Do you remember what it was like when you graduated from high school?

The exhilarating feeling of freedom coupled with the fearful pangs of increased personal responsibility, colliding with the reality of unknown expectations is what every young adult faces as they celebrate their accomplishment and “commence” their adult lives. And, if we’re honest, the cultural landscape is markedly different in 2023 than in 1994 (or insert your high school graduation year). Yet, amidst the social, technological, and philosophical differences, there is still one unwavering truth that cannot be ignored…the young adults within each of our spheres of influence NEED other godly believers to pour into their lives.

How college ministry should look in practice is a discussion for another time, but as I endeavor to reach, teach, and minister to college age adults here in Springfield, Missouri, my eyes have been opened anew to four undeniable facts:

FACT #1 – The transition from “high school kid” to “college age adult” is a difficult transition.

Every year, in one week’s time, I watch students who were called “kids” the previous week referred to as “adults” the next. The expectations are different for them now that they are out of high school, yet their feelings, passions, and interests haven’t changed. Some young adults rebel at this “sudden” change in perspective, while others thrive. As a ministry leader (and fellow believer in Christ), it is my responsibility to come alongside them and help them navigate these uncharted waters, wisely recognizing the independence they desire, but lovingly assisting them in the areas in which they need further guidance. I should always strive to shepherd their heart towards maturity, not mandate their actions for the purpose of religious conformity. Practically speaking, our young adult ministries should be seasoned with purposeful patience, an overabundance of grace, and a spirit of mentoring.

FACT #2 – College age adults CRAVE relationships.

This fact is evident to me daily. Whether it’s going out to eat after church, planning a meet up after work, hanging out at each other’s homes, or constant communication over one of the hundreds of social media platforms, college age adults crave personal relationships. They desire to be invited to events, checked on, and cared about. It’s not enough anymore that Dad or Mom care, they need to know that their peer group and their authority figures have an interest in them as well. One fact that was cited in a recent Pew Research study was that 75% of college age adults will not remain at a church if they don’t feel connection to the pastoral staff or small group leaders, and to their peers. We would be wise to utilize this fact in our ministry to our college age adults. Experience has taught me this, if we do not provide an environment for Gospel-driven relationships within our churches, young adults will seek relationships in other places, and Satan will ecstatically provide them, to their own detriment and destruction.

FACT #3 – College age adults RESPECT genuineness.

Over the years, I’ve had young adults ask me questions like:

  • “Why am I expected to (fill in the blank) when that same person asking isn’t doing it?”
  • “How come they (certain person or certain group of people) can do (specific choice), yet I’m criticized when I do it?”
  • “Why am I encouraged to respect the older generation when no one seems to encourage the older generation to respect me?”

These questions have merit if they’re asked from a truly respectful heart. As older believers, it is our responsibility, according to the letter Paul wrote to Titus, to set the example of what a mature believer should look like. One of the greatest ways to alienate young adult believers from excitedly involving themselves in their local church ministry is for them to see more “mature” believers living a lie. Conversely, young adults will welcome the opportunities of discipleship, accountability, and service when they see their elder brothers and sisters living genuine Christian lives.

FACT #4 – College age adults DESIRE purpose.

Several research-based groups (Lifeway, Barna, Pew Research) have written articles over the last few years that have highlighted young adults desire for purpose. One article I read stated that 86 percent of the young adults surveyed (over 5,000 respondents) said that volunteer opportunities at church appeal to them, while 60 percent said they would gladly participate in mission trips. Another article stated that close to 90 percent of young adults won’t volunteer for ministries at their local church because they either don’t see their involvement making a difference or the opportunity making a difference. What can we learn from these two studies? Young adults will step up to the challenge of fulfilling their purpose if they’re pointed in a meaningful direction. The world has so many distractions that will attract a young adult’s attention to what pleases them on a superficial level, but eventually discontentment will settle in and they will search for something else to occupy their time, energy, and resources. As ministry leaders, let’s capitalize on a young adult’s passion to know their role in God’s plan, encourage them to make personal choices that align with that plan, and to practically involve themselves in others-centered ministry to reinforce that plan.

College ministry has shown me that I must be intentional about providing young adults with opportunities to connect with Christ, with each other, and with a goal outside their own personal desires. May we all take time this week to evaluate our ministry efforts to our college age adults considering these facts, desiring to effectively reach, teach, and minister to those whom God places in our paths.