FIRST-PERSON: Building a bridge from high school to college

BRENTWOOD, Tenn. (BP) -- The phone call was one that, as a campus minister, you love to receive.

Reed Tallman, youth pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Elizabethton, Tenn., contacted me in July 2015 to pass along contact information for a student, Roger Clark, who was coming from his ministry to the University of Tennessee at Martin. Roger lived more than 400 miles from here. Tallman knew that the transition to college would be a huge step for Roger, and he wanted to do all he could to build a bridge for him from the high school campus to the college campus.

The transition from high school to college can be very challenging, frightening and eye-opening. So many changes take place emotionally, socially and spiritually that it can truly be a "roller coaster ride." The college years can become a time of confusion as the budding young adult struggles with the onslaught of freedom and temptation.

When dealing with "Generation Z" (those born from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s), many church leaders are frustrated by the statistics that suggest eight out of 10 young adults walk away from the church in their college years.

Even more alarming, small country churches face the overwhelming reality that there may be no one to assume the church leadership roles in the future. For larger churches, the solution has been to hire a college minister to work directly with students to spearhead effective outreach and discipleship for such a vital population in our communities.

My word of advice: Don't give up on college students.

I am thankful for those who played a crucial role in my college years and challenged me to seek God in all of my life-changing decisions. They did not give up on me and I encourage you -- youth pastor, pastor, Sunday School teacher, parent -- don't give up on college students. No matter what your context may be, small church or large church, let's partner together to impact the incoming class of 2016 for the Kingdom.

Here in our state, I am encouraged by the investment of Tennessee Baptists in our Baptist Collegiate Ministries. With support from the Cooperative Program, the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions, local Baptist associations and supporting churches, BCMs are ministering on 24 Tennessee college campuses. At the BCM, students will find a community of acceptance, friendships for a lifetime, caring peers and a campus minister who wants to invest in and disciple them, opportunities to serve in leadership, and missions ventures throughout the year.

But what sets BCM apart from many other college ministries is the value of church involvement. Many BCM student leaders use the ministry as a bridge from the campus to the local church. By inviting new students and peers to church, students are able to be the arm of the local church to a generation that desperately needs to hear the Gospel or be encouraged to return to the fellowship.

Down through the years, youth pastors like Reed Tallman have extended their ministry investment to those who have gone on to college. They have seen the importance, as Tallman states, to "walk with them as they prepare to transition to college."

"I make a personal contact to help students get connected," Tallman shared. "Whether it is a phone call or an email, I do what I can to connect with them. I can't be every place where I have a former student, but what I can do is call them periodically to just touch base and see how they are doing and ask if they are plugging into college ministry and church."

Tallman's initiative paid off when it came to Roger Clark. He was involved in the BCM at Martin this past year and will be serving on the BCM leadership team for 2016-17.

I am encouraged by the increasing number of churches that are taking important steps to engage and invest in college students. This investment is different in each church's setting. Some amazing ministry is being done by churches that have hired a college minister. Through one-on-one discipleship, outreach events and worship gatherings, college students are sensing that spiritual life after youth group truly does exist. I am thankful for the churches across our state that have seen the need and are taking action to do something when it comes to ministering to college students.

So, if you are a youth pastor, pastor, church secretary, Sunday School teacher, I encourage you to build the bridge for your teenagers entering college this fall.

1) Contact the BCMs where your students are heading and share their information (in Tennessee, go to tnbcm.org for a listing of BCM contacts).

2) Contact the local churches where your students are heading and share their information.

3) Find ways to invest in college students who are staying at home.

4) Keep in touch with your students throughout the school year, giving encouragement and guidance.

5) Pray that there will be an increase of young adults desiring to reach their campuses for Christ.

And don't give up on college students. They need the church!

Morgan Owen is a Baptist Collegiate Ministries director affiliated with the Tennessee Baptist Convention working at the University of Tennessee at Martin. This article first appeared in the TBC newsjournal Baptist and Reflector (www.baptistandreflector.org).
Download Story