Why Local Church College Ministries Usually Suck

Last time I wrote about the importance of collegians & how local churches (esp. Asian Americans) should really start prioritizing their college ministries. What I failed to mention is that there actually are a lot of churches out there that have a college ministry or are trying to start one up. 

But the problem is that a lot of them, quite frankly, kind of suck. After all, how many thriving college ministries have you heard about? Locally speaking I can think of InterVarsity, Campus Crusades, KCM, CCM...oh wait, those are parachurches.

Sadly most college ministries that exist in a local church context are either non-existent or poorly executed because they're not conducive for collegians. Why so? Here are some observations.

1. No Support. I mentioned this last time, but most churches see collegians as bad investments so a college ministry is not worth investing much into. Just compare how churches treat their college ministries vs. their youth groups. For youth, churches will give them their own rooms, hire a full-time pastor & provide a plethora of volunteers.

But college ministry? They often don't have rooms; they rarely have a pastor overseeing them (or if they do it's an underpaid intern); they don't have volunteers helping them - rather collegians are poached to be volunteers elsewhere & thus removed from the college community. In a situation like this, it's easy to see why a church's college ministry isn't growing.

2. Pastor-Led Model. Perhaps the biggest mistake that a church makes when starting a college ministry is making it a pastor-led ministry. What I mean is that a church will get a pastor to lead a college ministry & this pastor will lead & ask the collegians to support him. This is perhaps necessary to begin a college ministry - but this can't be the model that sustains one.

The model for college ministries shouldn't be pastor-led & student-supported; rather I'd argue it should be student-led & pastor-supported. Collegians aren't youth kids - they're very capable. But more importantly, collegians need a sense of ownership in what they do. After all, why do you think parachurches thrive? It's because they're collegiate-led & staff-supported - not the other way around like most local church models.

3. Parachurches. I love parachurches. I guest-speak at parachurches. I think we need parachurches. But I also recognize how parachurches hinder local churches from having a thriving college ministry. After all, if college students are part of a thriving parachurch, why do they need their church's college ministry? It seems superfluous.

What's worse is that parachurches often poach the "best" collegians - the types of collegians that can help build up their local church's college ministries. But instead all their energy is being poured into building up their parachurches. How do we resolve this issue? I'm not sure, but I do think it's a problem if a collegian is far more invested in their parachurch while their local church's college ministry is in shambles. 

4. The Teaching Sucks. If a church wants collegians to participate in their college ministry, the teaching needs to be good. Collegians can tell when a pastor doesn't put that much time or effort into their bible study or message - but sadly this is quite often the case. Pastors tend to put a lot of effort into their Sunday messages but try to whip something quickly together in an hour or two for their college ministry meeting.

If pastors treat college ministry as some "side thing" that serves as a necessary but unimportant addendum to Sunday Service, then don't be surprised if the collegians treat it that way too. If you want your college ministry to be important, you need to treat it as if it's important. And for the pastor, this is most clearly seen in the teaching material that comes out of a college ministry.

5. No Collegians. Some churches have crappy college ministries because they quite simply have no collegians. Their church may be too far from any local university or the youth students always go out-of-state for college. As a result the college ministry consists of 5-7 community college kids who meet in someone's home to try to "start something."

This usually doesn't work & personally I think churches like this should resign to being a church primarily for married couples or working singles. It's silly/frustrating to hunt after tigers in the desert when they actually only exist in the rainforest. 

Conclusion
Don't get me wrong: Not every college ministry is like this. I know of some excellent ones that definitely have something going. But there aren't enough out there. So rather than lament about collegians not caring about the church or only loving the parachurch, let's try to provide them something of substance in our local churches.