2) Most Asian Americans Attend Universities
Scholars note that the apostle Paul strategically traveled to major cities in order to reach large populations that were condensed in a single location. And he went to the marketplaces in particular because of the diversity and exchange of ideas that go on in such locations.
In major universities, an average of 30-45% of their student population are Asian Americans. They're all gathered in one populated location filled with diversity and an open exchange of ideas. Therefore local churches - esp. Asian American ones - should consider universities as strategic locations to make an impact.
3) Collegians Bring Energy to the Church
Most pastors focus primarily on married couples because they believe where the married couples go, the church will go. But when pastors say this, they're thinking primarily in terms of stabilization. When it comes to stability, married couples are by far the most important. They are the natural leaders and they provide most of the financial support for a church.
However when it comes to mobilization, collegians usually bring the most to the table. After all, who invites the most newcomers to church? Who signs up to volunteer in the nursery? Who brings the innocent (naive?) enthusiasm to church events? It's the collegians.
If you have a church full of collegians, there'll be a lot of mobility but no stability and your church won't last. But if you have a church of only married folks, there'll be a lot of stability but no mobility and your church won't do much. Both are needed.
4) Churches Are Growing Through College Ministries
Perhaps my perspective is limited, but the Asian American churches that I see growing the most are the ones that have a vibrant college ministry. Old school Asian churches think it's the youth group that will grow their churches numerically. But since most Asian Americans attend universities and are more mobile than ever, you actually can't bank on high school kids sticking around beyond youth group anymore.
This is especially true when these youth students get absorbed into campus life. They'll want to experience and go to places where their friends are going. I'm not saying this is a good thing - it's just reality. So if their home churches don't have anything that focuses on their college lives, they most likely won't go back. Sure you can blame your college kids for being "disloyal." But I'd instead recommend creating something for them to come back to.
Note: It's a mistake to simply mix collegians in with what your EM is doing. College life is a special time that requires special care.
5) The Payoff is Actually Greater Than We Think
When pastors think college students are a bad investment for a local church, I wonder what they mean. Being at a church filled with college students, I can personally say they've helped our church far more than hurt it. But even if I grant that they may be a bad investment for a local church, they are an amazing investment for the kingdom.
There's a story I once heard where an elder complained to John Piper about the church investing so much into their college ministry. The reason? Collegians leave the church after graduating. John's response? "What a way to spread!" I couldn't agree more.