Education Life

How to Love the Church and Grow in Your Faith while in College

“I see a generation rising up to take their place—with selfless faith, with selfless faith. I see a near revival stirring as we pray and seek— we’re on our knees, we’re on our knees.”

It was the first week of school. The power had gone out, making the chapel too dark to meet in. Instead, the whole student body of Briercrest College was gathered in the foyer with one acoustic guitar, singing these words together. It was heavenly.

My abiding love of 2007 Hillsong worship aside, singing those words with those people was extraordinary for another reason: as we worshipped together, everyone there was united by a passion to see God move in our generation.

And, if we’re being honest, ours is a generation in need. Three national studies in seven years have confirmed that 2 out of every 3 young adults in Canada leave the Church (Hemorrhaging Faith, 2011), and 1 in 3 Christian young adults in public universities abandon their faith entirely (Renegotiating Faith and Competition for Character Education, 2018).

More than hard statistics, though, I’ve seen it. When I come home for reading week, my home church receives me with open arms. But, I’m one of the only ones left from my youth group. I’ve seen my friends graduate high school, go on to university, and come out deconstructed, disillusioned, and disconnected from the Church and their faith. Sometimes this seems almost inevitable.

But I’ve also seen my generation rise up. At Briercrest, I’m surrounded by peers committing their lives to vocational ministry, brothers and sisters serving in and out of the Church, and friends praying for revival in our generation. Students that love the Church, have found their place in her mission, and are following Jesus with everything they’ve got. 

It’s more than possible to hold on to the Church and to faith after high school. Here are some ways to do it.

Living the Life of the Church

In Acts 2, the new-born Church is devoted to four main practices: the teaching of the apostles, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer. Life at my Christian college took on the same pattern: chapel daily and church on Sunday, time spent connecting with friends, time spent eating meals together, and time spent gathered in prayer.

In a season of busy schedules, new relationships, and assignments, don’t lose the life of the Church. Seek out opportunities to be together with the people of God, especially if your campus doesn’t offer these things.

Part of this involves joining with the full church — a diverse and multigenerational body of believers. As a young person, seek out older, godly mentors in your community or congregation. My college experience has been shaped by mentors who have helped to answer my hard questions and encouraged me to imitate Christ. One of the best ways to figure out your faith is to learn from people who genuinely live out theirs.

If your campus doesn’t provide Christian mentorship, you’ll have to find this on your own. Chances are, there are people around you that would love to talk and pray with you, but don’t know how to initiate. Don’t wait. Take it upon yourself to find someone trusted, approachable, and willing to listen.

Putting Skin in the Game

A professor of mine once shared a sermon out of Ephesians 5: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her.” The message had more obvious applications, but one comment cut to the heart: “The Church is Christ’s bride,” she stressed. “How do you expect a husband to feel if you speak against his wife?”

As a young, hotshot college freshman, I was arrogant and critical of the Church. Christ loved the Church enough to give Himself up for her—I didn’t yet. Even if I was right (and most often, I was not), it didn’t matter what I said if it didn’t serve the Church. 

It’s easy to point out problems and do nothing to help solve them. It’s far more difficult—and more vital—to put some skin in the game and really love the Church. Taking one theology class didn’t qualify me to critique people who had been faithfully doing ministry longer than I’d been alive. As we learn, let’s resist the temptation to cynicism and passivity. The Church needs you and you need the Church. 

So serve. Join with other believers in ministry. Worship even if the music isn’t your favourite. Learn from your pastor, even if they’re not a dynamic speaker. Uphold the Church in action and speech. Actively pray for her. 

In everything, love the Church with a love and commitment that looks like Christ’s: serve with humility, bear with and forgive, sacrificially give, and joyfully participate.

Building a Foundation of Habits

You don’t need me to tell you this, but one of the greatest obstacles to spiritual formation in our generation follows you everywhere and fits in your pocket. 

Recently, at a student worship night on campus, a friend of mine asked two simple questions: “What’s the first thing you touch in the morning? What’s the first thing you give your attention every day?”

Her words reminded me of the unfortunate truth: from the moment I wake up, my phone is there. 

Most days, before I’d even consumed breakfast, let alone God’s word, I had taken in countless calls to react, buy, and scroll deeper. Her point was that the first thing capturing your attention every day will shape how your day unfolds. To grow in your faith, you have to deal ruthlessly with the things that stand in the way of that pursuit. 

We know this. But as with so many of the things we know we ought to do, we will be tempted to not take action, and we soon forget. We know that we should read our Bibles daily, but we never actually get around to it. We know we should pray, but we let ourselves get distracted instead. We know that social media leaves us feeling anxious, but we won’t delete Instagram. 

College is a time to set—and re-set—the patterns and priorities that will shape our lives. Let’s resist the temptation to ignore the voice of conviction and instead become people of the Word, of prayer, and of peace. Don’t beat yourself up, but don’t wait any longer to start. 

There’s another truth we don’t often take seriously enough: environment is important. Let me explain what I mean. I was able to reflect on and change my own bad habits because friends around me with good habits challenged me to do better. And as I continue to press into spiritual discipline, my environment can either support me or discourage me. 

My campus environment at Briercrest is intentionally structured around a daily pursuit of Christ. The result is that I’m constantly being called into the life of the Church, being reminded again and again to take up my God-given role. I’m incredibly thankful for the relationships and structures around which have helped me to grow as a disciple of Jesus.

These things are crucial for lasting connections to the Church and to the faith. Despite alarming statistics on young adults leaving the church, Hemorrhaging Faith also found that mentorship was a key contributor to lasting faith in our generation. Renegotiating Faith found that young adults who were rooted in Christian communities were more likely to take on meaningful roles in the Church and discover a deep sense of God’s calling on their lives. And Competition for Character Education found that both these things happen with extraordinary success on Christian college campuses.

Whether you’re just starting college or you’ve been here a long time, I urge you to learn from the Church around you, dive into service and mission, and embrace spiritual discipline alongside other believers. If your college or university campus doesn’t offer you these things, you’re going to have to work harder for them. But you won’t regret taking steps to prioritize the Church and your faith in college.

Our generation is not doomed to fail. We’re poised to see God move in astounding ways as we pray and seek Him. So let’s do it.