USA (MNN/ICF) — Students at Russell Sage College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in Troy, New York, can easily find who the Christians are on their campuses. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship students bring them cookies every week. Students can sign up for the deliveries throughout the school year and the cookies are made by members of local churches.
One student recently told the cookie team that their presence was a comfort to him. He knew that if he felt stressed or lonely, there was a group of people who cared about him.
Stress and particularly loneliness have become a more ominous presence on college campuses.
A survey by the global health service company Cigna found college-aged young people in the US reported more feelings of loneliness than previous generations. The Higher Education Research Institute reports incoming freshmen rating both their physical and emotional health lower and lower every year.
These kinds of mental health concerns are familiar to InterVarsity Campus Staff Ministers.
“Students often don’t know how to have conversations, do conflict, and link theoretical faith values to day-to-day prayer, vulnerability, and community,” says Scott Hall, a veteran staff member based in Kent, Washington.
Before teaching about doctrine and Christian values, Hall says students need to be shown how to love, pray, talk, and share with each other.
One of the biggest differences between Generation Z and their predecessors is the presence of social media as they came of age. Social media provides a form of connection for college students, but it can only go screen-deep.
Greg Jao, InterVarsity’s Director of External Relations says, “Because they’re an ‘I don’t want to miss out’ kind of generation that’s highly attached to their smartphones, they’re also less willing to commit to meet together and much more willing to cancel out if something else better comes along.
“So when you have those three things happen all at the same time, you have a group of people who tend to be a little shallow in their conversations. They’ve always curated their image online. They aren’t willing to connect or commit, which makes it difficult to build long-lasting relationships. And they’re just profoundly disconnected from one another.”
InterVarsity is passionate about fostering Christian community and true connection on college campuses.
According to Jao, “One of the key ways that we try to serve the campus is [we] provide weekly Bible studies for students to get involved with…. It’s critical for students to have a weekly meeting where they know the same group of people are going to show up, are going to engage God’s Word, and then transparently and vulnerably interact with it.”
On the campus of San Juan College in Farmington, New Mexico, the InterVarsity chapter has countered loneliness with a tradition of weekly, family meals on campus for students. “It helps to be together, share laughs, know each other, see what the whole community’s like,” says Campus Staff Minister Rashawn Ramone. Before, “they never really had time to be able to sit down with other people and listen to them.”
InterVarsity President Tom Lin believes genuine community, much needed on today’s campuses, is the starting place for campus ministry. “Students need to have places where they can be themselves, ask questions, find encouragement, and learn about Jesus,” he said. “Our 2030 Calling will offer this on more and more campuses every year.”
If you know a college student, Jao says opening your home or even sending an encouraging letter goes a long way. “What a profound witness to those students, but what a profound way to connect them into community with people across generations, which I think they desperately need.”
InterVarsity also wants to mobilize the Body of Christ to pray for college campuses. They created a resource with Cru called everycampus.com and are inviting believers to prayer walk every campus in the US by December 31st.
“We’ll send you resources. Just go to a campus, walk around, pray and listen to Jesus,” says Jao. “We need your prayers. This isn’t just a social issue. It’s a spiritual issue as well.”
InterVarsity starts the 2019-2020 school year with 1121 student and faculty chapters on 772 campuses across the US, from the Ivy League to community colleges. During the previous academic year, InterVarsity saw 3,140 decisions to follow Christ through our campus ministry, up 39 percent from ten years ago. InterVarsity is a founding member of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students and a charter member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.
Header photo courtesy of InterVarsity.