As many of you are probably not aware, the 219th General Assembly, in their great wisdom, reinstated the office of Collegiate Ministry at GAMC - an office that was merged with Young Adult last year. (I'm not a fan of the move with my limited knowledge, because it seems to create another silo - connecting it to young adult as well seemed to make sense - maybe more funding would have helped...anyway.)
The ECG (Evangelism and Church Growth) Mission Unit of the GAMC of which my office is a part, has been looking at strengthening Collegiate Ministries through partnering with congregations close to campus'. So instead of continuing to build or fund ministries that have not worked on campus to the level we wanted and brand them Presbyterian (I guess to distinguish from the non-denominationals like Campus Crusade or Fellowship of Christian Athletes?) the emphasis would be on building local relationships - we are a connectional church.
How does this relate to Triennium you might ask? Well - as I was sitting in that big concert hall enjoying a worship while thousands of youth were enjoying and fully engaged in worship, I started thinking about this new change and what we are or are not doing to BRIDGE the gap from High School, through College to young adulthood.
At each camp I worked at, it was clear that if there was not a bridge between when the High School campers stopped being engaged in camp (Sophomore year?) and when they could work at camp - most of us start staff at college or one year into college - the campers would not stay and become staff. So many CIT programs or Leadership Training Programs were created. This kept a cadre of trained and engaged campers enthused and connected to the camp so they would become leaders.
A PCUSA research study released this year showed that of High Schoolers who "graduate" our youth groups at church, 60% go on to join in with some sort of Collegiate ministry. Not bad, better than half. However, 80% of those that participate in some sort of Collegiate ministry DO NOT return to Presbyterian Churches!!!!! That is a retention rate of around 6%.
So I got to thinking, what if we did a Triennium of sorts with college students? Or something?! We know (I experienced it) that we can create a worship, small group, individual group experience that engages that next generation. We do it every 3 years at Triennium and in countless summer camp and summer conference experiences. Then somehow we don't provide something (maybe in conjunction with other denominations, or maybe even with those non-denominational College Ministries that I am sure would love partners in providing bridges to churches after college) that engages college students.
And then we do the next part, or don't do - we keep doing worship the same in our congregations (blanket statement I know, but forgive me.) And then we have the nerve to ask - "Where are all the young people? Why don't they want to come to church?"
There is no more pressing matter in our Church (all denominations) than engaging them in the Good News in a way that is exhilarating and relevant to their culture. I'm not saying go carts and zip lines, I'm saying true, live out the Word, practice what you preach, bring youth into leadership, creative ministries that inspire the next generation to follow Jesus.
OK. Question time!
Can our camp and conference centers play a part? Can we partner with congregations near college to support them as they partner with college students? Can we partner with congregations to find and support young leaders who will bring new ways of worshiping and ministering that the current congregation might not be able to do themselves? Can we be a catalyst? A bridge? A partner? How? Who is doing this? How are you doing it? How can the rest of our camp and conference centers truly become engaged in the process of growing our church deep and wide? How can we get past seeing college students as potential staff members, and truly minister to them regardless of whether they end up working on staff or not?
These are big issues and many great minds (greater and more experienced than mine) have been working on issues such as these - but there has to be a way to get from A to B. A way to walk in "the wilderness" of college with our young adults so they experience of being a Christian they glimpsed at Triennium won't be a tease, a one time experience - but will instead be a segway into a whole new way of being Church.